As many of you know, especially if we’ve met, or you regularly read the blog, I am a huge proponent of customer marketing. And not just marketing TO your customers with promotions designed to increase the lifetime value of the customer. By all means, do that, but don’t stop there. Make products that your customers will love and then harness that passion in your marketing efforts. Market WITH your customers, because they love your products, respect your company and want to help you succeed.
There ain’t nothing like a passionate customer. Here’s a little story that proves the point.
Once upon a time there was a little television show called Firefly. Firefly was created by Joss Whedon, the talented writer/director who brought Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to the little screen.
Firefly was a bit different though. It didn’t follow the Buffy/Angel formula of supernatural beings and monsters among us in contemporary society. Instead, Firefly was a “space opera,” described by some as a cross between Battlestar Galactica and The Outlaw Josey Wales. The setting was far in the future, 500 years from Earth as we know it, but the people in the Firefly verse were “normal” people. At least to the extent that the context didn’t include magic, vampires and otherwordly beings. Everyone is pretty gorram** human, with a fair dose of the “cowboy” ethos, and maybe just a little bit Chinese.
Firefly was on the Fox network and Firefly never had a chance. I won’t rehash all the details, but suffice it to say, Fox didn’t get it, and the series was cancelled before all the original 13 episodes were aired.
But Whedon’s fans are a devoted bunch. In the first pass, many came to Firefly from Buffy and Angel, and realized that this new show was even better. When it was cancelled, they started to mobilize – letters, fan sites, conventions, etc. etc.
Some, like me, never got a chance to watch it the first time around because Fox jerked it around so much, but bought the DVD as soon as it was released. Because we just knew it had to be good (perhaps in part because Fox didn’t get it). In fact A LOT of people bought it as a pre-order on Amazon before it was released. A whole lot.
And a funny thing happened. Another studio, Universal, saw all this fan activity, watched the show, and decided that this Firefly thing was pretty good. Good enough for a feature film. And so we have Serenity… a feature film due in US cinemas on September 30th.
Lesson One: the fans were in large part responsible for Firefly’s second chance. Joss Whedon and the rest of the cast have more than once given them the credit. Smart man, that Joss Whedon. He creates brilliant television (and now movies), which creates loyal loyal fans, and he has the grace and smarts to give the fans their share of the credit.
But that’s not the end of the story. The Firefly fans are so devoted that they have mobilized to ensure the film’s success with guerilla marketing efforts in support of the planned campaigns by Universal. I couldn’t even tell you everything the fans have created in support of this movie, but it includes a podcast called the Signal that is in iTunes top 100, artwork, music, video and fan fiction, a campaign to get the DVDs rated highly on NetFlix, fan websites, blogs and forums, not to mention an extraordinarily active fan base on the official website for the movie.
All this fan activity geared to ensuring a boffo box office for Serenity in its first few weeks. Because that’s what ensures the second film. And these fans want more. Trust me, I know this personally.
And Whedon, his cast and Universal are encouraging and enabling all this fan activity with viral marketing efforts and their active participation in the fan activity – not just the Universal sponsored sites.
Because they get it, and that’s Lesson Two: when you have passionate fans, DO NOT get in their way. They will do as good, or better, job converting new customers than you could ever do. Support them as much as you can, but don’t try to co-opt them. Let your product continue to speak for itself. That’s what Whedon does – he’s said it in interviews: he’s not trying to make shows that people will like, he wants to create stories and characters that people will love.
Now in the spirit of full disclosure, this article is, of course, guerrilla marketing for Serenity as much as it is an analysis of the value of the customer in your marketing efforts. Think of it as a two-fer.
I’ll see you at the movies. On September 30th.
** god-damn for those of you who aren’t … yet … addicted to Firefly.