A few weeks back, I had a chance to get away for a few days “up nort” as Minnesotans say, for some fishing and relaxing with the family. While there, my mother-in-law took us to the Woodtick Theater, a bluegrass music show in the huge metropolis of Akeley (population: 432). The show itself wasn’t really my kind of thing, but then again, I wasn’t the target demographic (see below). But as I thought about it later, this little theater definitely has some marketing and management lessons to teach any business.
- • The theater is in its 20th season.
- • It’s always been profitable.
- • It has raving fans and an extraordinary level of repeat business.
- • The employees love working there; many have been with the theater for a decade or more.
That’s an impressive set of performance metrics for any business. So how do they do it? Here are five keys to the theater’s success than any business can apply.
Focus on your target market.
Looking around the theater, I felt…young. While there were a few 20- and 30-somethings, and even some teens, in the crowd, the vast majority had hair that was grayer or less present than mine. The target audience for the show is definitely the post-retirement, AARP, RV-driving, early dinner crowd. Other than a Keith Urban song from the late 90’s, the newest song in the troupe’s repertoire was the Beatle’s Penny Lane. And it was these folks who were clapping most enthusiastically, singing along with many of the songs.
The point is—no business can be all things to all people. Particularly for small businesses, focus is critical. Identify your target market, as precisely as possible, and focus on producing messages that appeal to them and products and services that delight them.You’ll likely pick up some “bonus” business from outside your defined target market, which is great, but don’t let that dilute your focus on your core market.
Do the simple things well.
As noted above, the Woodtick Theater plays bluegrass music. As guitar players know, one can play nearly any bluegrass tune with just four chords: G, C, D and E minor. That’s not so say the band members weren’t talented—they were. They may have done just fine playing something from Lady Gaga or Nickelback, or Tchaikovsky for that matter. The point, rather, is that their audience likes the simple songs, ones they know and can sing along with, played well.
Likewise, your customers don’t expect you to be able to solve every problem under the sun, but to be competent (or better) at getting the basics right. Set realistic expectations, then strive to meet or exceed them. As blatantly obvious as that may sound, it’s surprising how many enterprises fail at the basics, like making it easy to contact customer service or returning sales calls promptly.
Make it easy to recommend your business.
The Woodtick Theater hands every guest a “keepsake” printed program; it not only talks about the show, but includes a few corny jokes, the history of Akeley, and most importantly: a discount coupon for the show. This encourages patrons to either come back for another show, or more frequently, recommend the show and pass along the program and discount.
How can your business make it easy for customers to recommend you? That depends on the type of business you’ve got, but a few tactics include producing an email newsletter that’s worthy of forwarding, including social sharing buttons on your blog and website, being active in social media, having a presence on review sites like Yelp (if applicable), or even developing a formal referral program with discounts or other incentives.
Constantly gather, and incorporate, customer feedback.
It’s easy to ask customers “how are we doing?” But the fact is, unless the customer is extremely happy (or unhappy), their answer is likely to be along the lines of “just fine.” Not terribly helpful.
The manager of the Woodtick Theater told me that he constantly watches how the audience responds to their act. “We change our songs frequently in order to keep the show fresh, so we watch how the audience responds. If they are smiling and singing along, we’ll keep that song in the act. If they don’t seem to really love it, we’ll throw that song out and try something different.”
Most businesses can’t collect feedback or witness customer behavior that easily, so they need to employ other methods to monitor and observe customers in action. The best companies find ways to understand how customers are using their products in the real world and utilize that information to constantly improve their products, add new features (or drop features that aren’t needed or valued) and produce new innovations. For example, LEGO Group is known for involving its most passionate customers intimately in its new product development process.
Make customer satisfaction everyone’s job.
Everyone we encountered at the Woodtick Theater—not just the performers, but the emcee, the lady at the ticket booth, the young guy who sold us our popcorn–was pleasant and smiling. All seemed to enjoy being there and wanted the audience to enjoy the visit as well.
Employees want several things from their jobs: an income, benefits, a comfortable work environment, a supportive boss. But they also want to feel that their efforts make a difference. Regardless of whether or not an employee is customer-facing (and through social media, that definition has expanded), every employee should understand how well the organization is performing on customer satisfaction metrics, how that satisfaction is measured, and how their individual efforts contribute.
That may be obvious for sales or customer service personnel, but what about the data entry person in accounting, the guys on the loading dock, or the janitor–how do their efforts impact customer happiness? Well, customers may not rave about accurate billing or consistently getting their orders right, but they will certainly notice if those tasks aren’t done correctly. And if customers visit your office, fairly or not, how neat and clean it is will affect their perceptions of your company.
If you ever find yourself in northern Minnesota and the prospect of hearing a couple of retired music teachers perform a song like “Ghost Chickens in the Sky” (seriously, that was on the playlist) appeals to you, you may want to check out the Woodtick Theater. But regardless, any organization can benefit from the business practices that the theater exemplifies.