Customers? Or Fans?

My last posting concerned finding the right customers for implementing new technology. Many great ideas failed in the marketplace because of bad timing, like the Edsel being launched during a recession. Others, like CB radio, enjoy quick success before being pre-empted by more flexible methods of doing the same thing.

I remember the first fax machine being an object of wonder as it printed a semi-readable page every few minutes. Wonder quickly changed to less charitable descriptions as paper jams became more frequent. Once e-mail became a reliable and accepted means of business communication, we gave up the fax machine. The four-in-one printer in my office counts faxing as one of its functions, but I have never used it.

My son has always been an early adopter of Apple products; it used to irritate me to pay so much more than competitive devices when he needed to move to a new model. He has continued to buy new Apple equipment as soon as it becomes available, arguing that it gives him the best performance for his dollar over a period of years. Wouldn’t we all love such a loyal customer base!

Think about the number of people who have product logos tattooed on their bodies or who buy clothing and consumer products with those logos on them. The only “gear guy” I knew to be that committed was the late Stew Ward, former president of the Brad Foote Gear Works and the American Gear Manufacturers Association. Stew proudly had the AGMA crest inked on his arm where his riding buddies displayed their favorite motorcycle brand.

What these “fans” have in common is an intense desire to become part of the organization’s mission and heritage. That is a lot to ask from mere customers. Even the most loyal Ford buyers didn’t flock to the Edsel because it didn’t offer any significant extra value. CB users got bored with the lingo and switched to walkie-talkies and then cell phones for road trip communication. Apple fanatics, like Harley owners, see themselves as adherents to a lifestyle, not just a brand.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could turn our customers into fans? Fans willing to pay a premium for our products and services?

About Charles D. Schultz 580 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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