The future of live performance (and customer engagement)?

It was the rock critic Jon Landau who almost blighted Bruce Springsteen’s career in 1974 by declaring him the future of rock and roll so I hesitate to say that I might have seen the post-pandemic future of live performance after attending an app-enhanced online gig by Dutch jazz trio Tin Men & the Telephone last week.

I’m also in danger of sounding a bit like your ageing relative who’s just caught up with new technology – “hey kids, have you discovered Instagram?” – as the app in question has been around for at least a couple of years and the band has been around for quite a bit longer.

For those unfamiliar with the band – and their low number of Spotify followers suggests they won’t be selling out stadiums for a while – they are a Dutch trio playing modern jazz but using found sounds, news clips and so on as the basis for some of their pieces. (If you want to hear someone jamming ironically to clips of Nigel Farage, this band is for you.) This is nothing new as bands across all kinds of genres have been doing this for a number of years. What is new – at least in my experience – is the use of an app to enable audiences to participate in the performance by, for example, suggesting names or phrases that can be translated into musical note sequences or indeed using the app to compose simple motifs that can be the band can then interact with.

However, it’s the enforced separation of lockdown that means this technology can really come into its own and shows how creative thinking might take concert-going in a new direction as we emerge into the “next normal”.

What just happened

Just another day on the intergalaactic gig…

In a concert that was part of Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama’s annual jazz weekend recently the audience was invited to imagine we were leaving Earth on a spaceship for another – less environmentally challenged – planet. With Tin Men providing the in-flight entertainment, the app made the audience part of the show as well with competitions for the name of the new planet and suggestions on environmental improvements solicited – and used to create note-rows to improvise against. This is a personal reaction, but I found the tech more memorable than the music. Nonetheless, there are some takeaways and lessons for those who are looking for the longer-term success of their organisations – whether commercial, artistic or whatever – post-pandemic.

The following questions are particularly pertinent:

Where is your customer?

We attended a gig “in Cardiff”, in the sense that it was organised by RWCMD, but we could have been anywhere in the world with a decent internet connection – in this case my living room. This will be much more common post-Covid and organisations previously dependent on people physically turning up to a location will need to provide means of remote participation. Just as we’re now surprised if a retail organisation doesn’t have an online ordering capability, our expectations of online will widen to concert and theatre experience providers.

How are they included?

If your audience/customer base is widening how do you include everybody? This doesn’t mean just by having an app that may enhance their level of communication, but it means thinking about the nature of that engagement. For example, the Tin Men’s environmental/intergalactic trip was one story on which people could hang their concert experience – what is the story you want to tell, and how does it chime with the one your customers want.

What capabilities do I need in my team?

In the business world we’ve long been used to having IT people – formerly a mysterious separate breed – increasingly integrated into teams and business units so that product or service development is tightly bound to the digital channels used to deliver them. In my experience the performance world has still to make major strides in this direction. Businesses are starting to recognise that the development of gaming might have much to offer their thinking about customer engagement, but in the music and theatre world there are as far as I am aware very few hybrid approaches that potentially engage audiences differently and/or engage new audiences. Theatre companies, orchestras and other music groups should all be finding ways to collaborate with technology innovators and developers to ensure their core product can be accessed by as wide an audience as possible.

I am sure that in the increasingly fragile world of live jazz, Tin Men and the Telephone’s app-driven antics will distinguish them from the many piano-bass-drums outfits performing today and keep their music alive for a good while longer. Other organisations should take note.

Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

Drink like a girl? 1.25 billion bottles later…

Thanks to a post on LinkedIn by Tom Goodwin I got a real taste of how innovation happens. In this case the taste is cream, chocolate and more than a hint of Irish whiskey – in other words that favourite tipple of your grandmother/auntie/father-in-law (in my case): Baileys Irish Cream.

In an excerpt from his book, the wonderfully-titled “That Sh*t Will Never Sell!” published in the Irish Times last year, product development expert David Gluckman describes the birth of Baileys, that “girly” drink we all pretend we’re far too sophisticated to like. (Actually, I love it, but I grew up drinking Babycham, so maybe my palate is ruined forever.)

It’s a long-ish read but worth spending some time on, since it illustrates the key truths of innovation:

  • The idea for a new product can happen in an instant
  • Getting the product to market requires persistence, particularly when it doesn’t fit into any previous categories
  • The idea may be a winner, but it may sleep for a while first.

According to Gluckman, the initial though behind Baileys “took about 30 seconds. In another 45 minutes the idea was formed.” Gluckman wasn’t a novice who got lucky with his first go: he’d got 10 years’ experience of product development to draw on to know it had potential when his partner suggested mixing Irish whiskey and cream in response to a brief from International Distillers and Vintners (IDV) to develop a new alcoholic drinks brand. A quick trip to a nearby supermarket provided a rough-and-ready prototype with cream, whiskey and – the magic touch – drinking chocolate. The “mucky brown” result was taken to an initial group of IDV executives and product developers and met with some enthusiasm: enough to recognise that it had the potential to create a new and different brand.

Gluckman describes a nervous moment when the product was tested with a men’s focus group in Ireland when one of the men described it as “a girl’s drink” (this was 1973, remember) – although every one of them drained their glasses. And the women’s focus group compared it to anti-diarrhoea treatment kaolin and morphine (they had a point – they look and taste quite similar). So, the results of that and a test behind a local bar were not that encouraging and in fact this “market research” never saw the light of day.

The product was launched to IDV without the backing of extensive market research, just the belief of David Gluckman and his business partner Hugh Reade Seymour-Davies that the unusual liqueur could find a market. After the product reached the shelves in 1974 it took three years before it really took off, helped by a US advertising campaign with the slogan “The Impossible Cream”.

Decades later, over 1.25 billion bottles of Baileys have been sold and, presumably, drunk so Gluckman and Seymour-Davies’ hunch and belief paid off – although it didn’t make them rich: they were just paid for the initial product development.

As you pour yourself a glass from that bottle that Grandma didn’t quite finish off over Christmas, take a while to reflect on how creative ideas get treated in your own organisation: do you allow people to run with an idea if they just believe it’s unusual enough to create a market or do you require “proof” in the form of exhaustive market research? Far too often it’s the latter approach that holds sway – and we’re all the poorer for it.


Five objections to The One Rule

In last month’s post I identified The One Rule for strategy in a customer-driven organisation.

Everything relates to delighting customers

The use of the word delighting is important: it means achieving the customer’s desired outcomes.

The word everything is important as well as it’s likely to be the source of a number of questions or objections that might be arising. Let me deal with the ones that I can think of…

Continue reading

My week in CX

Beginning a regular review of my own good, bad and indifferent customer experiences, in the past week. If this seems like an unnecessary insight into my fabulous life then apologies but, as Socrates almost said, ‘the unexamined customer experience is not worth having’. Here we go with some highlights and lowlights…

Continue reading

Frank Zappa, innovation and ridicule

FZ as we knew him

YouTube is a wonderful thing if you like to be distracted by random stuff from people that you like. Whilst rehearsing a choir part from a YouTube track by my local community choir the other night the  suggested videos list threw up a thoroughly cringeworthy appearance by Frank Zappa on the Steve Allen Show on 4 March 1963. Cringeworthy it may be but it illustrates the way genuine innovators can often come up against ridicule when their ideas first appear.

Continue reading

Business lessons from the Edinburgh Fringe: 3) Just add circus skills

If you have been following this series closely you’ll be equipped to build great relationships with your customers and be able to motivate your co-workers with a few killer one-liners and some well thought-out communications. There’s just one thing that needs to be added to spice up the workplace: circus skills. Yes, this is my big take-away from the Fringe: the business world would benefit enormously from regular injections of acrobatics, tightrope-walking and attempts at the seemingly-impossible.

Continue reading

Service Smackdown 5: Apple and the road to power

This is not so much a straight fight but more a series of skirmishes along the road to power – the power in this case being the power supply enabling my wife’s new iPhone to function effectively.  It’s a story of persistence in the face of supply chain problems and one customer service rep’s action turning a mediocre and frustrating experience into superior service…

Continue reading