CRM, George Orwell and The Rolling Stones


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In May 1940 George Orwell published an article in Horizon titled “Boys Weeklies,” applying the tools of literary and social criticism used to analyze Shakespeare and politics to the task of deconstructing weekly magazines of stories for schoolboys.

It was the equivalent of Julia Child reviewing a dinner served at Burger King, or Martin Luther analyzing a child’s bedtime prayer. It was a fascinating exercise which yielded surprisingly profound conclusions.

And it’s exactly what CRM needs to be doing today.

Orwell noted hundreds of popular magazines for all interests available at shops, observing correctly that “the contents of these shops is the best available indication of what the mass of the English people really feels and thinks.”

In other words, what people buy the most of shows what people really feel and think. 2,000 years ago a wise man said where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Today’s business world understands that exactly as Orwell did — if you want their money, give them what they want to buy.

George Orwell would have made a good Customer Relationship Management writer. Engaged as we are in Customer Relationship Management, we’re seeking pretty much what Orwell was in “Boys Weeklies” — actionable intelligence on what the mass thinks, feels and wants.

One of Orwell’s blind spots at that point in his career, however, was his half-English, half-socialist assumption that the mass of people will consume what they are fed — he concludes in the essay that Lord Camrose, the dominant publisher of boys’ magazines at the time, controls what boys will pay to read.

It’s the great insight of Customer Relationship Management that the exact opposite is true — a boy with tuppence to spend on reading matter controls what Lord Cameron publishes. If Billy scans the available magazines and sees nothing that strikes his fancy he doesn’t spend his two pence on something he doesn’t want to read, he’s off to the movies or licorice shop.

Customer Relationship Management is made possible — aye, sensible — only insofar as people have options for what to do with that two pence or two hundred bucks burning a hole in their pocket. Only in the face of options does it make any sense at all for businesses to be nice to customers, or care what they in fact want. That is the world that exists today. That is why we do CRM.

Orwell could study the successful boys’ weekly serials and arrive at fairly profound conclusions because he used the correct tools. If CRM is the correct tool its vendors say it is for getting people to buy more stuff from you we should be able to use it to determine why some are successful in selling to the mass audience.

We’re not economists here, observing what works in reality and wondering if it’ll work in theory, we want to sell more things to more customers here and now. Only if CRM theory can help us do that it can stick around.

So: Why have the Rolling Stones been successful selling their products to customers for so long?

Popular music is a good laboratory for CRM, since cost is not really a factor in weighing a purchase. A Stones song costs 99 cents on iTunes, same as everyone else’s. That’s what made it so much fun back in high school, standing there in a record store with the ten bucks you’d made mowing lawns: you could buy any album in the store.

Good records didn’t cost more than the sucky ones your sister bought. Some Girls cost the same $7.99 that her Captain and Tennille albums did. It was pure CRM — who did a better job with the customer experience for more customers avoided the cutout bin.

The Stones released their first record in June 1963. Just as the ’60s gave way to the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and beyond, so as England’s Newest Hit Makers gave way to Let It Bleed, Some Girls, Voodoo Lounge and A Bigger Bang, people kept buying Stones records and attending shows. Dozens of albums, hundreds of songs, thousands of concerts.

Does CRM help explain why they were around so long?

They identified a market niche and maintained the brand identity. CRM preaches this until it’s blue in the face. The customer must have correct expectations of what experience he will have when he interacts with your brand.

Whether he buys a pair of Levi’s jeans, eats at Olive Garden, rents a car from Enterprise or attends a Roman Catholic mass, a customer spends his time or money on something because he has a pretty good idea what he’s going to get. You want to be surprised — but reliably. Variation within parameters.

The Stones crafted a sound based on R&B, blues-based rock. And they never changed that even as they experimented, throwing curve balls here and there –“You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Miss You” — but it was always variation within parameters. They never lost the basic sound, the Keith Richards riffs, as much as they played around with it.

When you buy a Stones album, you know pretty much what you’re getting. It’s not going to sound like Dark Side Of the Moon. It’s not going to sound like Hotel California. It’s sure not going to sound like Blood Sugar Sex Magik. And if it doesn’t thrill like Sticky Fingers anymore, at least it’s going to sound like the Stones.

They corrected production mistakes by focusing on their core competency. After establishing a reputation for excellence they misfired on a product, but quickly made amends and re-established the previous standards as the norm — 1966: Aftermath. 1967: Their Satanic Majesties’ Request. 1968: Beggar’s Banquet. Q.E.D.

They remain committed to a high level of professionalism. You can’t always be the best at what you do, but you always need to be professionally competent. There’s never an excuse for bad product. The Stones have given shows that were better than others, but they have never given an incompetent show. Some Stones albums are better than others, but none are sheer dreck, and there are no other major rock acts with a comparable number of albums under their belt who can say that.

Consistently meeting expectations, correcting the inevitable mistakes, resolving to always maintain professional standards, would that your company was as good an example of CRM as the Stones. Because the name of the game for you and the Stones is satisfaction.

David Sims
David Sims Writing
David Sims, a professional CRM writer since the last century, is an American living in New Zealand because "it's fun calling New Yorkers to tell them what tomorrow looks like."


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