Recently, I was having some tea and lemonade in New York City with a dear friend who is a senior publishing executive. When our conversation turned to exploring the future of publishing, she said, "Our folks say our core value is to curate content."
I suggested that the real challenge for any publisher today is not just to curate content but to manage audiences for the authors. She said, "In other words we need to curate audiences."
As I thought about her brilliant turn of phrase, it occurred to me that all great authors and companies curate their audiences. For example, marketing writer Seth Godin, whose work I greatly admire, curates his audience. His very functional web site has daily blog posts. He has published a highly popular business eBook. He created a Vook, a video book you can download to your iPhone. In short, he keeps in touch, and he provides ongoing intellectual sustenance to his followers.
Online retailer Zappos also curates its audience. In each interaction, it treats you like someone precious. It has crafted its interfaces and databases and call centers to create a seamless, painless, anytime, anywhere, any way experience.
More broadly, all firms need to curate their audiences. This is more than networking and direct-mail spamming or putting in a CRM system. Curation is a process of overseeing the preservation and use of something precious. Audience is the most precious thing in the world to any company. And by "audience," I don't just mean your current customers. Audience is anyone who knows about your firm, your brand, and has bought something from you in the past or may do so in the future. It is all the people who have an opinion about your organization.
When I taught marketing I used to say, "Your brand is nothing more than the sum total of the memory traces which everyone who has touched your company have in their heads — good and bad." A curator thinks about how precious those memory traces are and how important it is to be prepared to create new positive memories. Tactically, this means that a firm must at least do the following:
1. Have full information about all the interactions your customer has had with your firm. My health insurance company should heed this advice. I have been fighting with it to pay a health claim. Each time I call, I have to educate a different customer service rep on the status of everything. This type of experience is so depressingly common, I'm sure you can fill in your own examples.
2. Be ready to do business anytime, anywhere and any way. We're in the middle of some work for a large insurance company, and many of their customers don't want to go to the web to check the status of their claim. A simple mobile alert would improve service — and lower costs in the call centers.
3. Treat your audience like it is precious. Think of how carefully curators treat each and every artifact in a collection. The heart of the curator is imbued with care.
Do you think your organization is curating its audience or only warehousing it? I'd love to hear your stories.
John Sviokla is vice chairman of Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, Inc. He is a former professor at Harvard Business School in marketing, MIS, and decision sciences. Click here to read his previous blogs.