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THE FELDMAN INTERVIEWS

The Gaga Effect

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The Gaga Effect

Jackie Huba is well aware of what you are wondering right now: Why the heck are we talking about Lady Gaga?

It’s because of Little Monsters. That is what Lady Gaga calls her most devoted fans, which is what Jackie says you need. 

Jackie turned to Lady Gaga as a muse for the book Monster Loyalty because although she was a Gaga fan, she noticed there was an inner circle of even bigger fans. That in itself is not unusual for a pop star. What was different was how Lady Gaga nurtured this base.

The star spoke to them directly, remembered their names and clued them in on her motivations and mission in life. Those fans graduated from merely enjoying her music to believing in it.

Jackie says Lady Gaga expects to avoid the typical, early flameout of a pop career because of the momentum propelled by her most devoted fans. Shouldn’t advisors be looking at their careers the same way?

If you look at your business as serial transactions, then you will be forever looking for the next sale. Jackie says investing in your most devoted clients will turn you into a star people will want to see rather than a salesperson looking for a target.

In this conversation with Publisher Paul Feldman, Jackie explains how you can grow your own Little Monsters.

FELDMAN: Lady Gaga is not somebody a business owner would ever think they could learn something from. But what are some lessons about marketing and customer loyalty that Lady Gaga would teach us directly as business owners?

HUBA: What drew me to her initially was that she was a performance artist we had never seen before. She was doing things no pop artist had done well. Although, David Bowie had done things like this, being a performance artist.

But from a business standpoint and for someone who’s studying customer loyalty, what I saw was a very methodical way and approach to her customers that was for the long term. She and her manager even spent a lot of time telling the press what they were doing. They want to be around for the next 25 years. They understand the power of building a following. So they did everything they had to do.

In the very beginning, she was getting a lot of popularity, and they could have jumped to performing in big arenas. Nope, they still played really small bars. They wanted to develop this grassroots following.

They were so strategic in knowing that if you’re going to be around for the long term, you want to build a constituency from the ground up, from the grassroots.

These are people you nurture. So she would spend hours meeting with these fans after the shows in these bars talking to them. There are folks she knows today. She knows their names. And I know who they are, too, because I’ve been in the Monster community for a long time. We all know who these folks are. She still remembers their names. She’s still in contact with them, and she’s never forgotten people who have supported her from the beginning.

Most people wouldn’t think of a pop star having a very strategic approach to her business. It’s not a cynical thing. She’s very authentic with wanting to inspire people with her music, wanting to make people better.

She started a foundation called the Born This Way Foundation because she wants to eradicate bullying, especially in young people. These are the things that she believes in. She writes. She believes in LGBT. She’s a constant champion for that community and for women as well.

What I love about how she goes about her business is she’s always the leader of this community and always inspiring them. She knows her customers get her. They understand why she had the meat dress on, why she came out of the egg at the Grammys, why she’s done a number of these things. There’s a cause behind it. There’s a meaning behind it. There’s some big political or maybe social statement she’s making. They get that, and then they love her even more.

Just like a business would be very strategic about how to do this and how to craft this, it’s the same thing.

FELDMAN: Most people don’t consider pop stars as being in a business. But aren’t there are a lot of similarities to their own businesses?

HUBA: The way I start a lot of my talks is I say to people, “You’re probably wondering why the heck we’re talking about Lady Gaga in terms of what we can learn from her and apply to our businesses.”

But to me, that’s where innovation happens. When we really want to take our business to the next level, we are trying to innovate. And we can’t look at what everyone else in our industry is doing.

We need to take inspiration and new ideas from other places we never would have looked at. That’s where innovation happens, and I think no matter what industry we’re in, we should look for outside sources of inspiration of how to take our business to the next level.

FELDMAN: How can our readers get “monster loyalty” from their clients and customers?

HUBA: The No. 1 challenge for all businesses is getting our customers to want to continue to buy from us as well as to tell other people about us. That is really the holy grail of what we want to do with customers. When we reach that, that’s when we know we’ve succeeded.

The way I define loyalty is not just people who stick with you, but people who love what you’re doing so much they recommend you to someone else. When we look at that as the final goal, then we start doing all those things to cause it to happen.

The only reason people are going to refer you is if they have an amazing experience. Too often in financial services, we think it’s about only the returns and how our money is doing.

But you must think about what you’re selling that’s really bigger than that, and that is maybe you’re selling security or safety or peace of mind. We always have to think about that in everything we do with our customers, and I think that will help lead us toward this place of getting people who want to refer us to their friends and family.

FELDMAN: What are some steps for getting to that?

HUBA: First of all, I want to know what my customers think of what I’m doing. And here we can get a little analytical about it. I don’t know if your audience is familiar with something called the Net Promoter Score. It’s a research methodology out of Bain, and it’s basically two questions.

The first question is: How likely would you be to recommend this to someone else on a scale of 0 to 10? Those 9s and 10s are promoters, people who answer 0 to 6 are detractors, 7s and 8s are passive.

I love this scoring methodology because it actually takes the percentage of promoters you have in your business minus the percentage of detractors, and you get a score. Right away, at least we can benchmark what percentage of our customer base is people who would promote us, and what percentage of our customer base is people who would not.

And then for the second question, we ask them to tell us more about why you gave us that score. So, of the 9s and 10s, we might ask, “What will you say when you recommend us to other people?” And that’s going to tell us what our word of mouth is, because maybe we don’t know what people are saying about us.

And then of the lower scores, we ask: What can we do to improve? This helps us get feedback on whether we are doing the right thing and how we could get to a place where more people will refer us, because we might not even know what’s going on.

And to be quite honest with you, I have to tell you my financial advisor is really frustrating the crap out of me right now.

There are some issues going on with my finances, and he is not very responsive about them. I don’t know that I would refer him today. I hate to say that, but he has no idea because he is not asking.

FELDMAN: How often should someone survey clients?

HUBA: I would at least do it twice a year, an email survey, something like SurveyMonkey, very simple to use. I would benchmark it, and then I would do it on a periodic basis. I would send it out to everyone and keep trying to move that score higher.

It’s going to continually give you feedback on how well you’re doing just in that open-ended question. That’s because it’s where you’re getting the insight into what people think about what you’re doing.

FELDMAN: You talk a lot about the “shiny new object syndrome,” and I think a lot of our readers fall into that, where they’re busy chasing new client after new client, but not leveraging the network of clients that they’ve been building all along. What are some ways of refocusing toward your current clients rather than the shiny new objects?

HUBA: Yes, this is such a common thing where businesses focus on getting new customers in the door. You have to focus on getting new customers. That’s great. But what I think people don’t realize is the power of the customers we currently have.

It’s five times cheaper to keep a current customer than to get a new one. This army of customers is our sales force. If they love what we do, they are going out there and recommending. They are acquiring new customers for us.

So when we think about acquisition sources, current customers are No. 1. Especially when it comes to something like financial services, because this is such an important matter. If a friend or a colleague you trust says, “You know what, I love this person. You need to go with this person,” that marketing is way more influential than any kind of advertising or other things we could do.

When you look at all the studies on who people trust, they trust a friend or a colleague in recommending a business versus the advertising from the business. So there are just so many things that could be done.

One of the things I talk about in Monster Loyalty is the one-percenters. These are the absolute super fans of your business, maybe the 9s and 10s. It’s usually a really small group.

So if we use Net Promoter, we can isolate who the top folks are, and then maybe there are things we can to do to pull those folks together. It doesn’t have to be overly salesy.

I’ve seen companies who do more of a social event or something around a community cause where it doesn’t seem like they’re only focused on getting someone’s business. But it’s thinking about the bigger ideas of what’s going on in the world, what’s going on with our clients and building more of an emotional connection to show that we’re in it for more than just the transactions.

Allow them to bring a guest, because then they get to meet you through the introduction of your client.

FELDMAN: How does someone connect with the super-engaged audience to create that movement?

HUBA: For people in financial services, maybe there’s something in the news that has people unnerved. And you want to bring people in to talk about what’s going on, what’s happening with trends, make people feel at peace about or at least more comfortable with what’s happening.

It could be something in the community. I’m sure around Texas there was an opportunity — and I don’t mean this in a crass way — around Hurricane Harvey, where a lot of people would step up and do a fundraiser. When we see people step up, we start to see them in a different light.

If you don’t know what your customer base is interested in, I would ask them. A lot of businesses have a customer advisory board.

Even though we might be one person, that doesn’t mean that we can’t also have almost a little board of advisors — some of your top customers you get together with and who would be happy to help you brainstorm things.

These folks love to help the company. I think many business owners are surprised that people will actually volunteer their time for this. But this is the behavior I’ve seen over and over again, and one I’ve studied, of how people feel about a company or a business.

I think a lot of business people think, “Oh, no, I don’t want to — I’m asking too much. I don’t want to intrude.” But those folks actually are very happy to help, and I would say just try it.

FELDMAN: Interesting, because I don’t think a lot of our readers have a client advisory board or have even thought about that.

HUBA: There was a chain of auto repair shops outside Chicago that had a customer advisory board based on our advice.

And it was a huge success. They would go to a restaurant. They would have a light dinner and drinks and just chat and get ideas. I think a lot of people in that industry never would have thought that’s something they should do, but it was a huge success.

FELDMAN: How do you design a program to get people to follow you like Lady Gaga did with her Little Monsters?

HUBA: Email and social media. Social media is a great way for people to learn about you. For most businesses that are on the smaller side, social media is brilliant because it allows us to showcase our knowledge, who we are, as well as build a brand, amass a following. People just can “like.”

Now we have Facebook Live. You really don’t need to organize a webinar. Honestly, if you create a business page on Facebook and you just want to make a two-minute commentary about rate hikes or something that’s happening out there and you want people to know about it, boom.

I would definitely have an email database of all of my customers, and I would periodically email them. Put in a link to the video. Email is still the most effective in terms of what we see on conversions.

FELDMAN: How important is it to lead with value during your campaigns?

HUBA: I’d say it’s everything. How do we differentiate ourselves from other financial advisors, from other businesses? People want to know what you stand for. As I was saying earlier, sometimes it’s that bigger thing you’re selling.

So in financial services, what are we selling? Peace of mind, right? We’re selling security. We’re selling something that is more emotional, having to do with our lives instead of just transactions and what kind of returns we’re seeing on our investment. We lead with that.

We need to know more about that person, more than just, “Oh, this person is able to get great returns.” I want to know more about whether I can trust this person. So having a showcase of what you believe in, so people can learn more about you, is super important.

FELDMAN: You talk about giving people something to talk about. Lady Gaga is great at this. But I think a lot of business owners would struggle with this. What are some strategies they might try?

HUBA: For any of us in business, it is really hard to stand out in today’s environment, especially with online and social media. There’s so much noise, it is hard to stand out. It’s the things that are bold that stand out.

One of the things I love for smaller businesses is thinking about humor, thinking about fun, thinking about using social media. For example, if you decide to bring people together in a social way, what is a really fun way to do it? Is there a way you can build in these shareable moments? This is especially important when you think about social media. Social media is really, really visual. So whatever you’re crafting has to have a lot of visual elements to it.

Let’s just say you were bringing your top clients together around this cause that you believed in. Maybe it was a cancer walk. You’re not going to bring those folks together and just call them Team Smith or whatever. You’re going to call them something interesting maybe. Maybe you’re going to all wear the exact same thing — not just a T-shirt. You have to really amp it up.

Maybe there’s a theme around it like the ’80s, and you’re all going to dress in your ’80s wear. But you’re going to run this race wearing something very visual and something very fun. Anything we do that is average, no one is going to talk about. There’s nothing to share there.

We really need to think like marketers and craft an experience that’s worth sharing in every single outbound marketing thing that we do. Your litmus test must be, “Is this worth sharing?” Because if it’s not, we need to amp it up in some way.

Using fun and humor get people to share it and to be enthusiastic about it like, “Look what we did. Look at this picture. Look at us together.” Those are the things that spread, and so we have to architect those things ahead of time.

Founder, President, Publisher InsuranceNewsNet.com paul.feldman@innfeedback.com.