How Can Small Businesses Keep Up with the Hype?
Not so long ago, I saw ‘Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.’ An irresistible urge pulled me into the movie theater to see what else remained to be said about vampires and what new products could be launched in this ‘year of the vampire’ (this is how I refer to the period of time following the release of ‘Twilight’), a year that has seen incorporation of the vampire trend in everything from nail polish (e.g., black, dark purple) to television series (e.g., The Vampire Diaries) to foods and drinks (e.g., Vamp Energy Drink). I would lie if I did not admit that I was attracted by the fact that the director of ‘Twilight’ (and the soon to be released ‘The Twilight Saga: New Moon’) is brothers with the director of ‘The Vampire’s Assistant.’ Oops! Is this simply a family’s obsession with vampires or an insider’s tip about how profitable it is to make vampire movies; either way, there is a clear message – do it as soon as possible and as much as possible (that is why both brothers have left their respective movies open ended). An alternative concept is that the director of ‘The Vampire’s Assistant’ just wanted to follow the latest trend, one set by his own brother.
Whatever spurred on the brothers Weitz, it seems that an old family recipe was followed: start with a mix of good and evil vampires, add a few friendship issues, spice it up with a little romance, and top it off with a dash of teenager – put them on the screen and serve the movie to an audience that is guaranteed to chew it up (since they can’t go to clubs, bars, or other venues of entertainment). In this ‘year of the vampire’, making a movie about vampires or incorporating ‘vampire’ ideas into mass products and services is a sure profit, or at least some directors and companies appear to think so. But wait, there is enough money to go around for everybody; the mass market can consume the entire ‘vampire’ offer and leave room for seconds. Just one magic word: Twilight. Voilà…the trend of 2009! Should we consider ‘Twilight’ as a trendsetter? While ‘Twilight’ did not invent the ‘vampire’ flick, this reinvention was a nicely done piece of work that drove many industries to ‘vampirize’ their offer and suck in a little bit of extra money by exploiting this new trend. Why then would you just sit idle and let someone else ride the wave and steal your share of this ‘trendy-money.’
I am a complete supporter of leveraging popular trends for your company’s own benefit. Moreover, I urge my clients to always keep up with the current hype as well as ongoing and new trends. Why shouldn’t you extract the utmost benefit from the ‘year of the vampire’ if you have the opportunity to incorporate this trend into your company’s product or service, or perhaps simply into your marketing mix, to attract an entirely unexpected group of ‘bonus’ customers or clients? However, the current ‘vampire’ trend could be too bold of a move for some small businesses – I find that my dark purple nail polish is not viewed as trendy or professional and vampire images on my invoice definitely do not appear creative. If you also are not prepared to take such risks, I offer you an alternative approach inspired by the same logic as that used by the Weitz brothers…three words – Generation Y, Universal Themes, and Real People.
Generation Y. This generation is both casted for the movies described above and targeted as the audience for these same movies. They are teenagers – old enough to know what they want and yet immature enough not to think about the consequences (by the way, I am not encouraging you to take advantage of them). Do not ignore this age group. The brothers Weitz didn’t. Through your offer, brochures, promotions, and/or ambient music, try to get closer to this group and show them that you acknowledge their existence, their expectations, their taste. Show them that your business takes them seriously and that you are willing to reinvent yourself because you want their business. This generation can be quite demanding, because they are growing up ‘multitasking,’ they live on ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter,’ and they are the preamble for Generation Z, who will be even savvier customers. You and your business want to remain on the market and will do so only by immersing yourself in evolving trends. Don’t forget to make them loyal, because you will be flying sky-high as this segment of the market is just about to start earning and spending money (and you want to be in that circle).
Universal Themes. Your customers want to know that you are present in the moment, partaking in the same recession crisis as they are, looking forward to the first snow, and acknowledging October as ‘National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.’ While you and your business follow the trends and the hype, ensure that you play intelligently and adhere to the universal themes of love, friendship, spring, and harvest. Look up to both of the Weitz brothers who aim to create global hits – refrain from religious issues that can be misinterpreted, refrain from incorporating nationalistic pride, and refrain from discussion of politics or other sensitive topics. During a financial crisis, you want to attract as wide a range of customers as possible and not unnecessarily alienate customers or limit yourself to any one segment (as far as niche marketing goes, we will discuss that at another time).
Real People. We are living in an era where power is presented to the ordinary, real person…also known as the ‘era of reality shows’. Did you ever think that one day an ordinary person from your neighborhood would be paid thousands of dollars just for allowing cameras to follow him through a mediocre day? Worse yet, did you ever think that someone (turned millions of people) would actually watch that mediocre person? No glamour. The power lies in real people. Both of our case-study movies follow lives of ordinary people (i.e., not an extremely wealthy heiress, not a celebrity) who face something extraordinary; both movies have some fresh faces in their main cast. The Weitz brothers glorify a regular person and separate them from the masses. You should do the same. You don’t need a Paris Hilton to come to your business to receive motivation to offer exceptional service – you should provide exceptional service to any customer who walks through the door. Do not waste your time daydreaming about what you would say to Oprah should she walk into your store, rather say something nice to each of your customers. That real, ordinary person (your beloved customer) has the power to research your business on the internet, write a good or bad review about your business, and stimulate or prevent their friends and family from being your new customers.
In summary, the ‘year of the vampire’ trend or the ‘baby boomers’ trend, or the ‘green’ trend are not the only ways that your business could earn an additional profit. There are so many ways to show your clients that you are present in the moment, aware of current problems and trends, living in the same world with the same idols and the same dangerous repercussions of global warming. Doing so and doing so consistently will ensure that you eventually become part of the trend and not only a follower.