2017’s Comeback Kids

What’s the best way to come back after you’ve been gone for a while? Whether we are reengaging with a former client, colleague, or friend, here are a few pop culture lessons from 2017 to improve our results.

–          The first question to ask is if reengaging is relationship or product based? If its relationship based, the key factors will be based on how “old friend” you are. Basically, will the conversation start where it left off, OR what will it take to get an “is that really you?!” reaction to get a new conversation started? If its product based, is your product “old-reliable / best-in-class” where all that is required is a reaffirmation of value, OR is your product a commodity where you need to first peak interest and get them to ask “what is this NEW thing?” Also for products, does your old-reliable need a slight commodity tweak to freshen it up?

–          Taylor Swift landed a massive relationship win with her new album “Reputation,” led by the single, “Look What You Made Me Do.” Music is personal, and therefore (I’ll argue) more relationship than product based. While she could have safely dropped into old-friend mode, Taylor went for the “is that really you?!” surprise reappearance. By releasing a song that didn’t sound traditionally like her, Taylor gave the super-fans something new while most importantly getting the on-the-fence, haters, and disinterested to have a conversation about her “new sound.”  If all press is good press, this was a massive “is that really you?!” coupe. Crucially, she was extremely careful to cash in on “old friend” points by filling the song with details that super-fans would recognize and side with her on (shots at Kanye, old character references in the video, etc.). That way, even if they didn’t like the song, the lyrics are what about “they” (meaning not the super fans) made her do, leaving her blameless – even if the old Taylor can’t come to the phone, because she’s dead. Genius.

–          Apple continues to dominate on the product front where they may or may not have the best phone, but they do make the best iPhone. Maybe that seems redundant at first, but think about it: there’s a loyal user base and ecosystem already in place (the ongoing services, like Apple Music are arguably the relationship components here, while the physical stuff like the iPhone is the product). The new iPhone is default the best in class and serves as its own reaffirmation of “iPhone” value, mostly just because it’s “new.” As of yet, no teenager or businessperson wants the “old” iPhone. While they would certainly like to expand the network of iPhone owners, they mostly need to make sure current owners keep coming back to re-up. Slight commodity improvements help for differentiation sake, but the core “old-reliable / best-in-class” product dominates their efforts, as it should. You can clearly see this by their competitors who frequently mock the “fanboy” culture and point at commodity features that may or may not matter on a product level to users (sorry waterproof and indestructible androids). Apple’s dominance is therefore driven by their ability to communicate a moderately improved upon, best-in-class product. Brilliant.

–          Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” scored a massive dual relationship-product win. Like Taylor, there is an existent fan base that already has a personal relationship with the film through their own viewing experiences. However, like Apple, a flat product reissue or rehashing wouldn’t be enough for a new hit, let alone to appeal to a new generation. In order to reengage, they needed to generate just enough “is that really you?!” to start the conversations about the relationship / experience, alongside an old-reliable product with a few commodity tweaks. Can you say live-action remake? Leave it to Disney to execute on all fronts at the highest level. From releasing the film 26 years after the original (which just so happens to be the average age of first time mothers in the US, meaning if you saw it when you were 6, the odds you now have a 6 year old is pretty high), to the choice of actors and song updates, this film affirmed that we’re all just enchanted guests in Disney’s world. Masterful.

–          What’s the point of caring so much about pop culture? We all work in sales in one form or another. Keeping those relationships and products fresh is critical, so from time to time it pays to think long and hard about why things work (or fail). Knowing what we are working on and what will trigger progress matters, a lot. Pop culture has the unique advantage of cluing us in on what is working right now.  We need to continuously seek out examples like these and work to incorporate them into our plans and processes.

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