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From “Sellout” to “Sold Out,” or How I Learned to Hate Success

“Ah man, I saw that band years ago at a small club.  I’m not paying $150 to see them at [insert name of big sports/music venue]!  They’re a bunch of sellouts”

It’s a pretty typical story:  small (often independent) band cultivates loyal following only to lose their most passionate fans when the band earns real notoriety and money.  I’m one of these “bad weather fans,” as we’re often called.  I’m fine with it; I’ve got an entire CD and cassette tape graveyard of bands I used to love, but who outgrew my affinity and loyalty.

The truth is this:  I like to have secrets.  Whether it’s legitimate or not, I like to feel like I have insider knowledge, like I’m an early adopter.  I don’t like it when my favorite things “become mass.”  Which is why I was so angry when I recently logged on to my go-to shopping site, Diapers.com, and was informed that the site was out of commission due to…gulp…too much activity.

I stared at the screen in disbelief.  I kept clicking “refresh” in the hope that this mirage of popularity would disappear.  It remained.  Then it hit me, “This is my fault.  It’s entirely my fault.”

I’ve been telling any parent who would listen to use Diapers.com—great prices and free, super-fast shipping.  I can’t live without it.  (Shoot!  I just did it again. )  That’s the problem with word-of-mouth campaigns.   Once you endorse the thing you love, you run the risk of losing it.

The irony of the whole thing is that early adopters often want their beloved musician or product to succeed, but they don’t want them to change.  There’s an emotional payoff in the “I knew them when” story. But it can quickly turn to disdain when fans/customers don’t feel like the memory is reciprocated.

It’s a real challenge for marketers.  How do you expand your market and keep your core customers satisfied?  I know it’s a particularly vexing question in the world of public television, and it’s certainly a pain point being felt by Facebook.

I won’t pretend to give the answer here, but I’ll share this tidbit:  Elvis Costello often asks his crowd how many attendees were at smaller venues/shows in the past.  It’s a nice acknowledgement and a creative way to single out the loyalists.  As for Diapers.com, PBS and others dealing with these issues, they’d be well-suited to find their industry’s equivalent of the “backstage pass.”  What better way to find out then to ask those who have been loyal since the beginning.  As for me, I’ll take a free box of Sprout baby food from Diapers.com.

Oh, have I told you about Sprout?!

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