Whatever you want

The year is 1962. Jim Marshall, a rather successful drummer, as well as a popular drum-technique teacher, opens a small music shop, in London’s Hanwell district, selling mainly percussion instruments such as drum kits but also some guitars and accessories. The shop is a favourite meeting place for young, aspiring, musicians. In an interview, many years later, Marshall would describe his shop as “So many players came to my Hanwell shop, it was almost like a rock and roll labour exchange because a lot of groups were formed there.

Three such ambitious, still relatively unknown, musicians, Ritchie Blackmore, Pete Townshend and their friend Eric Clapton, would often and surprisingly criticise the sheer sharpness and perfect acoustic resonance of American guitar amplifiers, most notably those produced by the American music-giant Fender.

This notion ran counter to conventional thinking; American musicians, such as Duane Eddy, and groups such as The Beach Boys, were playing clear, pure and rich sounds that were all the rage across both sides of the Atlantic. And yet, Blackmore, Townshend and Clapton were insisting that an amplifier truly worth its salt should possess what Fender, and all other amplifier manufacturers were noticeably avoiding; deliberate sound distortion.

Marshall started to believe that these imaginative mavericks could possibly be right, and built an amplifier that ran counter to accepted opinion. The result was a rudimentary Marshall amplifier that possessed a unique sound ‘crunch’; obvious mid-harmonic vibration enveloped within noticeable and echoing distortion.

So many years later, cast your mind to what you may perceive as a rock concert and think what conspicuous brand, more than any other, sticks out across the stacks of ear-bursting amplifiers? Evidently Marshall.

Other than building amplifiers, Jim Marshall possessed a knack for being able to discern what clients truly wanted. Very often, business organisations become so product-focused that they may somewhat even start believing that their product or service is unquestionably what their clients truly desire. In this way, these organisations render themselves rather myopic on changing customer tastes and the annals of corporate history is replete with stories of how organisations believed themselves, and their product or service, to be entirely suitable but, in contrast, every dissatisfied client outright incorrect.

For yet another example, let us remain within the guitar-focused craze of the early 1960s and consider the story of Ernie Ball, an American musician, who noticed how many young students would enthusiastically attempt to learn to play the guitar but shortly after abandon such a venture.

Whilst most people around him put such a symptom down to lack of musical talent, Ball, in contrast, noticed how these students, with inexperienced finger-techniques, faced difficulty in playing with the popular Fender #100 medium gauge strings. Ball observed how these students had marked difficulty in holding down or bending the thicker, and relatively-rigid 29-gauge third string (the G-note).

Ball contacted the string manufacturers, Fender, and suggested a lighter string gauge, but Fender were convinced that their strings were exactly what the market wanted and guitar students ought to get used to their 29-gauge strings. Undeterred, Ball approached a string manufacturer and ordered a custom-built and lighter 24-gauge third string which he sold in his store. The product proved so popular that before long Ball made a complete set of lighter gauge strings; the famous ‘Ernie Ball Slinky.’ Today, nearly every world-famous guitar player, and most aspiring guitarists, use Ernie Ball’s ‘Slinkys’ as their first-choice string set.

The notion of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is less about database marketing and the use of advanced technology as much as creating, developing, and enhancing personal relationships with customers. At the core of a CRM approach is the appreciation that customer life-time value can be optimised when deeper relationships are formed between carefully targeted customers and the respective business organisation. Knowing about customers helps assist in the definition of what their real needs and requirements on products and services truly are, allowing for more targeted business-value creation.

Henry Ford is reputed to have teasingly boasted that “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black.” At a time when consumer and business-user behaviour is undergoing considerable evolution, due mainly to widespread adoption of life-changing technologies, no business organisation can embrace a status quo, but rather retain customers by emphasising the message “Whatever you want!”