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Be Like Mark – Cuban, That Is

“Shemp” is movie director Sam Raimi’s term for mediocrity in all its forms. Well, the Dallas Mavericks and their owner Mark Cuban are definitely not Shemps. During their most recent season the team sold out every game. Meanwhile, revenues and the value of the franchise have doubled. As described in the book “Creating Customer Evangelists,” Cuban’s actions and the team’s incredible comeback present lessons for you and me.

Lesson #1: Connect with the Customers Constantly

Perceptual Research is really a structured way of keeping you in touch with your audience, current and potential. Anyone who doesn’t see the value in it isn’t asking the right questions or isn’t working with someone capable of providing the right answers. It seems cheaper to watch Arbitron to know if you’re doing right or not. But that’s like watching the rear view mirror to see where the road’s going. It’s the heads, not the company who counts them, that can tell you what they want.

Mark Cuban makes the most of those heads. He attends every game sitting courtside and up in the nosebleed section, just to hobnob with the fans and solicit input. He publishes his email address everywhere – even on the scoreboard in Dallas’ American Airlines Center! That’s why so many of the Mav’s innovations come direct from the fans themselves; rather than bubbling up from the politicized corporate bottom, they rain down from the top. In addition, Cuban hosts his own TV show to promote the team and he parties with the fans as “one of the guys.” Further, season ticket holders who don’t show up for a game get a call the next day: “We missed you last night. Is everything okay?” The lesson: Constant feedback with wide-open ears. Can your station say as much?

Lesson #2: Focus on the Customer “Experience”

“Rule number one of any business is to listen to your customers,” Cuban says. And Basketball, like Radio, is in the entertainment business, thus your radio station, like a basketball team, competes against all other forms of entertainment, not just all other radio stations. That’s why Cuban coaches his sales team to sell an EXPERIENCE, not a win-loss record. “People who attend a sporting event don’t remember how many passes are thrown,” says Cuban. “You might remember a major moment, but mostly you remember what you felt inside, and that’s what we sell – the experience inside the arena.”

I think too many radio stations marginalize that experience, obscuring it behind rote liners, bland formatics, cookie cutter promotions and marketing, and me-too programming strategy. We would do well to take a page from Mr. Cuban and remember that in “showbiz,” you don’t have any “biz” without “show.”

Lesson #3: Create a Cause Bigger than a Championship Trophy

Sure, winning a trophy is an important goal for the Dallas Mavericks. But Mark Cuban is thinking even bigger. Cuban’s Big Cause is to make the NBA exciting and entertaining. Average NBA attendance has been declining since 1997. But Dallas jumped from 11th to 8th in attendance between 1997 and 2001. On day one, Cuban clearly identified the team’s culture to everyone: “Have fun and make money.”

When we ponder our Wall Street obligations and the very real bottom-line pressures we face daily, it might be smart to remember that obsessing on shareholder value is never what creates shareholder value. Paying attention to the health and vigor of the underlying businesses is what creates shareholder value. Value is an outcome, not a goal. And a goal worth evangelizing and joining is really a cause. Mark Cuban wants to make the NBA exciting. Apple Computer’s cause is to “change the world.” What’s yours?

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