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Richard Holland

Richard Holland Managing Director

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Four Lessons Shark Week Can Teach Us About Loyalty

As I’m sure you’re aware, this week saw the annual return of Shark Week on the Discovery channel. In its 26th season, the summer-event has gained a cult-like following for the Discovery Channel. According to the Today show, this single week of programming has a 40% higher average than their entire primetime average. Each new show release sees approximately 21 million viewers. Viewers contribute 2.6 million tweets a week and 17.5 million Facebook posts. The “event” has it’s own Facebook page with over 809,000 fans. On June 23, the Discovery channel released its promo “Snuffy the Seal” on YouTube, which, as of August 5 has over 1.7 million views.

On the automotive side, Volkswagen teamed up with them last year. It became one of their most successful examples of brand integration garnering them recognition from the Cannes Lion International Festival for Creativity as well as multiple awards for both “Best Brand or Product Integration into a Feature Film, Existing Show and/or TV Series” and “Best Media Campaign for a Car and Automotive Service” for their Volkswagen Beetle shark cage.

So what is it about a shark that has built this cult-like following of loyal fans for the Discovery Channel and made it “the longest-running cable television programming in history?” Why aren’t there lion, tiger and bear (Oh, my!) weeks? As one of the hosts said on Bloomberg; “Discovery hasn’t done a coconut week yet because a coconut can’t bite off your arm and high-five you with it.”

There are a lot of pieces that had to fall into place for Shark Week to become the event that it has... As such, in businesses, there are lessons that can be learned in analyzing the development of this event that is now undoubtedly a part of our culture.

  1. Take a Chance: The Discovery Channel made a commitment in 1987 to take a chance. This endeavor was certainly out of the norm for them. They certainly weren’t the shark channel in the same way that MTV was the music video channel (back when they actually showed music videos.) They certainly couldn’t have predicted that Shark Week would become what it has but they took a chance. All too often, businesses are afraid to take chances and do things differently. People are naturally afraid of change and sometimes risks fail. You can never succeed if you don’t try, however. Without trying, you’ll never discover that magic bean that sprouts into the beanstalk.
  2. Be Consistent – When they had their “Aha!” moment and figured out that they were onto something, they had to make a commitment to not “jump the shark” and abuse this. They had to make it an “event” that was consistent. It would’ve been way too easy for them to integrate more shark programming into their normal operations but that would’ve taken the “event” out of the event and made it the norm. Consistency in their commitment to a plan and its delivery helped create a loyal following of people.
  3. Success Takes A Lot of Effort – Simply airing a bunch of shows about sharks every year wouldn’t satisfy their audience without the extensive effort needed to create new exciting programs each and every year. They continue to do their best to outdo themselves. Loyal fans don’t simply want the same things repeatedly. They want you to excite them more every time. The goal is to continuously do better. Even the best companies in the world with the most loyal fan bases are continuously working to improve their products, services and customer experience. These efforts do not go unnoticed by their fans.
  4. Become An Event – Too often, dealerships fall into the habit of having a “sale” every weekend. Outside of some holiday and OEM annual events, however, many consumers notice these weekly sales events and the frequency detracts from their specialness. Make a commitment to create your own event. A true special dealership-specific event that you hold once a year. Nordstrom uses this successfully. They have several “annual” events that focus on different areas in their stores – men’s, women’s, shoes, etc. – and these events are well attended. If they had one every weekend, the feeling of excitement and anticipation would quickly disappear.

Doing the same thing that every other dealership does and relying on your OEM to create events that exist at every franchise simultaneously is fine as a franchise participant. But consider the possibilities of creating your own event(s) in your market specific to your dealership. You might just create your own Shark Week.

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