I miss Nancy.
Not that I ever met her face-to-face, but we spoke on the phone many times when I was editor of a weekly newspaper.
Nancy (not her real name) was, depending on your perspective, a pain-in-the-neck old lady or the conscience of our brand. I prefer to think of her as the latter, although, admittedly, getting a call from her on deadline could sometimes change my opinion, briefly.
In a nutshell, Nancy would call me up when something was wrong in the newspaper. Usually, a church listing concerning her congregation, but sometimes complaints about why we put the story about the teenage drinking party on the front page and the story about a local teen volunteering for City Year on the back.
A younger, more tightly wound colleague couldn’t stand hearing from her, but to me, she was something the newspaper had far too few of – a reader who cared deeply about her community and her local paper.
Our first chat concerned a messed up church listing. In it, she explained that she first went to the church secretary and the pastor, who told her that they didn’t bother calling the paper because they didn’t think we cared about things like church listings. Nancy told them she’d take care of it, and she called me straight away. When she explained the chain of events to me, I thanked her for caring enough to let me know. I explained to her that the newspaper wanted to know when it was doing something wrong, and too many people would rather badmouth us over an error than actually contact us to get it fixed. I invited her to call me anytime she saw something wrong or had a question.
She took me up on the offer.
I didn’t really think about it in marketing terms at the time, but in hindsight Nancy was a critic who cared enough about the product to become a brand evangelist.
Just from talking to her, I knew she wasn’t one to mince words and that she gladly shared her opinion with anyone who would listen, so I knew that if we fixed any mistakes she pointed out or gave her a reasonable explanation of how and why we played certain stories, she’d tell her neighbors that the paper really cared about getting things right and making reasoned decisions.
I didn’t do this to turn her into a brand evangelist. I did it because it was the right thing to do, and any editor or reporter who blows off people like Nancy is shooting themself in the foot.
Even though about 80 percent of what Nancy called me about concerned things we were doing wrong – or what she thought we were doing wrong – I found myself enjoying our chats. She was always civil and pleasant – it was like chatting with my grandmother. On many occasions, we agreed to disagree, but we always ended out conversation on a friendly note.
So what’s the point of this trip down memory lane? It should be obvious. Every brand has its Nancys, and every organization needs to realize that they aren’t necessarily the enemy.