The value of trust is not lost on some businesspeople. On a recent visit to San Francisco, I paid a visit to the Giants and met with the team's managers who reviewed for me the multiyear strategy they have followed to build trust with their fans. It began with the team recognizing that not all games are equal. A weekend battle with a pennant contender or long-time archrival like the Dodgers is worth more to a fan than a midweek night game involving a cellar-dwelling opponent. With this in mind, ticket prices were scaled according to demand.
The strategy, which the Giants call "dynamic pricing", is not a new concept, says Russ Stanley, who is in charge of client relations for the Giants. "I think the Romans did it at the Coliseum, setting prices according to the quality of the lion." We met with Stanley during the off-season (long before their climb into this week's World Series)—on a morning when San Francisco fog hung over AT&T Park and a cold breeze blew in off the bay. A romantic when it comes to the game and the team, Stanley recalls that first season when the Giants went to the World Series, the Loma Prieta earthquake interrupted the third game, and the Oakland Athletics won the championship. The Giants wouldn't return to the series until 2002—when they lost again. Maybe this year will be different.
With a dearth of championships (the franchise last won the series as the New York Giants in 1954), keeping faith with fans is vital to financial success. In their trust-building campaign, the Giants have introduced programs to help season ticket holders sell their seats for games they cannot attend, and assigned specific representatives to make sure these fans are happy with their ballpark experience.
You read that right: Each season ticket holder has the name and phone number of a team official who will field questions or handle requests immediately. This approach, borrowed from major casinos that assign a concierge to important gamblers, builds bonds that cannot be created without such a personal connection.
"We give them the name, phone number, and e-mail address of a real person who is responsible to them," explains Stanley. "We deal with problems immediately. If a person says they had trouble with a ticket that didn't scan at the entrance and they missed an inning or two, I give them an invitation to another game."
After a fan has a problem, Stanley makes it a habit of finding them in the stands and making sure they're having a good time. The idea is that, in the future, these fans will feel like they know someone in the Giants organization—and, in fact, they do. As far as Stanley is concerned, there's no reason why anyone who comes to a game shouldn't be able to greet a member of the staff by name and stop for a chat. Relationships like these breed trust that encourages fans to come out for a game even during a losing season.
Win or lose the World Series, the Giants teach us a valuable lesson: There are no longer consumers, only customers. In the post-crisis age, the term consumer is a symbol of disrespect and ignorance. It is a demeaning stereotype of a mindless gobbling beast of indifference that ingests an endless abundance of goods and services without regard for consequence. The term consumer also suggests powerlessness—someone who can be controlled and manipulated for profit.
To be fair, the typical consumer in the debt-fueled binge-spending era from which we just emerged was a receptacle, and marketing was a firehouse. But today the buying public is saving more, spending less, and ever-savvy about advertising, search, and social tools. The shoe is now on the other foot. People will restrain their demand to force business to be about better instead of more.
Officials at the San Francisco Giants realize their tactics might not maximize today's bottom line. But baseball teams know a thing or two about bringing along promising young talent. The modern company sees that in the long run, customer value trumps shareholder value. Shareholders want profits today. Customers bring profits tomorrow.
John Gerzema is president of BrandAsset Consulting and oversees strategy across the Young & Rubicam Brands Companies. He is the co-author, with Michael D'Antonio, of the book Spend Shift: How The Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing The Way We Buy, Sell and Live.