It's been a lucky seven years for Dave Carroll, the musician whose airline-abused Taylor guitar became world-famous (thanks to his epic song and video, "United Breaks Guitars"). It was reported to have received over 150 million views on YouTube and elsewhere, as well as being held responsible by some for a temporary drop in United's market cap of nearly $200 million. Here's my interview with the musician:
Can you start by sharing some background on the "United Breaks Guitars" story?
United Breaks Guitars is a YouTube music video released in 2009 by my band, "Sons of Maxwell." It was my response to a tragic incident involving my Taylor 710CE acoustic guitar and some poor baggage handling by United Airlines the year previous. The video went viral and became a world wide media frenzy partly because people were still trying to understand the relevance of social media. YouTube had been a depository of a lot of poorly shot/sounding content that was light and forgettable. It was rare that people were uploading free content that was professionally produced, entertaining and that addressed something more. When the media reported that my video was responsible for a $180 million US drop in United's market capitalization, it became an important story because many brands were actively watching how one dissatisfied customers able to detract from the brand of even the mightiest of companies by their own mishandling of single poor customer experience. In fact, over at Google a representative of Google once called United Breaks Guitars one of the most important videos in their [Google's] history.
How has it changed your life?
I've since traveled to over 25 countries now to share my message about the implications of our connection with one another, customer service, branding and the power of storytelling. I'm still making my own music but am also grateful to write songs that bring out the essence of a message for organizations or businesses with integrity.
With the oversized mustaches, sombreros, and other great disguises you employed in the video, have you have been somewhat shielded from paparazzi stalking?
The beauty of being "YouTube infamous" for something like United Breaks Guitars is that it offended very few people, so either I am completely unrecognized, or, when I am, people are for the most part not invasive. Although, my wife and I were having lunch one day though in local food court and my iPhone displayed a notification from someone saying "Dave Carroll is eating lunch in same food court as I am." I started taking smaller, more civilized bites of my sandwich and felt a little odd.
Can one musician, customer, citizen really get their voice heard and make a difference, like you clearly did, or was "United Breaks Guitars" just a fluke?
Every person on the planet has a story worth sharing, and the tools exist for any single person to amplify their message like never before. Is it likely anyone who wants to can achieve the millions of hits and the media attention that I did with United Breaks Guitars? Probably not, but I got the attention of the world's media with hits measured in the tens of thousands, not millions. The millions of hits that came later only added to the number but the work was done much earlier than that. Not every story needs millions of listeners, and the goal should never be a particular YouTube count anyway. If it is, you're putting the "count before the cart." Instead, if you focus on making good, creative content that speaks to the heart of your intended audience, it's your best chance to truly reach them.
How would you suggest that companies respond to customers so they don't trigger a future "United Breaks Guitars"-type audiovisual assault?
Saying "I'm sorry" is often the least expensive way to start solving a problem: taking responsibility when you've failed a customer is not only the right thing to do but also the way to expedite a solution. Also, I think companies that are founded upon caring and compassion as part of their business plan will tend to avoid potentially disastrous brand damage. I call that approach Compassionate Design; it recognizes the importance of considering the needs of suppliers, your employees, your customers and shareholders as one whole, as opposed to separated silos that range in importance and value to you. If the story you're selling is incongruent with the story everyone believes, your brand is a ticking time bomb.