The Truth is Out There. You Just Have to Listen

The louder an audience’s voice, the better. Listening to your customers is a key to success. One audience that is particularly efficient at getting their voices heard is nerds. They’re a big audience (herd of nerds?), and are the backbone of the underground community that turns “cult” classic TV shows, movies, video games –you name it –into true classics. In honor of this influential group, we’re going to take a look at the one of the biggest cult television shows of all time, “The X-Files.”

The true antagonists of the X-Files were a far-reaching, faceless, and somewhat ambiguous “syndicate.” But if you ask fans for a specific character, the vast majority would point to “The Smoking Man” as the show’s “Big Bad.” What’s unique about “The Smoking Man” is that originally he was only an extra in the show’s pilot episode, standing menacingly in the corner of a single scene, puffing away on his Morely cigarettes. So how does a non-speaking extra become one of the most important characters in a television show? Answer: the fans. They became obsessed with him. They would chat on message boards and forums about him, share theories about who he was and what role he played in the BIG picture. The X-Files is credited as the first show to gain a devoted online fan base  who called themselves X-Philes), which has now become more or less commonplace. “The X-Files” creative team was known to scan online forums for unfiltered feedback and inspiration, and noticed that this particular character was making an impact. Noting “Smoking Man’s” popularity, show producers  eventually ended up giving him a proper name (albeit a debated one—did he even have a real name???) since they had no way to refer to him other than, well, “The Smoking Man.” The producers and writers of the show then began giving him a larger presence in the show, and he eventually became the legendary bad guy we all loved to hate. However, as a nod to the fans, the first time Fox Mulder referred to him,  it was as “The Smoking Man.” Nice work X-Philes. But hey, that’s the 90’s. A long time ago. Another time, another place. So if this seems a little dated for some of you, there is a more recent paranormal, sci-fi show that also had the VOC affect primetime: “Lost.”

Simply put, even though we know there was nothing simple about this show, “Lost” was a story about the survivors of an airplane crash on a mysterious south pacific island. For the first season, the focus was primarily on only 15 of the survivors, their back stories and how this odd island was affecting them. But ABC, and the show’s producers soon realized they had a true hit on their hands, and the network quickly decided to extend the life of “Lost.” Taking a page from “The X-Files, “ producers scoured the internet for feedback. Noting that fans often wondered just what the heck was going on with the other survivors (after all, there were over 60) the producers thought, “let’s create a couple of characters from the extras, and pretend they’ve been a part of things the entire time!” This would be achieved via flashbacks, added scenes and edited sequences. So, in season three, the writers created the infamous duo, “Nikki” and “Paulo.” If you’re a fan of the show you already know where this is going [SPOILER ALERT]. Fans hated “Nikki” and “Paulo.” They thought they were super annoying and soon demanded action.  The doomed pair didn’t even make it to the end of the third season. The writers heard the fans loud and clear. “Get rid of them!” Their 11-episode stint on the show ended with them both being brutally killed off by way of getting buried alive. They not only listened to fans, they slyly nodded to them by having two of the show’s most popular characters to bury them. An exclamation point to their blunder. “Okay guys, we get it…and we’re going to have some fun with this.” The next day water coolers everywhere were abuzz with fans discussing how grateful they were that their arc was finally over, and that their voices were actually heard. I’m going to end there, because there’s a debate about how “Lost” ended, and that’s one can of worms for another post. And yes, there was quite a bit of feedback from fans on that was well. But I digress.

The truth is, the creative teams of both of these all-time favorite shows actively listened to their audiences, and monitored their reactions. The payoff? They were rewarded with devout followings and true “classic” status. Not too shabby. So, are you convinced? Are you ready to turn up the volume and make your customers’ voices louder? Check out our Voice of the Customer: Empowered Customers Bring a Wealth of Business Insight report and start learning more about your customers and fans right now.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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