This blog is a recap from Bruce Dickinson’s keynote at This Just Works: The Digital Anti-Conference. You can view the entire event on-demand, free — right here!
He’s one of the most iconic rock stars on the planet, the operatic front man of a heavy metal band that’s estimated to have sold over 100 million albums worldwide and done so with little of the media coverage and PR that most music acts thrive on.
More importantly for those of us who care about customer experience and customer loyalty, he’s someone who can persuade thousands of people to spend three days in a muddy field waiting for him to perform, without any of them even considering walking away.
If there’s anyone better qualified to discuss how to deliver compelling customer experiences, then I can’t think of them – and that’s why Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson was the guest for our This Just Works fireside chat.
This Just Works is ActiveCampaign’s Digital Anti-Conference. It doesn’t go in for long keynotes and thinly veiled sales pitches. It’s all about sharing ideas that make a difference – and having plenty of fun along the way.
Bruce is someone who’s always open to both of these things. Besides being one of the world’s most recognizable performers, he’s also a fencing champion, a qualified pilot, a master brewer and a Sunday Times bestselling author. He’s fiercely passionate about squeezing every experience he can out of life – but also about connecting to the people those experiences involve with integrity and respect.
Iron Maiden aren’t one of history’s greatest bands just because they have fantastic songwriters and Bruce’s distinctive vocals. It’s because they instinctively get what customer experience is all about.
Play by play, here’s the Bruce Dickinson setlist for turning customers into fans:
You recognize that these are people who can walk away
Bruce’s definition of a customer is clear, concise – and not what you’d expect to hear. “You should really hate customers,” he starts. “Because a customer is a person who can walk away. It’s not somebody you can take for granted. A customer is someone like me who’s always looking for a reason to say, ‘I’m gone – and I don’t want to deal with you again.’”
So what turns a customer waiting for a reason to walk away into the type of fan that will happily spend a muddy weekend waiting to consume what you’re putting out? According to Bruce, it comes down to simple belief in your integrity and your intentions.
“If I walk into a store and person clamps onto me like a leach within five seconds, following me around asking if they can help me, then I’m going to be out of the door because I know they just want something from me,” he says. “When I walk in and someone just casually glances up and says, ‘let me know if I can help’ – those are the times I stick around because I can see they are there to make my life better and that’s it.”
This is the first rule of the Bruce Dickinson playbook. Customer experience should have the clear and simple goal of making your customers’ lives better. Belief in that intention is what starts the process of turning them into fans. If you don’t create that conviction, you’ve got very little to play with.
You show integrity by doing the right thing first
Bruce talks a lot about integrity – and you can tell the concept means a huge amount to him. This is someone who thought nothing of driving into Sarajevo to perform a gig for a population under siege; someone who demanded a retraction from a national newspaper that reported he was on the British Olympics fencing team – because he was only in the squad and didn’t want to diminish those who’d actually made the final cut.
Iron Maiden’s approach to audience experience during the lockdown is driven by this type of integrity. The band decided that socially distanced concerts would be selling their fans too far short in terms of experience. They wouldn’t represent value for money, and so they wouldn’t do them. Instead, Iron Maiden focused on creating experiences that may not make money – but make sense in a lockdown world.
My favorite of these was the listening party they organized on Twitter as a celebration of the classic 1984 Powerslave album. Fans played the album at home, with everyone dropping the needle on the record at the same time for a fully sync’ed up experience.
The band filmed links, comments and discussions to drop in between tracks, creating a shared listening experience that connected them to their audience without a penny changing hands. They demonstrated that they cared about spending time with customers – not just treating them as a source of income.
You think creatively about what you stand for at different touchpoints
That same type of creative thinking helps to explain Iron Maiden’s hugely successful foray into brewing, which has resulted in Bruce and company selling more than 35 million pints of beer to date. Strangely, it started with an unlikely pitch from a wine marketing executive who had some bottles of cheap booze to sell and thought he could see a win-win where the band slapped its branding on them, fans snapped them up, and both wine merchant and metal performers made money.
That type of thinking didn’t pass Bruce’s integrity test – but it started him and the others musing about what type of drinking experience the Iron Maiden brand should be associated with.
Iconic English ale was the answer – and rather than treating it as an easy spin-off, they sunk time, effort and imagination into inventing recipes and brewing processes that were an authentic extension of what they stood for as a band. Customers develop a curiosity and taste for their ales, lagers and IPAs in the same way they’ve developed a passion for their albums.
“We approached making beer using the same set of morality as we approached making music,” says Bruce. “And 35 million pints tells us that we’re doing the right thing.”
For Bruce, embracing different touchpoints involves a balance: being genuinely interested in the particular experience you’re now delivering – but also finding common creative ground with the other things that you do. It’s an approach that flows through the many different aspects of his life.
“Playing sport, being a pilot, being a creative performer – these are really different skills that use different parts of the brain,” he says. “They help you feel that you’re stretching yourself and creating this big space where ideas can ping around and talk to each other. If you’re interested in things passionately enough, you want to know the meaning behind them – the structures that govern flight, writing a book or interacting with an audience. You find that things you learn in one area can also apply to another.”
You keep investing in the experience
If you’re a famous metal band with several setlists-worth of tracks that fans would love to hear, there’s no longer a very obvious financial incentive to invest time in writing new music. The money is in live performances – and there are plenty of live audiences that would love just to hear the classics from your back catalogue.
“You make far more money out of playing live than producing new music – so does that mean we should just do endless revival tours of greatest hits?” asks Bruce. “The answer is no – because to maintain integrity and have a point as a band, you have to do new material whether you’re getting paid for it like you were in the 80s or not. Young bands are coming up with really good stuff because they love making music – and if we’re going out there as musicians, that’s what we need to be doing as well.”
You accept the balance of risk, reward and responsibility
To some it might not make sense to invest in creating new material, and taking a chance on whether your audience will like it or not, when nothing is forcing you to do it. However, that’s not the way Bruce’s mind operates. It’s not the way he thinks about risk and reward.
“Taking all the reward for no risk isn’t capitalism – it’s theft,” he says. “In my view, there are three Rs. There’s Risk, Reward and Responsibility and it’s not just about balancing two of them – it’s about balancing all three.”
Adding responsibility into the mix changes the balance in crucial ways. It means business is no longer about the simplest, shortest route to making money. It’s about taking long-term responsibility for the people that your sustainable success depends on. It’s serious about giving customers a reason to feel invested in your business – by putting customer experience at the heart of what you stand for.
That’s a formula for creating fans – it’s also a formula for refusing to stand still. And nobody epitomizes that idea more than Bruce himself. “The truth is that you can only do one thing at one time,” he says. “But it’s also true that with the right attitude you can fit several lifetimes into one. Try to squeeze as many lemons as you can. Try to get as curious as you can about how much juice is in that lemon, what it tastes like and what it can do. Keep stretching your brain, keep adding new things to your mental DNA. You have to put in the time and burn the midnight oil – but really interesting things start to emerge when you do.”