So the other night, Turtle and I went to see some awesome local musicians whom we just adore. We even got a sitter for the occasion so we both could go (these days it’s usually just one of us, while the other stays home with the kids). The bands were playing at a little restaurant/bar downtown, not really a music venue per se. We got there just in time to score a table right at the front by the small impromptu stage — and not a moment too soon, as in about a half an hour the whole place was packed all the way to the back. Up front by us, people started squirreling chairs in between tables and the whole area became one big happy social masse with strangers quickly becoming friends. Our beers were served and we were already mightily enjoying a very fun Grown-Up Night Out, whoo!

So the first band started and they sounded great. Except for one thing: they were really, really loud. And the same was true for band #2. Now mind you, none of these bands are loud rock-and-roll outfits (not that there’s anything wrong with that). We’re talking acoustic instruments (amplified), harmonies, sweet indie-style music here. And whoever was running the sound had them turned to 11. It wasn’t so bad that it ruined the night for anyone, but it definitely made it less enjoyable for all of us up near the front. All night long, amid lots of fun and merriment, someone would punctuate the festivities by mouthing to the person next to them, “Wow, it’s so loud!” which was usually answered by “What???” to be followed up by “IT’S SO LOUD!!!”

At which point I noticed (mostly via lip-reading) several people had the following response: “They must want to make sure the back of the room can hear.” Which seemed a little absurd since the folks in the back of the room were pretty much completely engaged in conversations amongst themselves, and seemed to care less about the bands up front. (Not to mention, unless they were totally deaf, they could hear enough to know a band was playing and could come closer if they were interested.) And this is where my business mind kicked in and this post was inspired.

Playing to the back of the room — either literally or figuratively — is just a losing strategy for a whole bunch of reasons, the main one being that you run a huge risk of alienating your most loyal fans. Whether you’re running a band or a business, your core supporters are critical to your success because they are the key to developing positive word of mouth — an incredibly powerful force.

Your happy customers or fans are the ones who tell other people about how great you are; who drag their friends to your shows; who tell their contacts how awesome your restaurant is; who tell their friends to “Like” your clothing boutique’s Facebook page; who send their in-laws to your spa. These “front of the room” folks are basically your best ambassadors, and it’s critical to keep them happy. Don’t alienate them by ignoring their needs and trying to appeal to new blood.

I’m not saying you should never reach out to new markets. I’m just pointing out how incredibly important it is for a business to keep its core customers happy and to keep them in focus. And not to blow the eardrums out of the folks in the front row.

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