Fred Rogers and the honest approach With his low-key style, Fred Rogers, the star of the PBS children's show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, was the antithesis of today's marketers. But on the Fast Company experts blog, public relations consultant Sam Ford suggests there are five marketing lessons that can be taken from the show:
Relationships are more important than flashiness
It's hard to imagine a duller show than Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He would enter his home singing the theme song, put on his sneakers and cardigan, and then generally have a conversation with his young audience. "Yet, I don't remember ever feeling bored when spending time with Mister Rogers, because he replaced that flashiness by building an honest relationship with his viewers, by making the show constantly address 'our' concerns," Mr. Ford says.
Don't promise more intimacy than you can deliver
In one episode, Mister Rogers looked into the camera, and said, "I've really enjoyed talking with you this week. I hope I have answered a few of the questions you've had. I really wish I could know each and every one of you personally, but unfortunately this television show is the only way we have to talk. If you have other questions that I haven't answered, find someone you love and who loves you in your own life and ask them."
It was an honest statement, and a reminder to companies that they can't have a personal relationship with all their customers - even in these days of social media - and should recognize that reality. Mr. Ford says the key is to demonstrate approachability but also be honest about the limits, lest customers be disappointed.
Be consistent in who you are, and what people should expect
The show ran from 1968 to 2001 (and in reruns until 2008), and the Mister Rogers brand stood as a calm reference point in the changing seas of culture. There may have been shifts in the anxieties he addressed, but his approach and manner remained the same. That's hard to do, with all the pressure to respond to every cultural swing, be it within our own companies or on television.
"Fred didn't hire a trend spotter to map out every new clothing shift or music shift in American culture to make sure he was part of it, that he was hip," Mr. Ford notes. "Instead, he listened to the gentle hum of 'slow culture change,' and he made sure his show remained relevant for decades."
Customers' questions are worth answering
Mister Rogers answered all questions - none were too trivial or too painful to be addressed. He took his viewers seriously, and companies must do the same with their customers.
Brands can take a stand
Fred Rogers took a stand when required, speaking to the U.S. Senate to oppose budget cuts then-president Richard Nixon proposed for public broadcasting, or speaking out as a supporter of home recording of television shows against media industries when they tried to block the spread of the Betamax.
But he did so in his trademark calm, respectful manner. "Brands too often shy away from supporting something," Mr. Ford notes, "or else - when they do - their 'causes' are disjointed from the work the company does and what they stand for."