The Customer Feedback Loop From Mad Men to Social Media

November 1, 2010

11:07 am

I am a huge fan of Mad Men, the show of the ad men and women of the 1960’s.  In the series the main character, Don Draper, is a self proclaimed genius at figuring out what people really want and presenting them with an ad and a product.  Throughout the series, the ad agencies are  employed by producers to, in essence, tell the consumers what they want.  They used tools like focus groups behind two way mirrors to examine reactions to different products like test subjects in a laboratory.

Where there were once two way mirrors, today there is Social Media.  Where there was once focus groups, today their is a clear, open space with nothing between producers and consumers.

As I watch the show I am always struck by the contrast between the times of Mad Men and the era we find ourselves in today. These days, the roles have become reversed and the consumers now tell the producers what they want and need. Not only are the consumers able to directly communicate with companies to express their needs and desires, in some cases they even become part of the design process.  In fact, the NY Times recently highlighted an online shopping site called PlumWillow who is currently employing a group of 15 and 16 year old girls as interns to guide the design process and get the consumers view, well, directly from the consumer.  They have torn down that last remnant of the barrier between consumer and producer, something Don Draper could have never imagined.

So for all of you aspiring and bootstrapping entrepreneurs out there, fear not, you have a wealth of knowledge and assistance at your fingertips!  Take the lead of sites like PlumWillow and USE your fans as part of your design and creation process.

As a former bootstrapped product creator and a self proclaimed early adopter, I can honestly say that I experienced it from both sides of the equation.  As a producer, I reached out to as many folks that I could to ask for help, and as an early adopter I love helping others get their products to be the best that they can be.  There are many tools out there that measure A|B for instance on differing web designs, but the users are unaware – you know, sort of  like standing behind a two way mirror watching the consumer sitting in a virtual focus group.  My opinion? Why not have two pages up and just ask them to choose?  It makes the consumer feel more involved in the process and in the end you will have a better product and an involved user base.

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Jimmy Gardner is a Senior Unix/Windows Engineer, a lover of technology and photography. Follow him online at @jjgardner3 and enjoy his portfolio at

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