elvisLiving out in the Oxfordshire countryside village scene (combined with having young children) means that much of summertime is taken up supporting local village summer fetes. A high energy afternoon of bouncy castles, face-painting and candy floss, means exhausted children = good nights sleep (great!).

My favourite such outing this year was to my neighbouring village Rotherfield Peppard, who really ticked all the aforementioned boxes, whilst adding burgers and beer (win/win). The highlight however was meeting two teenage musicians singing and playing guitars to the burger eating ensemble, in glorious sunshine. One was wearing a Nirvana tee-shirt and the other Guns & Roses, both bands that were going very strong long before they were born. Once I had absorbed the cutting (yet true) comments of my 4 year old daughter who had observed very candidly that “They are much better at playing the guitar than you Dad”, I decided I needed to find out more.

During a break from playing I struck up a chat and started to dig into their musical tastes a bit more. I was surprised to learn that they listen to a lot (and I do mean a lot) of the same bands, and same albums, that I was listening to when I was 15-16. One of the main ones being Metallica. Worryingly, thats about 25 years ago.

When posing the obvious questions (and I am going to show a little too much knowledge now for a 42 year old) of why not listen to some of the more contemporary versions, such as Avenged Sevenfold, there were grim shakes of the heads all round. “They’re just not as good, and anyway why listen to them when we can listen to the original band, that they ripped off in the first place” they explained.

This “theory” helped me understand, and perfectly encapsulated, the reasons behind the first strict rule I had to implement in the Cafécreate studio. No Nickelback!! The designer in charge of spotify radio is on a final warning having let 2 slip through the nets,and has his finger permanently on the mute at the end of every song. Building on my summer fete chums theory – Why listen to Nickelback when you can listen to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Black Sabbath, Van Halen. Its just a patent waste of everyones time and effort to listen to a poor imitation.

The discussion made me think about what defines a truly engaged community, and if you fake it, how deep and meaningful is that engagement likely to be. I’m sure that One Direction fans (generally teenage girls…I would hope!) would argue long and hard about how engaged they are, and will dutifully consume every contrived piece of marketing that is spoon fed to them. I am also sure that my daughters, once teenagers, will confront me with similar theories on why they love their bands and why their bands are so great. However, I am dam sure those bands won’t be One Direction, in the same way that my wife is no longer a Bros’ette. They will, however, be engaged with those bands for similarly “wrong” reasons.

One of my favourite social apps is called Strava. It builds communities around running and cycling, where you have been and what time you did it in. It uses many principles of gamification and is very addictive. By all classical definitions it has a very engaged community. It achieves this engagement in a number of key ways; innovation – it is the first to come up with this clever idea; specific – it doesn’t try and spread out and become all things to all people, it understands its purpose and sticks to it well; authentic – it is real and not contrived in any way. I am engaging with real people with the same agenda as me, to get/keep fit and make it as fun as possible. I haven’t yet sensed a background VC shouting about monetising this community in some way!

Metallica have stood the test of time (over 30 years, of selling out tours in minutes), by largely ticking the above boxes. Fundamentally (regardless of whether it is your taste or not), its genuine, real, original and something that people want to have a lasting relationship with.

Using Nickelback and One Direction as a metaphor for creating truly engaged communities and customers, I believe its important to not fall into these traps of fake and transient engagement. Push, kick argue and do whatever it takes to snap your associates out of the imitated design lead route.

Creating engagement and gaining market share in difficult business conditions means you have to do something different, something disruptive, but most importantly something real. This authentic realness (in terms of value proposition) often needs to be teased out, but it will be there. Take the easy route at your peril, copying & faking it may get you a “bubble” of engagement. But the kids will always find you out.