Be Like Jack: Lessons from a Hollywood Icon for Social Retail

The rapid spread of a presumably false rumor about Jack Nicholson retiring from acting last week got me thinking about what a true Hollywood icon he has become and how he took a very unique path to greatness. Retailers aspiring to greatness in their social efforts may want to “be like Jack” in the way they apply social media technology.

Know your own strengths
According to legend, a producer who rejected Nicholson for a part early in his career told him, “We don’t need you right now, but when we do need you, we’ll need you badly.” Nicholson was not a conventional leading man and did not become a Hollywood superstar by portraying conventional roles. He had a singular ability to find and project the humanity in troubled and even dangerous characters and make the audience understand and sympathize with them, and leveraged that ability to its fullest.

Retailers need to take a similar approach to their social strategies. An edgy, youth-oriented retailer should have a very different social marketing campaign from a mass merchandiser. A retailer with a highly efficient supply chain should take advantage of it with real-time or near-real-time social offers, while another retailer with superior customer satisfaction scores should use social media to create brand evangelists out of happy shoppers. There is no “right” path to social retail success any more than there was a “right” path for Nicholson to achieve superstardom.

Stay true to yourself
Once you know your own strengths, be willing to stay true to them, even if it does not produce immediate results. Nicholson was hardly an overnight sensation, plodding through years of bad 1960s horror and biker flicks before breaking through with a supporting role in the 1969 hit “Easy Rider” (a great 1960s biker flick). He was in his early 30s, far from young in Hollywood years, but by sticking to the kinds of performances he knew he was meant to play, Nicholson was able to become one of the biggest movie stars in the world for the next five decades.

Especially in the fast-paced world of digital retail, it’s easy to assume a social media strategy is a failure if it doesn’t instantly produce huge results. But if a strategy is properly aligned with a retailer’s core strengths and values, it is bound to eventually catch on and produce long-term success that following the latest short-term social retailing trends will not.

Stand out from the crowd
Nicholson did not rise to the top by being another pretty face on the silver screen. He stands out as a colorful and intriguing presence and has never been afraid to deviate from the norm in his performances.

Now that social media has lost its novelty as a retail channel, retailers need to also stand out from the crowd in their social activities. An appealing Facebook page and clever tweets are important, but not enough on their own to make customers take notice. Make your social presence colorful, intriguing and a little different. Use the real-time nature of social media to reward customers for active participation and use video, audio and even 3-D and artificial reality technologies to do things in your social space that couldn’t be done anywhere else. Jack Nicholson used film to create personal connections with millions of viewers; you can use social media to do the same with millions of consumers.

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