Funny Business

Tom PetersWarren Bennis and Peter Drucker walk in to a bar. . .

OK, so we’re not comedians. Still, we couldn’t help take notice this week of an article in the New York Times that ties Comedy Central’s success to some very Drucker-like management teachings—in particular to what Peter Drucker called “the five most important questions you will ever ask about your organization”: What is our mission? Who is our customer? What does the customer value? What are our results? What is our plan?

The Times piece explores how the 20-year old, Viacom-owned cable channel has enjoyed longevity and high ratings by remaining largely focused on serving its core customers. (When Comedy Central has strayed into other formats, such as sitcoms and reality shows, those efforts “have mostly failed,” the Times noted.)

[EXPAND More]“We have never wanted to be all comedy to all people,” Michele Ganeless, Comedy Central’s president, remarked to the newspaper. Instead, the network has stuck to what she calls a “singular point-of-view comedy,” which resonates in particular with males, ages 18 to 34.

Ganeless’s comment reminded us of the insight made in the latest edition of Drucker’s “Five Questions” book by marketing guru PhiIip Kotler. “Our business is not to casually please everyone,” Kotler advised, “but to deeply please our target customers.”

Yet Drucker noted in the same text how difficult it can be to achieve the ideal that Kotler laid out. The reason: “Customers are never static,” he wrote. “Their needs, wants and aspirations will evolve. . . . Often, the customer is one step ahead of you. . . . Time and again you will have to ask, ‘Who is our customer?’ because customers constantly change.”

Comedy Central seems to be addressing this challenge, at least in part, by pushing its content onto new platforms. Its hot new show, “Tosh.0,” makes big use of a blog and Twitter feed, for example. That’s because “the millennials that are our audience now fully expect to be able to interact with talent,” Erik Flannigan, the channel’s head of digital media, told the Times.

What about your organization? What is it doing to understand its customers—and to change along with them?[/EXPAND]