Oh dear, poor Radio Shack has bought the farm. To be honest, I thought they’d gone to Retail Heaven years ago, but apparently they struggled on far longer than I would have thought likely. Smarter people than me are going to analyze this one to bits, and I don’t doubt there are dozens of reasons for its demise, but I will offer up this as a contributing factor: they forgot to talk to everyone at the party.

Brands live (or not) at the intersection of experience and expectation, a location good marketers know well. Like Derailed in Uxbridge 1good hosts, we invite customers to a party with the information they need to show up on time, dressed properly and with some idea of what is about to happen. That’s the promotion bit of things.

We run around like mad for days before cleaning, cooking, hiding the piles of half-read books and dirty laundry, and bribing the children to stay upstairs. This festive stuff is the product part.

So far so good, but we’ve all been to parties where the house was lovely and the food divine, but the party still sucked, usually as a result of a terrible host. Marketers have much to learn from looking at what happens to terrible hosts.

One type of terrible host is the kind who never leaves the kitchen. These control freak marketers are content to fuss over every little detail of the ice sculpture, but don’t actually want to engage anyone at the party in a real conversation. They think that’s the job of the sales or customer service people. To be sure, these folks are part of a great party experience too, but marketers stand to lose a lot when they hang about in the kitchen not watching the real-life experiences of their guests.

Other marketers venture out into the party, milling around and eavesdropping, alert to any sort of negative comment or dropped cheese puff. While these marketers are getting a good view of the guest experience, I would argue that clearing the dirty glasses and passing the spring rolls is acting like a cater waiter and not like a good host.

A good host moves through the party with a careful eye on the details but also with a genuine interest in talking to their guests. Not just the guests who are having a great time (Promoters) but to the ones who have just had the dog commit an indecent act on their leg (Detractors) and, most especially, to the ones who can’t decide whether to have another drink or signal their significant other to invent an urgent reason to leave. These are your Passives and if you’re wondering why they matter, read this post.

Radio Shack did a great job, back in the day, of being good hosts. They knew who their guests were and put out a great spread of electronic bits, cables, blinky things and rocket engines. They made sure their servers knew a diode from a multi-meter, and they perfected the art of keeping the conversation going with thick flyers in the weekend papers (just in time for when you feel the need to take apart the blender) and the brilliant Battery of the Month Club which guaranteed the guests would turn up at least a dozen times a year for that free nine-volt.

They jumped into the personal computing market early and with decent products and then something happened. I’m not sure what, but it seems as if they went into the kitchen for a long time and came out dressed as Miss Havisham and it all went to hell.

Back to the party. If you are throwing a great big party, the challenge is less about scaling it up (just peel more shrimp, dear) and more about making sure you spend some time with everyone there. Marketers who spend all their time talking to prospects, customers and each other, miss out on the equally important conversations to be had with employees, suppliers, partners, investors, channels and even competitors.

Cocktail parties are a fairly easy place to spot and engage these sorts of people, especially if you block the fire exits and keep the satay beef coming. Eventually, you’ll make your way to edges of the room and you’ll have plenty of company.

In the sad, no-drinking-at-work world most of us call home, the conversations with these other players are difficult and many marketers, I would suggest, are structurally isolated, well away from the chance to truly hang about and learn something, let alone guide a conversation and invite another.

Perhaps Radio Shack would be with us still if they had only talked to all of the guests.

Interesting Things I Found This Week:

The Marketing Sherpa Chart of the Week is just like the Radio Shack Battery of the Month Club: except for the frequency, content and target. Here is a company that knows how to sweep out of the kitchen with a tray of something gooey right on schedule. This week’s is worth spending some time with .

This is a special report from Chief Executive Officer and it’s got some great stuff on social engagement by Beth Negus Viveiros. Best of all, you can power through this whole thing in your next budget meeting.