Why Relevancy – Not Attention or Even Loyalty – Should be Your Goal
In the last six months, almost every organization I’ve keynoted for, from the Fortune 500 to middle market companies, is dealing with the same challenge, although it manifests itself in different forms. They may not even know that the question they are really seeking the answer to is this: How do you stay relevant in a world which is changing at a rapid pace? A rise in data, technological innovations, and a more demanding consumer base than ever before is forcing all companies to take a hard look at how they can sustain and grow market share. In the era of Amazon, no company, no matter how big or how strong, is promised tomorrow. Just ask Blackberry, Blockbuster, Sears, Kodak, Borders, ToysRUs, Yahoo, Brookstone…the list is long.
In fact, many companies feel like they are doing their best to create relevance by focusing on getting more attention or increasing loyalty. Although attention and loyalty are nice to have, they aren’t sustainable. You can manage to attract attention but it can just as quickly fade. What virality has to offer in amplification it inherently lacks in longevity. As showcased by studies which reveal how Buzzfeed with its salacious headlines and clickbait is on the decline, while paid subscriptions for outlets like Forbes and The New York Times are up. It seems audiences are willing to pay a premium for quality.
Loyalty is a nice word too, but loyalty incentives are no longer a panacea with research finding that the majority of consumers don’t feel loyal to brands based on incentives, but rather in the age of the connected consumer, they are focused on the brand’s relevance to what they need – when they need it. An HBR article cites consumer research from Accenture which “shows that in the U.S. market alone, companies are losing $1 trillion in annual revenues to their competitors because they are not consistently relevant enough.”
This question was constantly in the back of my mind as I wrote my second book, Momentum. After all, my goal was to write a strategic guidebook of sorts which would help organizations not just survive in the digital age, but rather thrive in it. When I wrote my first book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing, now in its 4th edition, my focus was on producing a primer. An introduction to those who needed a framework to understand and activate social media. In contrast, by the time I wrote Momentum, we had moved on from needing to “use” social media to learning to thrive in this new ecosystem.
Any brand that is currently thinking about how to use data or technology or even social media is missing the boat. It’s like saying how can humans use oxygen or how can fish use water? It is what we must breathe or swim in, respectively, as we continue to (hopefully) lead our best lives. The best approach is to think of your business as an ongoing and changing organism. Yes, it is completely probable that organizations start to add CCOs or Chief Change Officers to their boards. An individual whose sole responsibility is to make sure a company is innovating and constantly evolving. Some may argue that a strong CEO is also inherently a CCO.
For the purposes of this article, I want to focus on what it takes for a company to truly stay relevant. To do this, I am going to look at the five principles from Momentum and share how with the correct application of each, companies can indeed win the battle for relevance.
1. Agility thru Analytics
Only agile organizations can truly be relevant, and a marriage of data and creativity are required. Often when it comes to data, its uses are seen as external but in truth, we are just scratching the surface. Let’s take WeWork as an example. They are using machine learning to determine which spaces are used the most vs. what designers think will get the most use. Their neural network has proven to be 40% more accurate at determining which meeting rooms actually get utilized. Another company (and a client), Marketing Vitals, is absolutely revolutionizing the way restaurants make decisions. With precision, their technology is able to pinpoint for example which days offering meatloaf increases profits by 20% to which server is most likely to cause first time customers to come back for a visit – and who isn’t.
2. Customer Focus
Relevance comes from asking the right questions. In today’s digital age, that question isn’t “what does our brand say about us?” Rather, it’s “what does doing business with us allow our customers to say about their brand?” Take the beloved brand of Moleskin. Its luxury meets stationary. In the days of high-tech, this analog brand has to constantly fight for relevance. Which is why their Moleskin cafe in Milan was such a brilliant move. In their own words – “The Moleskine Café is a brand new way of living café life that reinterprets the idea of the café littéraire in a very contemporary vein. Mixing elements of the café, art gallery and retail store, it provides a creative and inspiring space which brings together the idea of a gathering place from the past and the core values of the Moleskine brand, which embrace and foster creativity in all its facets.” They have deliberately focused not on their product (which, of course, is available for sale at the cafe), but on the broader value of their customer base – creativity. This allows them to go beyond today’s fickle version of loyalty to building true relevance within their market.
The most relevant brands today are masters at leveraging mediums across the board. The new media landscape is changing dramatically, with web, TV, social, mobile, and AR interwoven in a customer’s decision-making process. For brands this means integration across those mediums is paramount to relevance. Earned, owned, paid, and shared media all have to play together. Spotify is one company that excels at integration. They maximize their online presence but extend it to concerts, working with artists, and partnering with apps like Shazam to further their reach. They aren’t mistaking their trendiness for relevance, they are constantly striving to stay that way. In this way, relevance requires maximum utilization.
4. Content Curation
Even though we are drowning in information today, content still plays a role in whether your organization is relevant or not. The competitive advantage is no longer who has MORE, but who can best present it. The new winner is the filter. The one who turns information into wisdom. This perfectly explains why Pinterest is one of the fast growing networks today. It serves as the curation engine to a vastly and quickly overwhelming internet. Angie’s List is another example which strives to simplify finding home related contractors in a sea of information. Or, let’s look at Kiva in the non-profit space. They humanize their organization and mission by sharing one story at a time. You don’t fund the organization, you fund a specific farmer in Nicaragua who needs the loan to buy seeds and get monthly updates on his progress.
Organizations today struggling to be relevant to their customers must also look at how relevant they are to their employees. We recently placed an ad on LinkedIn, and received 195 resumes in 48 hours…the majority of the applicants had already been following my company, many of them for years. If employee recruitment and retention are important to you, relevancy must start there. In fact, I don’t believe HR will even function in the future as it does today. Rather than call it Human Resources, we should call it the Cross Collaboration department tasked with creating culture and hence relevancy by leveraging all aspects of the company to showcase and drive innovation. It’s time for HR professionals to be a bigger part of the picture, not just managing and attracting resources, but by driving and helping shape company culture where people are and will always be at the core. When EY launched their rebranding efforts, they decided to leverage their internal team first. It was completely voluntary and three thousand employees signed up to share the rebrand which resulted in the campaign reaching twenty million people alone that year. Like so many things, relevancy does start on the inside.
The only brands which will be here tomorrow are the ones that prioritize relevance over strategies and trends that promise a “quick fix.”. Today’s connected consumers are not swayed in the long term by temporary incentives nor do they feel beholden to a brand because it managed to attract their attention with a clever campaign. Only those brands who proactively work at evolving with the digital times will be left standing. Be one of those brands! Put relevance first.