Archives for posts with tag: relationships

You might learn more about advertising by watching this 6-minute clip, featuring Dan Wieden of W+K fame, than at any conference. His main thoughts are:

1. Commercials are seen as conversation starters.

2. The business is not about selling stuff. It’s about creating strong, provocative relationships between good companies and their customers. You need to feed the relationship first before you can feed the business.

3. There’s a huge opportunity in the interaction of screens, how can we create innovative concepts?

I don’t agree with him that is not about selling. Still, I believe advertising should be less about transactions and more about relationships. That’s what we want, don’t we?

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Facebook is a terrible tool to build communities outside of your immediate friends and family. It’s a good platform to maintain existing relationships. It performs badly when it comes to creating new communities based on shared interests. I’m still active in many forums and stats show they tend to build powerful, long-lasting communities.

The emergence of niche networks.

Big social networks have received all the attention in recent years but the real action happens in community forums. There are millions of these sites that have a combined audience comparable to Facebook. The one big advantage Facebook offers for marketers: Scale. It’s so much easier to communicate a message on a unified platform compared to millions of communities, often behind password walls.

In addition, you need to be passionate about specific topics: Unless you’re into Dubstep in Brazil, why would you ever know about forums discussing that topic? Or baseball forums in Germany. Sumo forums in Los Angeles. Bobblehead forums. These forums are surprisingly popular and extremely resilient because of their community bond. For every interest there is an online community to accomodate: fishing, hiking, TV shows, Rugby, Bakersfield fans – you name it. They live and grow every day even if you know nothing about them.

Real relationships

I joined a EDM (Electronic Dance Music) forum in 2000 and still participate every day. The conversation has transformed from sharing club experiences to political discussions, parenting issues, travel advice, general entertainment. I’ve never met 99% of the community but we’re a lively bunch and engage on a daily basis. It’s fascinating to experience this use of the Web and the untouchable strength of community.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to engage in niche networks

Facebook has become the Microsoft of Social Networks. It’s there, you can’t escape it but you don’t love it. We use it every day but we are really not passionate about it. I’m sure Facebook will be around for years to come, just like Microsoft won’t disappear. The real love and passion happens in niche networks. By integrating more social features into their forums, niche communities will soon begin to have their heyday. Soon means about now.

All this talk about Facebook and Twitter have distracted from one the most important strengths of the digital medium: bringing people together to form a community. The current Forums 1.0 will soon be transformed into more advanced and socialized forums.

Scale is important.

The bond and passion of a community is more important. And a much better playground for your brand.

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Marketers love to capture people. That’s especially true in digital marketing. We always try to find new ways and traps to keep people on our site. We make it hard for people to leave the site, creating overcomplicated processes, filling phone menus with promotional messages, trying to up-sell people throughout the whole ecommerce check-out process.

We act like jealous lovers, afraid that if they leave us they will never think about us again. It’s become so hard and expensive to get the attention of people, once we have just  speck of it, we never want to let go. Often people just want to get something done and then move on. They don’t want interaction, experiences or anything that prevents them from getting on with their lives. Think Redbox, ticket machines at a Subway, a soft drink vending machine.

People are feeling overwhelmed with all the information bombarding them all day long. Somebody tells them about a new luxury car: They just want to read a quick summary. They don’t want to test drive it, they don’t want to request a quote, they don’t want to get re-targeted all day. They wanted information, they got it. Thank you very much. Let me get on with my day.

You’re walking a fine line when you constantly remind them of your presence. You might become the annoying guy that talked to a girl once and now thinks she’s in love. She might fall for him one day but not if he badgers her with messages, love letters and other reminders of his presence each and every day. Or, even worse, traps her, making it hard for her to leave.

Real relationships are patterns of mutual investment. You invest in me. I invest in you. If all investments come from one side, you don’t have a real relationship. You have an imaginary relationship.

Next time you invest money in capturing, trapping and locking people in, ask yourself: Would you want to be treated like that? By anyone? Or would you want companies to invest in relationships of mutual respect? Based on a basic understanding of human desires, needs and mutual value exchange. (While writing this, I couldn’t stop humming “Free, free, set them free.”)

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Brands are addicted having relationships with people. They build Customer Relationship Management systems, 360 models of customer relationships, measure the number of followers and “likes”.

What kind of relationship are we talking about?

When I was 13 in summer camp, I started a “relationship” with a girl. After a few days of staring at each other, blushing and looking away, she found the courage to ask me if she could be my girlfriend. I said yes. Both of us had no clue what that meant or what the relationship of boyfriend/girlfriend entails. So, we continued to stare at each other, blush and look away. I think I held her hand once for a minute. A few days later, camp ended. We never saw each other again.

We’re dealing with the same kind of confusion when talking about relationships between people and brands. Since people don’t care that much having relationships with brands, the onus is on companies to define the desired relationships with customers before engaging with them. Is your brand a partner, an advisor, a consultant, butler, temporary guest, friend, acquaintance, enemy, drinking buddy, bro, BFF?

The rise of the Social Web has allowed to form larger number of weak social ties. And they allow us to connect with people just on the basis of shared views, preferences, ideas or “likes”. That doesn’t mean I want to hear from them daily, weekly or even monthly. Instead, I want to interact with them when they need help and I can provide them with value. Or vice versa. I would argue, that’s where most brands should start when engaging in the Social Web. Help people get things done. Be a butler. A servant. An advisor. A consultant.

And, maybe, just maybe, one day both will walk off into the fog, saying: “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

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Image: Courtesy of 20.media.tumblr

A farmer by definition is a person who cultivates the land. A gardener by definition is a person who cultivates seedlings and their offspring for growth. Sure, farmer and gardener both cultivate. But there is a difference – and it’s a huge one – the difference between a farmer and a gardener is what they cultivate, how they cultivate it and what happens to what is cultivated.

Ask yourself:

– Are you raising your relationships on Social Media for just a season or do you raise them to be transplanted? Farmers cultivate crops for consumption (offers, coupons, # of fans and likes, etc.), plants are cultivated  for growth and transplanting (developing real relationships/connections, Social CRM)

– Do you care about the roots of the crops? Farmers do somehow, but the roots cannot grow too deep. In contrast to the gardener, the farmer cannot allow a crop’s roots to get to the depth that will generate new growth or new life because that takes time and crops are just cultivated for a season.

– Do you cultivate shallow roots (relationships) to harvest them easily? Or do you care deeply about your crop, focusing on building strong roots?

– Do you cultivate the soil (Social Platforms) by hand (Gardener) or by a plow? (Farmer) Are you cultivating by the human touch or by the cutting touch of a tool?

– Do you consider your audience a crop (a commodity, here for a short time) or a plant (a thing of beauty, filling you with a sense of pride)?

– Are you cultivating for consumption or to grow something special?

Being a farmer cultivate is not a bad thing. We just have to understand and be very clear with everybody that farmers grow for one season and when the season is over, the farmer has gained value but the crop which was grown is now harvested.

The gardener, on the other hand, understands that the relationship between him and the plant is one of growth and time. There’s a huge commitment of time and money that is needed to make the growth come forth.

So, are you a gardener? Or a farmer?

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Image: Courtesy of dropular

Cheap encounters

Not everything was better years ago but some things were better defined. Clarity has become a rarity. A good example: relationships. Decades ago it was clearly defined. A relationship was between two people who liked or loved each other. Even without engagement ring or marriage contract, a relationship was nothing vague. A relationship was a well-defined thing with clear rules and a precise goal: improving the relationship over time. Before you started a relationship, there were declarations. We defined our expectations and were ready to hear the same from the counterpart. Besides these defined relationships, we had cheap encounters: We had something but no real ties that held us together, many exit doors in close vicinity. Nobody wanted to define expectations. More booty call, less duty call. That’s what we called a cheap encounter.

We’ve become used to this. Today we call it network.

Everyone does it with everybody. And it starts earlier than we think. Do brands really have a deep connection with their customers? Why do brands address me with my first name as if we just had a beer together? Do we know each other? Why do brands think it’s better to become my buddy than treating me with respect as a paying customer?

Sure, when you ask those questions you sound like an old fart. Nobody talks about basic politeness and a healthy distance. A healthy distance that would help us identify forced and real intimacy much easier. All these networks nobody claims to be able to live without, support the idea of social promiscuity. That leads to many cheap encounters but rarely to real relationships.

Global Relationship Economy

The word “Network” transformed into an empty word in the last few years. Scientists, database modelers and engineers defined network precisely. And enterprises started to understand that inflexible, hierarchical organizations that see themselves as a walled garden have problems adjusting to a new world of complex and collaborative work structures. Old enterprises were successful because they had everything under control. New enterprises are successful because they know who to work with others to solve a problem.

The last few years made clear that new enterprises got it right: Energy, IT, Research and Innovation: You can’t survive without  cooperation, collaboration and co-creation. The walls of the walled garden came tumbling down. The old control economy will be replaced with the new relationship economy. Are we ready for that?

Looking for friends

Let’s pose the question differently: Are we engaging enough? Are we open to a cooperative working environment? Are we ready for relationships?

Actually, the word ‘Network’ is for most people a throw-away word, mostly used to avoid the answers to above questions. The Web made everything so easy. So much interactivity, so many opportunities, often too many opportunities.

Are we looking for friends on Social Networks?

I know the phone numbers of my friends, know where they live and have a beer with them once in a while. I don’t need a friend confirmation before contacting them. Those relationships are transparent, in almost every way.

I know the strengths and weaknesses of my friends, their likes and dislikes, their destination. I invest trust in and have respect for them. Sure, it’s a pretty big risk. I’m more interested in them as a holistic person, less in one of their characteristics. Human beings are more than the sum of ‘likes’ and favorites. And I know I can have in-depth discussions with them, advancing our relationship. These relationships don’t need to be dissected by my preferences and categories. There’s one rule in life: If it’s not for real, there will be a form you need to fill out. 500 million people have done so on Facebook to present themselves to the world. The results (just like government forms): Nothing. Or almost nothing. Instead of a blooming relationship economy, we now have a new form of social bureaucracy. Voluntary. And very 2.0.

Quid pro quo

To be very clear: Not all relationships on Social Networks are equal. And, let’s please stay away from relationship therapy, talking about relationships until there’s nothing to talk about. Social engineers work on their relationships until they deal with a complete wreck. That’s based on the crazy idea one can plan human relationships, direct them, construct them – until they conform with their view of the world. Leaving relationships to the arsenal of manipulation.

Cooperation and collaboration despises manipulation because they always ask: What can you offer me? What can I offer you? How can we create something together we wouldn’t be able to do alone? Cooperation is an evolutionary principle. We band together and 1+1 turns into 3. Nothing new or revolutionary here. Romans used the phrase “quid pro quo” to express this sentiment. A relationship is not a self-service kiosk.

A relationship is not a present. A relationship is a business. A deal. Quid pro quo.

Oh, I’m sure many readers will shake their head in disgust. At least, I hope so. Maybe they start to question the value of 14,453 global friends while there’s no time to meet a real person for lunch. Do we create peace, improve justice and new technologies with our network friends? Or are we just trying to avoid the real work? We could act, do and work together. Instead, we’re developing a fetish. That’s easier. And meaningless.

Quickies and Wikis

That doesn’t mean networks and wikis are useless because that world is is maturing. We see two separate network trends: the Facebook world and the Wiki world. On one hand you have cheap encounters (quickies), on the other hand constructive cooperation. Here self-indulgence, there collaboration.

The Wiki world works together because they extract value. Many enterprises use these tools because they experience the benefit of working together, not against each other. This is not the old team where everybody hid behind the other person. The Wiki world goes beyond that thinking: Innovative projects happen because the old control model ended in the trash. The other department/division/company is not an enemy, they are partners.

Quid pro quo. The network matures.

It might be also a sign of our recessionary times. When people prosper, they focus on themselves and don’t see any benefit in working with others. It’s easier to complain, criticize and bitch about others. Cooperation in this world feels like capitulation. A defeat. We can beat them by merging or owning them. But working WITH them? Please.

Cooperation/Co-Creation and Collaboration has increased in the last few years. It might be the tough times or just the plain insight that enterprises don’t have to do everything themselves. They can become better companies and more competitive when working with others. In the old days, enterprises were forced to collaborate. Now they want to.

Explanations

Collaboration as a basic element of economic activity has been researched by academia for a long time – game theory as an example. Home Cooperativus is far superior to Homo Oeconomicus. Cooperation and collaboration grows up and becomes just a normal part of the business routine. A good sign. But as long as we talk about networks with this quasi religious undertone, we still have a lot to figure out. Homo Cooperativus is not a new form of humankind, a new us. We’re still driven by our own motivations and desires. We just know that we have to cooperate and collaborate to achieve those. The old term ‘relationship’ is filled with moral implications, always implying there are no selfish motivations. That’s why we read so much crap about the new way of working together, Office 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, co-creation. Nobody wants to be honest and admit the one reason for the advent of collaboration: It benefits us.

Until a few years ago, cooperation meant attacking each other (Call it Mergers & Acquisitions.) Those translated in conquering market shares, not developing new markets. A successful merger was one where the winner eliminated the last traces of the losers corporate culture. Often not motivated by a sense of business. Motivated by legacy emotions.

That doesn’t work anymore. Structures are too complex. Employees too confident. Markets too saturated. Forced marriages were replaced with marriages of reason. We should be happy about that.

That forces all parties to adjust to various corporate cultures. They have to negotiate, find a consensus and then decide: What is the value for each of the stakeholders? How much of my identity do I have to give up to succeed? Answering questions like that lead to clearer rules, clearer rights and duties. If you want to have a relationship, you have to declare your self. Clear and explicit.

Results

Enterprises are trying to break through the walls and silos, expanding the definition of relationships. Collaborative efforts become the norm of corporate culture. The groundswell has just begun, forcing enterprises to rethink everything. I’ve worked in the agency world for almost 20 years, often more involved in a client culture than my employers culture. More often than not, feeling more loyalty towards my work than my boss. Good relationships center around content. Not form factors.

Still, many people have problems sharing their knowledge. One of the skills we learned in the corporate world was to hide our expertise and knowledge from competitors and internal divisions. That’s was a key to survival. We all know those little organizational piranhas. Ready to digest any little piece of knowledge and spreading it around the organization, poisoning the culture. Didn’t we get punished for collaboration, being too open for cooperation? And how often do terms like “Team” and “Group” equal “Buddy System” and “Organized Nothingness”?

That’s the trick: Eliminate organizational piranhas, the buddy system, the “relationships” that kill an enterprise. These little games have to stopped before they start. Fact: If your organization lacks cooperation because of internal parasites, your business will suffer. That’s a leadership problem. Maybe the most important leadership challenge for years to come.

So easy and so hard. Cheap encounters sold as relationships are still running the network. As relationships, these encounters are nothing better than a fling between teenagers. We’re still far off from transforming these connections into 1+1=3 relationships. That’s the only result that counts.

A relationship between adults.