Archive for September, 2011

September 27, 2011

I’m always amused at the look on my clients’ faces when I launch into my somewhat overly enthusiastic one woman show about how exciting it is to leave the age of information and enter the vastly more interesting and fun age of relationship.

In marketing, the playground where I spend the better part of my days, information marketing is, well, pretty dull. Round and round. Up and down. Back and forth. Slides, swings and monkey bars. It keeps you busy, but it’s very predictable.

Relationship marketing on the other hand, is like a playground where the only rule is to have fun, play fair and make friends. It’s more like an empty cardboard box like the ones we all played with after all the predictable presents were open and set to the side.

The possibilities of relationship marketing are endless for small firms (and I like to think of mine as one of those) who live and die by their ability to innovate and create. So think of Twitter and Facebook and Youtube as our giant cardboard box and have some fun. For large corporations however, the challenge to abandon the traditional marketing structure is more problematic.  It’s been so long since they’ve played with a cardboard box, they have trouble thinking outside of it.

I’ve noticed a few trends as consumers and the businesses who work so hard for their share of our wallet, negotiate this transition. And we’re getting seriously confused. It comes down to this. We’re personifying objects and objectifying people. And I object. Because I’m not an object. I’m a person.

For one thing. Let’s start with Apple. i-tunes, i-books, i-phones, i-touches, i-pads, i-pods. Just because you put an i in front of something doesn’t make it a member of your family, much as i am a consumer of many Apple products. I don’t buy them because they define me as a person. I buy them because they make my life easier to manage.

Let’s move on to the Swiffer. In their commercials, we meet lonely pieces of dirt and dust who hope to find love with the swiffer. And the hope must be that we identify with their loneliness and need to belong which will somehow manifest itself as greater share of market. That’s not marketing. That’s manipulation.

And how about cereal; when a woman eats a certain bowl of low fat cereal, her long lost sneaker say hello and suggest they go for a walk some time. “It’s me sneakers.” As if eating the right cereal will enable you to have a better relationship with your running shoes. Say what?

The push back on relationship marketing is the objectification of people. And this seems to be the domain of television shows, not commercials. Think Toddlers and Tiaras. Pregnant in Heels. Any Housewives of Anywhere shows. We’re seriously messing with the boundaries of what keeps us human.

And it’s such a shame because the rules have changed for the better. Yet we struggle to find the right balance. As consumers, we have choices to make. Chose the real over the artificial. Chose the personal over the anonymous. Chose a relationship you can have over a price you can pay wether it’s with a national brand or a local merchant. Chose what’s best for you. Not what others would have you chose for them.

Keeping it real. That’s the challenge of the relationship economy where our experiences, good and bad, are authentic. Big business is learning this. (Take today for example, I got a nice e-mail from a real Air Canada employee apologizing for an issue that arose just a month ago. I can hardly believe it – but I sure do appreciate it.) And small business is perfectly suited to this. When the phone rings at my business, I answer it. Literally, I have to answer to everything. Good, bad and otherwise. I don’t measure my success in transactions and ratios and benchmarks. I measure it in the value of the relationships I have with clients, employees, contractors, suppliers and colleagues. While you can’t take that to the bank, per se, you certainly won’t have much to take to the bank for long without it.

But don’t just take my word for it. Consider United Airlines and the broken guitar. Within three days of posting the now famous video, the company’s stock took a serious tumble.  And the musician’s career got quite a boost to boot.

So I’ll keep singing the praises of the relationship economy, despite some early sour notes, and I hope you will too. I object to anything less.

the economics of equilibrium
September 12, 2011

While I would never have had a hope of passing any economics class quoting wikipedia, I’ll start off this post this way: “In economics, the term equilibrium is used to suggest a state of “balance” between supply forces and demand forces.”

And that ever so delicate state of balance is something that painfully evades us. We seem to think of a “healthy” economy as only being measured by a healthy profit. Nuhuh. Not true. That assumption is way out of whack. Disequilibrium is not a good thing. And to quote the internet again disequilibrium is “a loss or absence of equilibrium, especially in an economy“.

So much is said and written about people finding balance in their lives. A work life balance. But equilibrium doesn’t and shouldn’t just apply to a new age approach to living. It applies to the economy as well. Yet the business reports never mentions economic equilibrium. It only speaks of profit and loss. Of risks taken and rewards gained. And it’s misleading on so many levels.

When a big bank or a large oil company or a giant corporation is celebrated for records profits what it really shows us is a huge disequilibrium in the economy. No more than a community should be celebrated for starving poor children because the bank account runneth over. When a government tries to repair disequilibrium with a jobs program or an infrastructure program it’s seen as an economic weakness. Again, trying to feed your children should not be seen as a weakness. It should be seen as an absolutely necessary correction to achieve equilibrium.

The capitalist economy is structured for profit and not for equilibrium. And therein lies the major economic problem of the last decade. Since 9/11 – we have spent our way into a recession and lined a few pockets along the way – but we’ve also emptied far more in doing so. To the point of economic collapse.

The real question is, can we elect leaders who see the importance of equilibrium in an economy rather than leaders who live and die by the support of the wealthy few. Other civilizations have fallen victim to this trap – Spain used to be the richest country in the world if history serves me well – and at this rate, we’ll be saying the same thing about the United States in our lifetime.

To achieve equilibrium is the ultimate goal of a healthy economy. And we have much work to do. Every decision is an opportunity to re-balance the economy for ourselves and for one another. Where you buy, what you buy. What you sell and how you sell it. How we tax and whom we tax. And ultimately, whom we elect and whom we reward. That power belongs to each of us. Let’s not sell it off to the highest or lowest bid. No balance will ever come of that.

The quiet comforts of home
September 9, 2011

There’s something to be said for being away. Plenty, to be honest. But there’s plenty more to be said about coming home. And truth be told, many of my friends and family from back east don’t quite understand why, 20 plus years in, I’m still in BC with no plans to make the trek back. Not that it hasn’t crossed my mind, but that’s all it does. A quick flirtation really. Like a knowing glance from a familiar face across the room. Nothing said but it’s clearly understood – sure, that might be fun – but it ain’t gonna happen cause it ain’t gonna work.

I always thought home was about a sense of place. A physical recognition of where you are from. But it’s more than that. It’s a sense of space. Where things go. Where things are. And a sense of pace. What things happen and when. And when you’re home, wherever that may be, things happen quietly, without explanation. First this, then that. First here, then there. Like making coffee and driving to school. Or getting the mail and picking up the groceries. It just happens because it needs doing. It has its place because it doesn’t need any explanation or justification. It’s just what you do.

And the quiet comfort I find there, in a topsy turvy world, is why I call this place home no matter how far I roam.