i-object

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.

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