Redefining Relevance

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In an age when the majority of the population you’re trying to market to is well aware of, and wary of, being marketed to, everyone from small businesses to major corporations are struggling to gain or maintain “relevance” with customers. Unfortunately, the attempt to do so often turns into unsuccessful efforts by brands to hijack the latest viral meme or co-op a trending hashtag. But even the most naive of consumers see right through that.

Clearly, maintaining relevance in the cultural zeitgeist isn’t a need that’s going away anytime soon, so maybe it’s time we redefine what “relevance” means.
Relevance is the stepping stone on the way to trust.
That was the truth bomb my creative director dropped in a recent meeting. And it got my attention. Because there’s something to that perspective that, if applied correctly, can start to shift the paradigm on how brands think about relevance—and how they go about achieving it.

In his book Become What You Are, Alan Watts makes a point about the trap individuals can find ourselves in when seeking purpose because we are, by nature, result-seeking mechanisms. He writes:
But when the results which the mechanism seeks are not external objects but states of itself [for instance relevance] … the mechanism is all clutched-up. It is trying to lift itself up by its own bootstraps. It is working purposefully, as it must, but to no purpose. It is looking for results in terms of itself.
Having been in numerous discussions with clients attempting to establish their brand relevance, I think Watts’ quote applies fittingly here. Relevance isn’t something a brand (or a person, for that matter) can just come up with in a brainstorming or strategy meeting. In such an attempt, the mechanism will get caught up in itself. Relevant is something you are, not something you say you are.

And the first step to becoming relevant is stepping outside of yourself, rather looking to see what you are in relation to others. Establishing that with an audience starts with showing that you’re thinking about them first. I call it the “we get you” factor. Not in a creepy we stalked you around the internet and know you better than your mother kind of way but in the we’ve done our homework and aren’t going to waste your time kind of way. The message is this: we have a pretty good understanding of who you are and what you’re looking for, and we think we’re the business that can provide that to you.

Positioning your brand is a little like attending a cocktail party: no one wants to hear from the jackass doing nothing but talking about himself. People are drawn toward (and remember) the person at the party who asks them interesting questions – and actually listens to the responses. Relevance requires listening.

Once you’ve met who you needed to meet at the metaphorical party and they leave with a good impression of you, then what? You reach out to them, follow up, start to build a foundation of trust. A business can do that through a myriad of different approaches, but the commonality between them all should be in how you communicate to your audience.

The short answer: with honesty and transparency. Whether you’re telling the story of what your product or service is, why you do what you do or how your offering can benefit that customer—you need to be straightforward. Not sales-y. Not marketing-y. The message can be funny or serious or inspiring or whatever, but it needs to be real.

Why does this approach work? Because you’ve told your audience the truth about what your brand has to offer them. You’ve made it clear that you understand them and that their best interest is forefront in your mind. And you’ve laid the groundwork to show them that you can provide what they need, when they need it.

So can we all stop jumping on the latest meme or new social media feature bandwagon and start actually being relevant?

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