The events of the past year have left us all somewhat in a state of confusion, fear and uncertainty… and now hope for the future.

Rather than devolving into panic and becoming completely defensive, many of us realized this was the perfect time for reaching out to others in the spirit of contribution, support, and relationship building. What a great time it has been to start moving brands away from a Targeting mindset and shifting the mindset to one of Matchmaking. As many braced for a prolonged period of working from home or sheltering in place to wait out the virus, and as a lot of that still continues, it has been important to take the opportunity of spending more time at home, to focus on some of the things many of us seem to often feel we are too busy to pay attention to. Relationship building and nurturing the connection to colleagues, vendors, and customers has been at the forefront for many of us. Relationships are like muscle tissue, the more you engage them, the stronger and more valuable they become… so an incredible amount of value has been built and stored during this time.

If we want consumers to continue to feel connections with our brands, then we can’t make them feel like they’re being hunted. That is why I feel it is so important to change the conversation, and shift from a Targeting mindset in favor of a Matchmaking mentality. What better way to begin than with a focus on building relationships, and taking this time to understand and discover what are the most important needs of our customers and community.

I believe we all learned valuable lessons about the need to embrace the communities we know about, and reach out to others who may need our support and hear and respond to their needs… and making this an ongoing part of our company cultures will make Return on Relationship a part of all our brands for the future.

Step-up and be there for your communities. Continue to offer what you can to support your customers and their communities. Another thing we all experienced was a view into who are our corporate good citizens are. Companies like Walmart helped their communities and their workers. Airlines extended our flyer status. Hilton sent out a letter telling everybody that they’re extending all their benefits by a year, as did Delta. You know that these companies are hurting but they’re stepping up. They’re recognizing that the only way they’re going to come back is to look out for their customers. The companies that step-up, and continue to do so, are going to be recognized. It’s just like when you have a hard time in your personal life you find out who your real friends are, right? We’ve seen forward thinking companies who stepped up right away. You know this is not about profits first because we recognize that without our community, we’re nothing. As I have said over and over the past few years… a Network gives you Reach, but a Community gives you Power. Networks Connect… Communities Care.

What is a big NO when building relationships with customers digitally?

When you’re thinking about marketing in digital media (and this is incredibly important), ask questions of your target (“matched”) market. You really should be in the matchmaking mode rather than the targeting mode, especially when you’re trying to develop relationships with people. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve been in big marketing meetings (mostly with ad agencies), where they’re talking about selling to a group that isn’t in the room. A room full of 40-year-old men talking about whether they would or wouldn’t buy something, when they’re trying to sell it to 25-year-old women. Why are there no 25-year-old women from Middle America—your “target” demographic—in the room? Why aren’t you asking THEM? So when you’re talking about developing a marketing strategy for millennials and Gen-Zs… ASK THEM. And don’t do it as a survey. Don’t do it as an official session in a room, have a conversation… because that’s when you get real answers.

I tell every group: stop worrying about who’s coming to your page. Go to theirs! Start seeing what they’re talking about. Require every person in your marketing department to go to the social media pages of at least 10 of your customers every day and see what they’re talking about. See the remarks they make when they’re not necessarily answering your questions or conversing with you directly. There is so much information out there that you can get in its natural environment—where you can see how people really think—that everybody is overlooking.

Change your Marketing Mindset from Targeting to Matchmaking and you will WIN!

What are some takeaways from building relationships with customers during a crisis? After the crisis, how can you maintain strong relationships when going back to “business as usual”?

If you try to go back to “business as usual”… YOU WILL LOSE. We have seen this already on a State-by-State level, with some businesses that have re-opened too early (taking the short-term vs the long-term view either due to greed or necessity), and with the mindset of simply moving on. THINGS HAVE CHANGED… take that into consideration with every decision going forward. Involve your team… truly allow them to “think,” to brainstorm in a format where brains are actually being empowered to storm, to share what they are hearing from customers… listen, learn, experiment and evolve. Pay attention, and be prepared to alter course when appropriate and try to create a mindset of fluidity. Attitude, Perspective… Mindset. #NoLetUp!👊🏻

Does the pandemic present an opportunity for businesses and leaders to focus on certain strategies that weren’t thought of before?

I’ve talked before about the fact that things are going to change, and companies are going to realize how people can work remotely, be effective and get their work done. Truth be told, I think some companies are finding that people ARE being more effective at home. They are not being sidetracked and they’re not spending all that time traveling. Even if you only drive 20 minutes to work, that’s still 40 minutes extra a day of driving not to mention parking, stopping for coffee, and chit chatting in the parking lot and on the way into the office, not to mention all the morning hello’s and conversations.

Don’t just focus on consumers and their communities, focus on your employees and show them how important they are to the organization. Encourage your employees to better themselves. There are a lot of valuable online learning and workout resources. Support and encourage them getting in shape, staying in shape, and/or educating themselves… learn a new skill, study history, write a book, learn to cook or add to your cooking skills.

And from a business perspective, it’s been a great time to try new things. All of a sudden, companies have been forced to try things that they knew were out there, but might have worried wouldn’t be effective, or would cost them some efficiency. They have tried them and found that those fears were unfounded… and that in many cases they are substantially more efficient. When this is all over a lot of companies are going to divest of office space and the endless, throughout the day, team meetings. I think many more companies will be open to letting people work remotely. Let your team know that all these things they have been trying and using will not be just for now, but if/when we discover better, or simply alternative ways, many of these practices will continue even after the crisis passes.

And last but certainly not least, ENCOURAGE your team to take care of themselves because it’s hard to help others unless you feed your own soul. Take the time to do things that bring you joy. If you’ve got a family pet, spend quality time with them. Work out at home. Break out that cookbook you haven’t had a chance to get into and make some new recipes. Drink lots of fresh water. Limit your screen time. Walk in nature or in your neighborhood if you can do so. Listen to your favorite music. Practice meditation or prayer. Do things that make YOU happy.

The bottom line is that we can and should take charge of how we react to what’s happening around us that is beyond our control. And the best way to do that is to concentrate on building positive relationships with as many people as possible starting with those closest to you and radiating out from there. Getting back into relationship building is what makes us human and helps all of us deal with crisis. We’re in this together, so let’s concentrate on finding more ways to help each other cope and come out on the other side of this as stronger human beings with stronger relationships.

So important to include something I have been saying for years and sums this all up nicely… *A Brand is what a business (or person) does, a Reputation is what people Remember and Share.*

How important is empathy when pushing a marketing strategy?

We all know the basic definition of empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. However we have discovered such a simple definition is not enough. In some ways it should be easier since we have all more or less felt the same thing over the past year; we have been uneasy, frightened, confused, and probably concerned for others. Today I want you to look inside yourself, as an executive, a company, or a brand, and do a bit more. The #JustBeNice and #BeGoodToPeople mindset is a good place to start. It is really no different than all the urging I have been doing the past few years trying to get marketing executives to think more like consumers and see their marketing from the eyes of a consumer. I would suggest turning your lens inward and looking at your own feelings as they relate to what’s gone on for the past year. We have come to look differently at our families, our investments, our ability to continue to pay your bills if income stops. Remember to transfer that empathy to the people you’re dealing with or marketing to…. this is an important lesson to take away from all we have been through.

The problem right now is that our mindsets must change, and not just for the moment. People and companies who basically send the message, we will only care about you during a crisis, will suffer as soon as they go back to business as usual after the crisis. People will see through the fake. So be upfront… let them know you plan to put people first, do what you can to support them, and not try to sell something non-essential, when essentials, and being prepared, are what matter. This is the perfect opportunity to build your business and brand long term—to show people it’s not just about the moment. This moment, like others before it, will pass. Yes, we’re all in this together, because this crisis is global. But businesses need to communicate to their customers that they intend to make nurturing their relationships “business as usual” from here on out. Especially in the B2B space, there really is no excuse whatsoever for companies not to pay more attention to simple things like birthdays, family events, life events.

Consistency is key, just as it is in personal relationships. You can’t be perfect in every situation, but if you’re consistent enough and do your level best to take care of people the way you would want to be taken care of, it comes back to you. It might not be immediate or direct, but when you build that kind of brand, you’ll find that people will come to your defense on the odd occasion that someone comes after you for not living the brand.

What’s one of the most important trends we should be looking out for?

It sounds obvious, but businesses are missing it: your employees are more important to the success of your company than you think. Employee advocacy isn’t just about having your employees post on their social channels about your brand. Empowering employees to be more than just mouthpieces for your brand is a way to go beyond advocacy—and benefit both your employees and your brand.

What do I mean by going beyond advocacy? In many posts I write about empowering your employees through social media, so they can empower your brand and the concept of Employee Created Content, #ECC. However, I think you can (and should) take it further. But how do you do this?

Marketers may be able to reach the right person at the right time with the right message, but in the process, they are annoying the hell out of the 99.9% of people that are not in buying mode. Shoppers’ feeds are full of messaging for products they’ve already bought, hotel rooms and flights they’ve already booked and deals on things they don’t need or want. Today’s shopper has more information than ever in the palm of their hand and is becoming very adept at using it when and where they want.

Brands that are winning this new journey are providing large quantities of fresh and relevant content for shoppers to use when they actually need it. Not only does this help simplify shopping, it also has a lasting impact on the algorithms that affect what shoppers find across all forms of search.

Especially effective is localized content, as search becomes much more geo-specific. In the face of declining returns from digital advertising and the growing need for more of this kind of superior, impactful content, Collaborative Content Creation (crowd marketing), and Community Created Content, #CCC, offers a highly effective solution.

Considering the average overall social media engagement for branded content is far less than 1%, it is absolutely imperative that brands start thinking about expanding their content creation with those who truly interact and engage with others… Employees and Communities that value the brand.

It stands to reason that personal networks have higher levels of engagement thanks to a real relational connection, but brands need to know how to leverage it consistently and at scale. Most organizations are sitting on a goldmine of authentic content creation that is likely closest to their customers… personally and geographically.

Give your customers and employees the tools to create and share branded content (and if possible couple it internally with a powerful content management system and analytics package). It’s the perfect addition to existing brand digital activities, and an incredibly efficient way to increase the scale and effectiveness of those efforts and content creation.

Empower Your Employees and They Will Power Your Brand… #ROE Return on Employees is an incredibly valuable asset that most companies are not leveraging to their best advantage.

Ignore the necessity of this as a trend at your own brand risk.

What is something brands can do to integrate community building in their platforms? What is a key platform to achieve this?

One thing that’s relevant to a lot of what we’ve talked about here (especially in this environment) is: A brand is what a business, or a person does; a reputation is what people remember and share. Brands are so busy trying to sell people things at a time when their customers have other things to think about. It’s insulting to the customer. Please take this to heart.

Something that wraps into that is: A network gives you reach; a community gives you power! For years we’ve talked about networking, and I’ve always considered myself a networker. Everywhere I went I met people, I reached out, I built relationships. But I learned over time where my real strength came from. Somebody told me once that I’m not just a networker, I’m a “community builder.” I bring people together and all my friends know each other, people I meet become parts of different community circles of which I am a part. You’ll learn that when you build a community and support that community, it gives you power. A Network gives you Reach; A Community gives you Power! Networks connect, but communities care.

And I guess my favorite sound bite is: Relationships are like muscle tissue, the more you engage them, the stronger and more valuable they become. It’s true! Exercise those relationship muscles. Now is the perfect time, when we have a little more time on our hands, to let people know you care—to say to people: “What can I do to support you today?” And most important, #BeGoodToPeople in ways you believe are important… and remember being good does not always mean being kind, being good also means standing up for others and for what you believe. It makes a difference—especially now—and it always will… because it leads to all important relationship building, community nurturing, and a reputation you can be proud of and that will carry you through difficult times.

My feeling is that the platform is irrelevant as far “which is best.” Experiment and determine which works best for your business and devote your time to one or many.

#RonR#NoLetUp!👊🏻

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