”Companies are inextricably caught in a web of relationships with all things.”
“People are indifferent … until they aren’t.”
For some reason I have spoken to maybe a half dozen smart marketing people about consumer purchase decisions, purchase decision making models and how to affect people’s decision behavior.
Throughout all the wonky communications and behavioral modeling discussion I do find myself mentally referring to a fabulous 2005 JWT trend paper called “the connection imperative” <I do not believe it is available online anymore and I refer to my saved pdf copy>.
But, suffice it to say, any time we consumer behavior folk get together and talk we inevitably start talking about connections, connecting and making the most of all the connection opportunities in the world.
And this conversation always seems to take place as all of us uneasily shift in our seats viewing the environment in which we seek to create meaningful connection as a place that can sometimes look an awful like chaos, certainly is complex and is fraught with a seemingly unending range of uncertainty and populated with indifferent people.
I can tell you that this whole discussion puts great stress on brands, companies and those who seek to develop the necessary connections needed to sell stuff <create some version of a valued brand> while also creating the “promise” that exists in any viable product, service or company <let’s call this ‘the promise of a brand’>.
It is a fun discussion but if you are in the business of making money trying to figure it out … it can be a stressful fun.
But ultimately while building the promise of “what can be” can sometimes be elusive in its inevitable intangibleness … everyone worth a shit seeks to put some structure as they attempt to achieve the promise of the brand.
I love structure.
I believe structure enables better thinking and better creativity to enhance that thinking. That said. We go thru some pretzel like gymnastics to create some construct for thinking. We do so with the grand intentions of trying to wrangle a relatively chaotic or, maybe better said, a relative randomness that is often associated with wonderful connections & relationships.
I can honestly tell you everyone, and every communications business, has some process or thinking/planning structure which, while more often than not is simply a derivative of everyone else’s, is distinctly “theirs.”
Most are actually pretty good and if you know your shit they are all easy to use and easy to switch from one to another <as long as you can dispassionately ignore the “uniques” which always seem to dot the individual company’s pride in their thinking process>.
older version of a purchase funnel
The issue with most constructs is that … well … they look orderly.
A purchase decision cycle. Usually a nice circle.
Maybe a patterned linear construct. Usually a nice looking path.
Unfortunately, in today’s world where you get barraged by a seemingly endless array of things vying for your attention, the actual real-life cycle or process or ‘path’ can look alarmingly random.
I would argue that the best connection modeling is almost like an ‘outside-in’ scatter model. Lots of smart messages scattered about almost like free food samples throughout the grocery store eventually attempting to guide/lead you to a specific aisle and a specific shelf where you can interact and purchase.
Glancing Moments — Slow Down Moments — Sticky Moments
My model actually looks an awful lot like the information, knowledge & wisdom chart to left.
The actual model is one in which you are seeking to create gobs of ‘glancing moments.’ Glancing moments are those in which there is a connection, maybe just bumping into each other, and it is positive but most likely not enabling a step down a true deeper connection path.
And then there are planned “slow down too speed up’ moments.
By the way … I could also argue that the most basic value proposition any communications plan offers in their messaging strategy is a “slow down to speed up” value, i.e., slow down to absorb what I want to share and you will find that the knowledge or learning enables some sort of ‘energy speed up’ afterwards. Some would call this the “time value equation.” I actually defined the value.
Anyway. These connection moments are enabling moments. The brand enables the consumer in some form or fashion <educate, relax, focus, etc.> to ‘speed up’ after the connection is complete.
Lastly are the ‘sticky’ moments. Connect, stick and create desired behavior.
Communications people are always, always, seeking these moments. You can nudge and herd and encourage and convince and do all the smart things anyone with half a marketing brain will do … but … inevitably you seek to place them in a situation where they are receptive to a ‘sticky moment.’
And while I would like to flippantly offer a formula for this ‘sticky moment’ or state unequivocally something like “it is always closest to the actual need” time … I cannot. Most purchase decisions take on a timing of their own. What takes me 5 days to decide on may take someone 5 minutes. The 5 minutes may mentally go thru the same rationalizing process as my 5 day one … they just have the mental energy to drive thru it faster in that time & space. Therein lies the construct <we all think the same way> and the randomness <difficult to know when I will engage and how long I will take in each stage or moment>.
I imagine what I am trying to point out is that while we plan and analyze and do our best to create some engagement more often than not we are partially at the mercy of … ‘people are indifferent until they aren’t.”
And, yeah, we have lots of data available to scrutinize ‘likely moments that people will be less indifferent’ and we have gobs of research which can identify some specific triggers and stimuli to desired behavior <and lack of indifference> … but people are pretty wacky in that they are fairly inconsistent on caring versus not caring.
In other words … ‘what I care about this minute may be replaced by something else the next.’
This can even get a little crazier for “connection implementers” because, upon reflection, many moments appear more important than they really were … which then translates into some relatively absurd future fears that if we miss a moment we will be fucked. This can create some angst in connection planning and insight implementation.
All moments matter but not all moments are created equal and, even better, there are no lack of moments overall.
Philosophically when discussing connections and the importance of creating a successful connections plan of action <and managing the connection moments> the entire discussion actually gets rooted in some overall ecological perspective which emphasizes that the ultimate goal of … well … everything <brands, companies, people, esteem, etc.> is survival.
I know it sounds a little esoteric but if you attach the concept of survival to connections you can place an appropriate amount of … well … importance to how you create connections. I say this because far too often some business can be a little flippant with managing the moments of connection. And maybe they get flippant because … well … this survival idea is embodied not through some simple ‘cause & effect’ scenario <at least … rarely so> but rather survival is attained through a complex adaptation within a larger ecosystem consisting of a complex confluence of threats and opportunities <Holbrook 2003>.
Each connection represents a threat <loss of time, poor decision for consumer – wasting time, lack of relevance to business> as well as an opportunity.
There is an additional aspect which makes connection planning difficult.
While there is almost a seemingly endless array of data learning opportunities available, this survival process brings forth the paradox of success in a connection challenge way.
The more success you experience today in survival, which is actually a reflection of how well you adapted to the relevant contextual situation, the more vulnerable you become to extinction <not surviving> resulting from changes in the environment <Holbrook, 2003>.
Let me translate.
Oftentimes a successful connection is contextual. And, yet, we seek to replicate the connection itself.
I do not care if you are reading this as a brand steward, an individual, a communications planner, a strategic planner or a business … this idea suggest to maintain your highest likelihood of survival you must maintain a dance on the icy brink of death called “the edge of chaos.”
I am not suggesting any strategy should purposefully accept a consumer behavior pattern as chaos … but you most likely have to accept a large degree of randomness … and ‘move quickly’ when random connection occurs.
So let’s talk about connection itself.
Connection in and of itself is typically grounded in ‘self-interest’ as in “what’s in it for me” or “what is best for me.”
In typing that I tend to think about how psychology tells us that the ideal situation is that the therapist helps the patient to cure himself/herself. If you believe that … well … you almost have a formula for which to start building a “handbook for connection survival.’
Think about it from a behavioral standpoint.
Patients who have learned to heal themselves are better in applying their newly acquired insights in coping with new situations <practically speaking this means that the consumer, not the business, is enabled to maneuver within a new connection context and the business doesn’t have to turn itself into a pretzel trying to recreate the exact context to create a positive connection>.
And just to make sure I cover all my bases.
Conversely, patients who have only learned specific answers to specific problems often experience serious problems coping with new situations. <Beck 1979>.
All that psychological mumbo jumbo aside … what this means if you can convince someone to connect in a way that they ‘slow down’ enough in their wacky ‘go go go’ world and offer some cure for whatever ails them that they can embrace … and they will speed up <or at least envision an opportunity to speed up their Life thru you at some point> … you have offered a value proposition in which they see themselves coping better in the future <and your connection has even higher increased value>.
By the way.
This is a moment that matters – matters for them <the consumer> and matters for you <the brand, product, service, business>. Some may actually call this a “win/win.” I will not. I will simply call it effective connection leveraging some consumer insight.
Connections and insights.
Uncovering and discovering insights inevitably leads to successful connections because of one big word – relevance. It creates the highest order of relevance.
That said … in seeking insights it is helpful to remind ourselves that energy is most often generated by tensions of opposites.
- I don’t have time but I made time <and you made that time of some value>.
- You have made me slow down to connect but I feel like I am going faster now that we have disconnected.
Crap like that.
This means you have to have some insight to pay off the tension of opposites. It is almost like you have to surgically place the insight within the moment. Done well this is an amazing sight to behold. Done poorly and … well … back to that survival thing. Your connection fizzles and while you may not die … you have certainly been wounded.
When a connection is done well … well … success breeds success. The brand becomes the attractor and ultimately becomes the archetype of the relationship <not the consumer >. This may seem little wacky to ‘consumer is the center of the universe’ thinkers but if you have a valued connection in which , whatever insight you utilized, has bettered the Life of the consumer <I called it “permitting them to speed up in some way”> all of a sudden the relationship takes on a slightly different hue. The brand is the attractor, the connections become more attractive and the brand becomes more of the ‘pursued’ than the ‘pursuer.’
This is a tricky situation albeit a great situation to be in.
What I tell most people is that great relationships are about balance. The moment the consumer feels like they are pursuing and not receiving some reciprocal attraction … the relationship doesn’t survive. From a brand practicality standpoint … the reverse is, or at least, should be true <if I am pursuing and receive no reciprocal attraction cues than I should let that connection die>.
Here is what I know.
There are a variety of insight development methodologies in which to construct a solid planned attack on creating good ‘of value’ connections. And I do not believe anyone would argue that a connection in some form or fashion is imperative. I also do not believe anyone would argue that gaining some insight into what matters to someone <as in “insuring I give them something which will permit them to speed up if they slow down an connect with me”> is imperative.
And that is where I come back to construct.
Far too often thinking people hate randomness and the edge of chaos so much that they lovingly embrace the construct too tightly. And, yes, businesses demand construct so it is not all the thinkers fault. The construct is a handy tool to articulate insights and their importance <and their role>.
In addition, constructs can actually help a ‘thinker’ develop a plan against people’s indifference.
But … therein lies the biggest challenge any communications strategist or business ever faces.
People are indifferent until they are not.
We strategy & insight people are trapped in the wretched in-between of “focus” & “the highest order of relevance” and … well … the web of relationships with all things.
I love this wretched in-between. Heck. I loved writing this particular post no matter how mind numbing it may have been to you.
It may have sounded like a bunch of philosophical gobbledygook but I will suggest that if you attack Life and business thinking some of the things I shared you will be better prepared to deal with the challenge ahead. And, what the heck, being prepared is half the battle.