How to Venn Friends and Influence People

Changing Your Marketing Strategy Needn't Ground Your Business

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The problem of adapting business models, Imc2 clients and prospects often say, is like that of changing engines in midair. How do you retrofit your institution without putting ongoing operations -- and quarterly growth -- into a stall?

Seems a salient question, but the simile is wrong. It should be the relay-baton exchange: a carefully calibrated overlap that doesn't result in loss of speed or energy. And there's a way to execute the handoff that maximizes momentum and minimizes time lost.

1. Relationship-readiness assessment. Audit programs, vendors, competencies, personnel, budgets and closeted skeletons (practices that would, in the public's judgment, belie your stated commitment) to determine if you're ready for a serious relationship. And reconsider all success metrics. That's a gut check on how well you've internalized the fundamental shift taking place. This extends to all channels, including media advertising.

2. Purpose discovery. In the fashion of Patagonia, Krispy Kreme and Secret, find out what, in addition to making money, is truly important to the brand.

3. Creative platform. This is the conceptual blueprint for engaging with the outside world. Purpose infuses everything you say or do; it is not a single element, such as responsible-drinking messages, tossed in to complete a checklist.

4. Engagement plan. Only when you've internalized the foregoing and installed the structures to perpetuate it should you engage outward in the classic marketing sense. By this time you will have abandoned some advertising and promotional activities rooted in Consumer Era mentality and begun emphasizing the activities most likely to cultivate sustainable relationships. It is time to get proactive. Map out the Venn Diagram of your constituencies and identify areas of common cause. Then create ways for all to participate.

Along the way, plant azaleas.

Begonias are pretty as bedding plants go, but why invest the time and money in annuals when azaleas are perennial? In every aspect of your business, churn is expensive and ongoing relationships efficient.

Realize that trust is not a sales gimmick, weapon or commodity. It cannot be purchased but can only be earned, by being trustworthy and projecting your essence in all you do.

A great example is Southwest Airlines, which is dedicated to making air travel affordable. American Airlines is dedicated to ... who knows? Its slogan is "We know why you fly." Supposedly for our loved ones, but trust is not built by holding passengers' luggage for ransom.

Realize above all that purpose is not a slogan. It must be derived, not contrived, even if the process seems awkwardly New Age-y, simplistic or silly. Deepak Chopra meets Mister Rogers. Don't worry about reductio ad absurdum. What is absurd is the idea that your complex understanding of yesterday's reality is relevant to a radically different tomorrow.

Simplicity has its merits. John Mackey, former CEO of Whole Foods and proponent of Conscious Capitalism, holds that everything worthwhile can be reduced to three Platonic pillars: the good, the true and the beautiful. If you are honest in your deliberations, core purpose will be at the heart of all your activities, from hiring to the voicemail greeting. Take this seriously. It is reductio ad lucem.

Sometimes when we make that assertion, people look at us as if we were intoning the words of a cult leader, or just on acid. This is not a thought experiment, however, but a template for action and results now.

For instance, consider the hundreds of marketers with Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and YouTube channels, all scratching their heads because mobs of devotees haven't spontaneously formed around their brands. That is what comes of forcing the square peg of Consumer Era thinking into the round hole of Relationships.

Mentalities must change. They haven't much, as evidenced by this headline. We kind of tricked you. In fact, "influencing people" is itself a remnant of a bygone era. But impressing and, better yet, inspiring people will never go out of style.

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