The world used to be a simpler place. Organizations offering a product, candidate, or cause were in the driver’s seat. People had far fewer choices than they have today. And that was true whether you were talking about the type of wine you wanted to buy or where you wanted to get your news and everything in between. If an organization had a good story, product, or service, that was typically enough to earn a sale, vote, or commitment to a cause.
No one would describe the world as simple today. It’s complex. Organizations face a new and daunting challenge. People are constantly bombarded with commercial messages, which have made them cynical—not to mention they simply don’t have the time to pay attention to more than a handful. Consumers have an expanding universe of options and new ways to select them. There are terabytes of information at their fingertips, and networks upon networks to discover their friends’ preferences and experiences with the things they are considering.
The increasing speed at which we all operate in today’s new world explains why such an old concept—relevance—is suddenly so important.
Businesses that are relevant are practically, and especially socially, applicable. We have found that most people place almost all their emphasis on the practical, and that’s understandable. It is certainly true that what you are offering must solve a customer need and do it well.
But increasingly, that is not enough. Customers are becoming progressively fickle, as well as spoiled. They expect superior execution on your part. That is the price of entry, and unfortunately not something that will guarantee a long-term relationship. A slip, an encounter with someone who does what you do slightly better, or a lower price, and your consumer's relationship with you could be over.
And that is where the emotional part of relevance comes in. If your product, service, or idea resonates with a customer, if it means something to them—in addition to being utilitarian—then the relationship will be deeper, longer lasting, and more profitable.
In simple terms, relevance is that which provides meaning in our lives. Relevance is the full experience of a product, brand, or cause that we can relate to; it’s an experience that not only changes minds, but, importantly, changes behavior—and sustains that change.
How do you become relevant? There are three different ways, and you need to employ all three:
1. Segment Your Marketing
You cannot be all things to all people. But you can be relevant to all people based on some aspect of your offering. You can find out which aspect will resonate by dividing your marketing by very specific categories—age, income, gender, education, geography, life experience, interests, politics, whatever. Then determine how you can make what you have relevant to people in each of those categories.
2. Understand Intangible Drivers
There are four components that will affect consumers' responses to your offering, though often on a level they can’t articulate: thinking, sensory appeal, community, and values. Understand and take advantage of these drivers.
3. Consider the Three Cs
Relevance depends on three circumstances—content, context, and contact. The content of communications is the primary vehicle for delivering relevance to an audience. Context, by which we mean time and space, is another factor. Contact is the third factor; relevance depends on the communication’s source, as well as the medium itself.
Relevance focuses on results. Old-school concepts of awareness and engagement are the potential means, not the end. Relevance is about the ultimate goal—triggering the desired behavior.
People are awash in choices about where to spend their money and place their loyalty. If you aren't relevant, they will go somewhere else.
—Andrea Coville, president of Brodeur Partners, and Paul B. Brown, a long-time contributor to The New York Times, are the authors of Relevance: The Power to Change Minds and Behavior and Stay Ahead of the Competition (Bibliomotion; March 2014).