How do you engage and provide value to your members and other customers? The usual prescription involves an array of generic “things,” like great benefits, programs, products, events, volunteer activities and committees. Engagement, however is interactive rather than passive. It does not stem from things and activities that a provider pushes on the customer but from the customer’s perception of value in some aspect of an organization and choice to make use of it to achieve a specific outcome. Lisa Gevelber, Google’s Vice President of Americas Marketing, points to another important dimension in the “new” model of engagement, and that is the opportunities afforded for constant connectivity.
The shift to constant connectivity is one that’s transforming how we connect with people, providing access to so many more consumer moments than ever before, and powerful ways to be relevant and welcome at each one. The possibilities are incredible and the opportunity is huge – and the time is now.
What distinguishes great marketers is their unwavering focus on those people – on their needs, behaviors, intentions, wants – and an ability to avoid the shiny temptations of marketing solely to things – like devices, channels, technologies. This distinction has never been more critical. As technology advances and devices proliferate at unprecedented speed, the allure of marketing to things will quickly prove both insatiable and unmanageable. Instead, by staying focused on the people and motivations behind the screens and technologies, marketers can catch an incredible wave of opportunity.
How can this be translated into association strategy? In an environment of abundant and constantly changing products, associations need to focus on people rather than products to remain relevant. They must re-learn how to keep their finger on the pulse of the market–understanding and addressing customer needs in a dynamic continuum, as they are experienced by real human beings in various situations and moments of time rather than as abstractions viewed from 65,000 feet in the air. Seizing new opportunities, moreover, means that we understand and leverage all possible points of knowledge delivery and connection that technology and informal experience constantly provide: mobile devices, social networks, informal chats among members during breaks at a conference; interactions with their customers, etc.;
All this requires a different climate and orientation; an organization in a state of constant alert, discerning nuanced needs as they emerge and change from moment to moment, and engaging with customers in learning from results, adapting and innovating. This is the framework for continuous connectivity and engagement today.
To help two organizations continuously engage with their members at the points that most mattered to them, we conducted two separate workshops for the CEOs and senior teams for two organizations at their respective sites. Both associations had invested considerable time and effort in searching for a new level of growth, engagement and relevance in new strategies, products, membership and “engagement” models, yet they felt stuck in the same place. This was because they were still focusing on disconnected products and activities rather than people and the continuum of their experience.
Instead of reviewing and re-designing products and engagement strategies, we utilized a framework we call a Day in the Life as the context for evaluation and development. Participants were asked to temporarily forget about existing products and practices and help us flesh out a day in the life of a hypothetical customer. We visualized that customer at the beginning of the day and understood his need for quickly scanning relevant market and financial news. We walked in his shows in the course of the day as he performed routine tasks, experienced unexpected emergencies, and worried about how to attract and retain his own customers.
We fleshed out the relationships and resources that were essential to his success and guessed his motivations behind needs and actions. We next matched the organization’s raw assets to these various needs and reconfigured them into flexible solutions that fit the context. Suddenly executives were thinking in terms of constant connectivity and service continuum rather than individual products.
In focusing on people and their experiences, entirely new dimensions and nuances of needs in dynamic contexts started to emerge. We could clearly see, for example, that it was not simple news and information that a customer really needed, but guidance on which key headlines he should be aware of. After a while, each group saw how it might increase value and engagement organically, for example, by adding access to analysis of an issue or market development, should the customer want to go into more detail on a specific news story. They adapted delivery of this information to needs in specific context, such as accessing it through mobile devises so that they could use their morning commute to catch up.
Have you ever been inside a successful start-up innovative technology or other type of company completely focused on and deeply engaged with its customers? Whenever I set foot in one, I have been struck by a culture of high energy, intensity, curiosity about their markets and customers, continuous learning and conversation. This is how Google employees described their experience of its culture:
We share everything we can. We have a weekly all-hands meeting called TGIF, hosted by our founders, Larry and Sergey. In the first 30 minutes, we review news and product launches from the past week, demo upcoming products, and celebrate wins….Everything is up for question and debate, from the trivial (“Larry, now that you’re CEO will you start wearing a suit?” The answer was a definite ‘no’), to the ethical (“Is Google going in the right direction.
Conversely, the majority of conventional, bureaucratic organizations in our research claimed that “they already knew their customers and employees” and were preoccupied with operational routines, products, policies and deadlines.
Constant engagement and connectivity requires dynamic relationships between and among employees and members in which they constantly learn from and about each other; with each new discovery building on a previous discovery, fueling the next discovery and generating a momentum of serial innovation and renewal. And it requires focus on nuanced changes of needs moment to moment rather once every year or two years. Want to increase engagement? Change the terms of engagement, the focus and tenor of your organization:
“It’s not that being relevant is a new concept,” Google’s Lisa Gevelber says. “But being relevant to the moment is where marketing power – and consumer expectations – now lie.”
Keep your organization’s on-switch permanently tuned to people, intellectual alertness and continuous discovery.