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Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a ton of fun leading and participating in very creative and intellectual work.

Last week, I presented a Social Media introduction to a group of aquatics programmers from across Ontario at the PRO Conference in Minett, Ontario. It was a great experience talking to the differences between how Gen X and Gen Y use social media, and how – as aquatics programmers – social media could be used to engage communities. (You can view this intro to social media here.) And, this week, I’ve been supporting a variety of exercises, including branding exercises; PR strategies; and razor-sharp focused marketing campaigns.

In each, I’ve seen the game stepped up. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very smart cookies who come together as a team. And, in each instance, the discussion has gone from “what are we doing” to “why are we doing it”.

If you’re in business – you probably just raised your eyebrows thinking: “you should always ask why”. And we do – but what I’m referring to here is asking why until you can’t ask why anymore. What is the real essence behind what you’re doing? What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning and makes you say: “I have to do this”? What’s the golden circle, for you?

To quote Simon Sinek: People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it. And, the idea is to align your WHY – your core purpose and reason – to the values of your audience. When you do that, achieving business objectives goes well beyond a single transaction and leads to ambassadorship and deeper loyalty.

Here are a few realities to contemplate:

  • The market landscape of any industry has dramatically changed over the years, even as recently as post- the Experience Economy (Pine & Gilmore, 1999)
  • For Generation Y, Z and whoever will come next and whatever title we give them, digital is embedded in everything they do. They don’t know a world without computers, mobile devices and digital entertainment.
  • News travels faster than ever before, and from a significantly different group of sources! In fact, Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics (Aug 2009) informs us that “24 of the world’s 25 largest newspapers are experiencing readership decline”. (Side note: Generation Y does not trust mass media. For more spooky and mind-blowing stats, take a look at this video: Social Revolution 2.)
  • “Branding” has changed… In the world of social media, the audience owns the brand, companies don’t. This new dynamic demands a drastic change in the way marketers think about creating customer experiences.

So… why does all this matter?

It matters because our role as marketers is to be the “voice of the audience”. Our mandate is to have deep insight and truly understand our market so that we can create programs and campaigns that will achieve business results. And, with the (very light dusting of) facts above, we can see the “how” of achieving business results has to change.

Our audience trusts word of mouth over mass media. The majority of our audience has the ability to fast-forward our TV commercials; satellite radio is (mostly) void of advertising; we’ve already seen the stat on newspaper readership; and web banner ads are often – if not always – ignored. The market demands the ability to experience, to discuss and to share. How are you building your programs?

Over the course of the years to come, I suggest that the marketing, communications, creative and sales professions will need to squarely shift their paradigm and focus on the human beings behind the transactions. Whatever it is you are trying to achieve, through whichever audience you are trying to achieve it, if you can’t tie your “why” to your audiences’ values – if you can’t create the emotional pull – success will elude you.

Allow me to leave you with 2 versions of the same example – you decide which you prefer:

Coffee scenario #1:

A new coffee establishment comes onto the scene. The variety of specialty coffees is high… so is the price point. The “promise”: we make a great cup of coffee and can satisfy your craving for any kind of specialty coffee. So – you walk in. You order a cup of coffee (or your favourite specialty) and you pay more than 2x what you would have at your regular joint. The coffee is OK but not spectacular. Will you go back?

Coffee scenario #2:

A new coffee establishment comes onto the scene. The variety of specialty coffees is high… so is the price point. The “promise”: “we invite you to take a break out of your busy day, listen to soothing music, never feel rushed, spoil yourself, indulge and savour a treat made individually just for you”. So – you walk in. You order a cup of coffee (or your favourite specialty) and you pay more than 2x what you would have at your regular joint. Then you sit down in a plush chair…

You open your paper, the lighting is just right. You take a sip of a cup of coffee with just a hint of caramel. You begin reading. Soothing music lingers just loud enough that you can hear it if you want, but quiet enough that it doesn’t intrude on your thoughts. Occasionally, you look up from your paper to see others ordering, to smell fresh espresso being ground and brewed. The art deco on the wall is not offensive but just right for the location. You look at the time – it’s been over 40min – and not once have you been rushed or made to feel uncomfortable. You leave relaxed, refreshed – and a little guilty for not bringing back some of the delicious brew to your colleagues at work. Will you go back?

Bottom line: remember your WHY.