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The Connection Constant

Or: Why it’s never going to be easy to get through to people (and why that’s a good thing.)

With our modern communications technology, it should be easier than ever to get through to target audiences. Businesses have a plethora of options at their fingertips, from free Twitter and Facebook posts to multi-million dollar billboards and television ads. We can, through the wizardry of the internet, reach the entire world with little more than a clever video of a cat in sunglasses.

However, there is one big problem with our modern interconnectivity; anyone can do it. Your viral video needs to compete with a million other feline mascots. Every day, the people of the modern world are endlessly bombarded with a parade of attention-demanding communications. We retweet tweets. We skim e-mails. We ignore YouTube ads while texting from our smartphones and cross the street to avoid that pesky charity person trying to make eye contact. With all of the communications noise out there, reaching people in any meaningful way is harder than ever.

To keep up and cut through, many businesses are trying more and more extreme methods to stay one step ahead of the technology curve. Experiential marketing, ‘free’ services, webinars… our options seemingly know no bounds. This is, of course, exhausting. And shouting from the rooftops every single day will likely give you little more than a hoarse voice as you’re drowned out by the multitudes.

Good old days

Now, it sounds as though I’m writing a paean to the good old days. You know the ones – those sepia-colored times when Holdens were Holdens, people left their front doors unlocked, and you could trust what you heard on the news.

The days of Mad Men, the golden age of advertising, when all you needed to do was turn up on time, make a good product, and your clients would come flocking to throw their money at you. “How much simpler it must have been,” the nostalgic say, “to have known where your audience was and to not have had to shout to reach them.”

But let’s not romanticize. Those times never truly existed.

Even back in the so-called ‘Golden Age of advertising, people were more than just mindless consuming drones. Customers still shopped around, weighed their options, compared brand stories with their neighbors, and could very well end up bypassing you entirely for the competition up the street.

Some businesses flourished, and some crashed and burned, just like today.

Recently, while musing on the nature of communications today, I had the opportunity to chat with Patrick Zuluaga, of PMZ marketing. Patrick has been a marketer for over thirty years, and I thought he better than anybody could tell me just how the marketing game has changed in our lifetimes.

Surely, the ability to sell your product to someone on the other side of the globe with the click of a button has meant a marketing revolution. But when I asked how things have changed, his answer surprised me: They haven’t. It’s still people to people.

The essence of business and marketing is and has always been, building a connection of trust between your company and your customers. Whether you’re making a radio play or writing a blog, if you can’t connect to your audience, then you’re just talking to the air.

Technology: just a tool

The point that I’m making is not that we should become Luddites, live in communes, and burn the internet. But we do need to recognize that, when it comes to communicating, technology is a tool to be used, not a crutch to be relied upon.

We can post all of the Facebook updates, email newsletters, and Google ads in the world, but if they’re not focused upon building trust, and having a conversation with the customer, there will be no returns.

Getting the latest and shiniest technological solution won’t alter the message, just the delivery of it. At the same time, if you’ve refined your message to needlepoint, and know that you can successfully build trust with your target audience, there’s no reason to use carrier pigeons to deliver that message.

Once you stop shouting, and genuinely try to engage, then you are no longer trapped in the arms race of ever-advancing technologies and can get on with the business of actually communicating.

One of the things I am constantly seeing in my web video business is companies that are trying to spread themselves across the entire internet. Their marketing strategy consists of a shotgun approach – put our name on every medium and social outlet, and people will buy our product.

This shallow approach is a serious insult to the intelligence of your customers. You will appear inconsistent, lacking in-depth, and, crucially, untrustworthy.

A better strategy would be to spend much more time on fewer communications mediums – those that are most likely to reach the target audience in a most lasting way.

Recognize the huge range of possibilities that our communications technology has placed in front of us, but don’t allow the array of shiny new toys to blind you to the core message you’re trying to deliver.

The connection constant

So much has changed in the past three decades. The world has gotten smaller, and faster, and noisier. We can video chat with someone on the other side of the planet but know nothing about our neighbors.

Our phones can tell us any fact that we want to know in an instant. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the Connection Constant; the amount of effort it takes to engage someone and ultimately win their trust.

Building connections is the fundamental prerequisite of doing business. It’s tough, and it has always been tough because people are generally guarded. Especially when you’re trying to sell them something.

Despite how it may sound, this is actually a good thing. If it were easy to build connections with people, then surely every third-rate marketer with a Facebook page would be doing it!

If you’re willing to put in the effort, then you will stand out above your competitors, and cut through the noise. Likewise, the Connection Constant is a great leveler. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got twenty million dollars or just twenty; the amount of individual effort to build a connection with your target audience will remain the same. As Patrick said, it’s “people to people”, not dollars to people.

It’s really hard. It’s really simple.

So, you’ve got your technological tools (no crutches). You’ve got your medium, and you know your target audience. How on earth do you build that connection?

If I could answer that for everyone out there in four easy steps, well… I’d be a millionaire. Unfortunately, all I’ve got is four hard steps.

1. Create a product that you know is great, and does a great job for your clients. (If you don’t have that product, you can fake it – but good luck with that in today’s social media-rich world!)

2. Be specific, and focus upon your target audience. If you try to reach everyone, you touch no one

3. Do a great job showing that you’re an expert, and trusted partner. Free advice and customer service is a good way to achieve this.

4. Be consistent in your message and 100% professional. If using multiple communication platforms, make sure they support each other – don’t spread yourself too thin.

If it sounds simple, that’s because it is.

People have been building connections with other people since we came down from the trees, and we ought to have it figured out by now.

The trick is, it’s hard to do, and especially hard to do it well. There are no shortcuts, no time savers, and no social media ‘magic bullet’. If you’re able to put in the time and effort, then you will have that connection.

It all comes down to trust

Trust is a prerequisite to doing business. Among business partners, among customers, among suppliers, if you don’t engender trust then you aren’t going to be successful.

Trust is not a right. You don’t deserve the trust of your customer; you need to earn it, and that principle is as old as humanity.

By creating a person-to-person connection with your audience, you build the name of your brand, and you create a relationship upon which the building blocks of trust can be placed.

Having twenty different Facebook pages and a dozen tweets a day doesn’t make you any more trustworthy than the person sending out pizza vouchers in the post.

This is a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity. If it was easy to build this relationship, to persuade people to trust you, then everybody would be doing it. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, if you can educate people about what you do and how that benefits your target audience, there is great potential to use communications technology to jumpstart your marketing effort.

And if you think you can just Facebook Blast your way to the top, I wish you luck. You’re going to need it.

Robert Moorman is creative director at Hunting With Pixels, a strategic online video, and social media production company.

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