The evidence is overwhelming:
Start-up companies are spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars creating elegant solutions to problems nobody has.
Membership organizations are suffering low attendance because traditional, boring, and non-engaging programming refuses to align with multi-generation preferences.
Government-funded advocacy groups are draining their entire budgets conserving insignificant resources that are going extinct anyway.
Corporate advertisers are projecting onto customers what they think they ought to want, instead of actually listening to their problems and satisfying a compelling need.
THAT BEGETS THE QUESTION: How much profitability are you sacrificing by being irrelevant?
ANSWER: Too much.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, multinational corporation, starving artist, local mega church or non-profit do-gooder, consider these ideas for retaining relevancy:1. Teach the dog new tricks anyway. Regardless of your age, it’s impossible to be relevant if you refuse to play the technology game.
And if you think that’s easy for me to say that because I’m a digital native, you’re right. Technology doesn’t intimidate me because I’ve always been around it. I consider that a fortunate position.
Then again, I certainly understand technology’s power to threaten relevancy. For example, I recently delivered a presentation via Skype for one of my clients. It was fun, challenging and different – but also a little scary.
Not because I was talking in front of a screen, but because I wasn’t talking in front of a live audience. And I couldn’t help but wonder, as a public speaker: Does this type of disruptive technology threaten my profession’s livelihood?
Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But I’m still learning the technology anyway. Because it doesn’t matter how old the dog is – if the new trick matters to your customers, you still have to learn it. Old age isn’t the problem – old thinking is. Are you obsolescing yourself with it?
2. Your customers will tell you how to stay relevant. In a recent interview with FastCompany, Steve Jobs summarized Apple’s innovation strategy in four words: Turn feedback into inspiration.
The cool part is: It actually works. Like, really well. I had the perfect opportunity to execute his suggestion with one of my readers, Dawn. She emailed me with deep concern about an unsuccessful job search:
“I’m feeling chewed up and spit out. Being jobless is heartbreaking. Where do I get the inner fortitude to get up one more day and try again?”
Great question, I thought. But instead of giving her off-the-cuff advise; I spent the next week writing a post called, How to Find the Inner Fortitude to Get Up One More Day and Try Again, Even When the World Kicks You in the Crotch with a Golf Shoe.
To my delight, the blog post was featured on NPR the day it was published. And I sent a copy to Dawn, who replied with the following:
“You really invest yourself, very personally, in all your articles. That is why you are (and will be) relevant: Because you’re always there to listen to the people who really need you. That is the basis for true dedication. When we help others we do help ourselves.”
Your customers won’t just teach you how to stay relevant – they’ll tell you how to sell to them effectively. Is it important to the customer, or does it just make you feel better?
3. Enable a regular attention stream. Attention is currency. Think about it: We live in a world of continually eroding confidence. We work for a world of steadily declining attention span. And we market to a world of gradually fragmenting participation.
If you want to retain relevancy, you have to remember that you’re competing against everything else in people’s world.
Take faith-based organizations, for example. Congregational vitality is at an all time low because they’re trying to buy attention with boring. Doesn’t work that way. I don’t care what version of God you believe in: People don’t come to services that fail to engage their spirit.
Therefore: The only way to enable a regular attention stream is to be interesting. What’s more, attention is irrelevant if nobody cares about what you’re offering.
“Most of the people in this world don’t – and will never – care about what you’re doing,” suggests Josh Kauffman in The Personal MBA. “Your challenge is to earn the attention of the people who are likely to buy from you. Otherwise, people ignore what they don’t care about.” How will you combat your customers’ overwhelming urge to ignore you?
4. Grow bigger ears. To retain relevancy, you have to develop an ongoing relationship with your market. Naturally, the foundation for this relationship is the same for all healthy relationships: Grow bigger ears. Here are three strategies for expanding your listening platform:
First, use every listening post you can find. From offline to offline, from electronic to human, from walking the floors to monitoring tweet streams, whatever gives you insight into how your customers operate is a worthwhile endeavor.
Second, listen deeply. That means don’t just listen for the facts; listen for what the facts point to. Like my doctor, Steve, who once told me, “When you listen with your ears, patients give you their own diagnosis; but when you listen with your heart, patients give themselves their own cure.”
Third, listen for the right reasons. Not just enough to flip the answers for your own uses. Not just to boost your ego. And not just to confirm what you already think. Staying relevant means getting out of the way of what you need to hear, listening to where you suck, then responding by becoming better.
The whole point of growing bigger ears revolves around the following leverage question: What does expanding your listening platform earns you the right to do?
Answer: Everything, that’s what. Everything. Are you listening to the sound of your own voice or the music of your customer’s voice?
5. Maintain a steady stream of minor enhancements. Relevant doesn’t have to mean radical – just regular. After all, consistency is far better than rare moments of greatness.
The secret to keeping the stream flowing is to implement routine relevancy audits. Ask yourself and your team questions like:
*What irrelevancies have you recently discarded?
*What do you share that people actually give a damn about?
*Is the information you have truly relevant to the client and the client’s situation?
This will fuel your ability to make minor enhancements along the way. Interestingly, the word “relevant” comes from the Latin relevare, which means, “to lesson, lighten or relieve.”
This creates a few more questions for your audit:
*What burden do you lighten for your customers?
*What pain do you lessen for your customers?
*What does your value relieve customers of?
Remember: Relevancy isn’t a chore; it’s an ongoing progression. It’s not just about becoming relevant – it’s about relentlessly pursuing relevance to make sure you continue to matter to the people who matter. Are you combining relevancy with frequency?
THE BOTTOM LINE IS: No relevance, no revenue.
It’s not about financing.
It’s about focusing.
It’s not about killing yourself.
It’s about keeping the brand current.
It’s not about discarding the soul of yesterday.
It’s about embracing the spirit of today.
It’s not about focus groups, demographics and target markets.
It’s about directly communicating with your audience in a meaningful, honest way.
That’s how you retain relevance.
You establish a direct link between the journey of your organization and the joy of the people it serves.
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How much profitability are you sacrificing by being irrelevant?
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
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