Your Audience – Your Most Important Business Collaborators

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Are you talking "at" or "with" your audience?

Old school marketing was a persuasive, one-way communication. But new paradigm marketing is all about dialogue. Lynn Serafinn discusses how a collaborative relationship with our audience can foster innovation and restore the long-lost connection between businesses and the communities they serve.

 

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring the Grace of Collaboration . In Part 1, we explored the four essential qualities of Collaboration . In Part 2, we looked at its flipside: the “Deadly Sin” of Competition. Last time, in Part 3, we did a S.W.O.T analysis of Collaboration to see its integral place not only in the new business paradigm, but to life in general.

Now in part 4, we’ll be taking a look at a marketer’s most important Collaboration of all—the Collaboration between you and your audience.

“Knowing” Your Audience is NOT the Same as Collaborating with Them

In The 7 Graces of Marketing, I talk about the 7 Key Relationships that impact the way we do business and marketing (and everything else in life). The 6th of these Key Relationships is the relationship we have with our audience.

Many marketers and branders talk about the importance of knowing your audience, but rarely do they discuss your actual relationship with them. Generally, when marketers talk about knowing your audience, they mean knowing their ‘pain’, their likes and dislikes, their lifestyle choices, their beliefs, etc. While this information may be essential to knowing how to locate, communicate with and motivate your audience, analytic knowledge of this kind does not constitute a collaborative relationship with them.

Collaboration literally means working together. Collecting data about our audience for the purpose of “converting” them is part of the old-school paradigm. If we simply see the members of our audience as targets to be won over without bringing them into the process of our business design, we automatically fall into the territory of several of the “Deadly Sins”:

  • Disconnection: because we see them as separate from ourselves and our business
  • Persuasion: because we are focused upon conversion, rather than upon innovation and common vision
  • Competition: because we are engaged in a kind of “game” with the customer, where we want to be the winner, rather than it being a win-win for all.

How Disconnection from Our Audience Began

Back in the “old days” before mass transport, mass production and modern marketing, businesses had an intimate relationship with their audience. Business owners were an integral part of the community. They knew their customers’ needs and desires and served their communities directly through their business. Thus, the relationship between business owner and audience was an intrinsically collaborative one—input from the community was essential to a successful business, and successful businesses were essential to a thriving community.

As technology increased our ability to transport raw goods, refined materials and finished products to places far beyond our geographic locale, a separation—or Disconnection—grew between business owner, the products they provided and the people they served. As mass production entered into the equation, this separation increased, as products became more and more standardised, and less and less made to order. In other words, they became generalised to meet the assumed needs of “the masses” rather than the actual needs of the community.

Recently the BBC aired a drama called The Paradise, which was loosely based upon the novel Au Bonheur des Dames by French author and social commentator, Emile Zola. The story is about the social impact of department stores in the late 19th Century. One of the interesting lines in the dramatisation (I haven’t yet read the book so I’m not sure if it’s in Zola’s text) came from a wealthy woman who says something to the effect of “Surely, you don’t expect me to buy a ready-made dress, do you?” Throughout the story, there is a continual contrast between the “old way” of commerce, wherein tailors and haberdashers made unique clothing that fit both the personality and physique of their customers, to the “new way” of mass productions, where products were cheap and plentiful, but were made with no one in particular in mind.

This Disconnection in the business-product-customer relationship precipitated a need to change the way businesses communicated about their products and services. If businesses were to cater to the masses instead of to the community, they would now need to find a way to justify the value of their “impersonal” wares so people would buy their products. This gave rise to the dawn of modern marketing at the beginning of the 20th Century. In a way, marketing was a way of “normalising” mass production—and all the social changes it caused as a consequence—to make this new way of life palatable to the public.

Technology and the Persuasion Model

The shape of early marketing was largely dictated by the technology available at the time. We had print media, in the form of newspapers and magazines. Later, radio came onto the scene, followed by television in the second half of the century. All these media had one thing in common—they were largely one-way communication models. The media had the voice and the audience listened. While newspapers might have included letters from the readers or other editorial columns, for the most part, all that we see, hear and know via these outlets is dictated by the media themselves.

Because of this, marketing during the 20th Century was largely a one-way, persuasive model. There was little or no dialogue between audience and business. Unlike the “old days” when our communities told business owners what they needed and when, the only real feedback businesses could get in the new one-way communication model came in the form of sales. Separated from their audience and their sense of service, marketers became focused upon conversion. Persuasive marketing became the norm, and marketers utilised any strategy—fear, sex, humour, scarcity and so on—that would be likely to result in a good financial return.

The One-Sided Game between Traditional Marketer and Audience

When the relationship between business owners and their audience is disconnected to this degree, marketing becomes a kind of Competition between consumer and business. The goal is no longer to meet the needs of society, but to “win” the game. Our questions now become “How can we persuade people to part with their money?” or “How can we make them buy something they may NOT need?”

Eventually, this ethos turns into a competitive game between businesses as well. Rather than all being parts of the whole, supporting and growing our communities, we start to ask, “How can we dominate the market?” or “How can we get more customers than our competitors have?”

When we find ourselves asking these kinds of questions, it is a sign that the role of business in society has changed dramatically. No longer are businesses integral parts of community, but predators continually finding newer and cleverer ways to “catch” the consumer rather than serve them. The long-term effect of this Disconnection is that our communities become increasingly dependent upon a decreasing number of (large) business providers, making us frighteningly vulnerable and far less resilient when faced with economic or environmental challenges.

How New Technology is Changing the Relationship

Now at the dawn of the 21st Century, technology is changing the relationship between businesses and their audience once again. No longer do we have one-way communication systems. Blogging, social media and interactive viewing are providing an entirely different marketing environment. No longer does the marketer speak and the audience listen; now the marketer speaks and the audience speaks back.

This fundamental difference in communication technology is not only flipping traditional marketing on its head, but it is also helping restore the two-way dialogue business owners once depended upon in order to be assured they were serving the needs of their audience. While this change in communication model can help infuse relevance and service back into our businesses, it also shows promise in another way: it opens the door to the possibility of an unprecedented, collaborative relationship between businesses and their audience.

How the Four Components of Collaboration Work with Our Audience

In Part 1 of this series, we defined the four essential components of Collaboration:

  1. Vision
  2. Innovation
  3. Trust
  4. Ease

Old school marketing offered little opportunity for businesses and audience to co-create through a shared Vision. Social media is opening up that opportunity. Whether through Facebook and LinkedIn groups, Twitter lists or Google+ circles, business owners and consumers are finding each other and communicating with each other through common interest and values. When a leader brings their Vision into one of these common value communities, that Vision can start to manifest in a tangible form. Through the collaborative ideas coming from that community, Innovation is born. From the collective mind of the community, businesses can once again know how best to serve society. But unlike the past, the society or community they serve may not be based upon geographical proximity but by values proximity.

Of course, for this kind of Innovation to happen, Trust must be there. Businesses must learn to trust the wisdom of the crowd. Crowds must learn to trust the integrity of the business. And always, at the foundation of that trust MUST be the common Vision. Without it, nothing else can stand.

From this combination of Vision, Innovation and Trust comes a sense of Ease. When we enter into a Collaborative relationship with our audience, marketers no longer need to work so hard trying to “persuade” or “convert” customers. Things become easier because your audience already has “bought into” your vision, integrity and ideas. It doesn’t mean you don’t do any work; but it does mean your valuable time is spent more on creating products and providing service rather than on trying to figure out ways to convince people to buy from you.

Practical Examples of Audience Collaboration and Co-Creation

Social media has enabled business owners to tap into the Grace of Collaboration in ways never before possible. Whenever I feel stuck in a decision process for my business, I go to “the crowd” (or “my tribe”) for insight and inspiration. I’ve gone to my tribe for feedback in wording sales copy, deciding on a book cover or naming a new course. I’ve found that asking for help can also help grow and strengthen a tribe, as it invites people to become part of the co-creative process of your business (Invitation being another of the 7 Graces). And every time I’ve reached out to the crowd for help, I’ve seen a marked increase in my mailing list and social media following.

Getting feedback on pre-existing work is great, but Collaboration with your audience can even generate ideas for new products and services. Back when our 7 Graces community was starting, people told me they wanted:

  • A way of using the 7 Graces brand in their business (i.e. to be “certified”)
  • Training in how to use the 7 Graces in their business
  • Books on practical ways to apply the 7 Graces in their marketing
  • A “how to” book on using Twitter (as many were bewildered by it)

My recent book Tweep-e-licious, a 300-page practical guide not just about Twitter but about ways to apply the 7 Graces practically, was born from the desires of the tribe. From concept to launch, it took me a whopping 5 months to complete. I’ve never written and published anything so quickly. It was the energy of Collaboration that made the process flow with ease. But for the dialogue I had (and continue to have) with our community, I probably would not have written the book at all. For that reason, the book is dedicated to that community. It is as much their creation as it is mine.

In response to the community is asking for training and certification opportunities, our core team are currently preparing a beta course that will launch within the next few months. Our final draft will come from the feedback we receive from the members of our community who take the test drive. If ever I lapse into “control freak mode” about this course design (or anything else in my business), I find I get stuck trying to “figure out” solutions to problems on my own. When I finally come to my senses, I return to the Grace of Collaboration and remember that to be a servant entrepreneur is to understand my work isn’t “mine”, but an ongoing Collaborative between myself and my community. The end result of such Collaboration is innovation that could never have come about by any other means, and that serves the needs of both business owner and tribe.

Working collaboratively with your audience is a beautiful thing, when dancing to the four-step rhythm of Vision, Innovation, Trust and Ease. Of course, for this partnership to happen you must first create your community: the “crowd” or the “tribe”. Next time, in Part 5 of this series on Collaboration, we’ll be looking at some of the active processes involved in that creation.

Personal Enquiries for today:

  1. How would I describe my relationship with my audience? What do I know about them? Do I feel connected to (or disconnected from) them?
  2. How does this relationship enter into my marketing communication? What kind of results have I been getting by communicating to my audience from this relationship?
  3. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most), how actively collaborative am I with my audience? Where and how do I currently engage them in the creation process of my business and marketing decisions?
  4. How do I feel about co-creating and my audience? Does it make me confident and relaxed, or does it make me nervous and sceptical? What would I need to know or feel before I could engage more deeply in co-creation with my audience?
  5. Where do I feel stuck or indecisive in my business creation or growth process (branding, product offerings, marketing, etc.)? What might it feel like to turn the process over to “the crowd”? How might co-creation help my business? What fears do I have about it?

Challenge

Choose ONE aspect of your business creation or growth process (branding, product offerings, marketing, etc) you believe could benefit from the Grace of Collaboration with your audience. Decide what you want help with and pitch it to your trusted tribe or community. You could ask for feedback, ask for help, start a poll, start a discussion thread,  hold a MeetUp or Skype conference, etc. Be sure to choose a tribe that shares your vision. If you are seeking answers to a specific problem, don’t overlook the possibility that your tribe might offer fresh new ideas that take you in an entirely unexpected direction! Note how you respond to this if it happens.

If you don’t have a “tribe” yet, just do the enquiries for now. Then, check back soon to this blog for part 5 of this series, where we start to look at the Anatomy of a Tribe and tribe building.

~ Lynn Serafinn
21 March 2013

P.S.: I do hope you’ll leave a comment below, so we can start a dialogue together!

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of MarketingLYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the top 20 of the Top 100 marketing authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, a budding social enterprise whose aim is to help grow a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs who want to serve both people and planet through innovative, ethical, independent enterprise.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/7GracesMarketng

Facebook: http://facebook.com/groups/7GracesGlobalGarden

MeetUp: http://www.meetup.com/7-Graces-Global-Community-London
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)

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Let the dialogue continue...

4 Responses to Your Audience – Your Most Important Business Collaborators

  1. Wonderful, stimulating article, Lynn … I’m off to ponder on the Challenge and Personal Enquiries!

    At the moment, I am working on implementing the 7 Graces with a new business venture – a wonderful opportunity to share, and actively use, the 7 Graces in every aspect of our lives, and totally replacing the old-style bully-boy-salesy tactics in the direct-selling industry! Thank you so much!

    • Lynn Serafinn says:

      I’m amazed how MUCH the 7 Graces are inspiring people in their new business start-ups, Callie (Playfull Genie Muse). I can’t wait to hear more about your project.

  2. What an in-depth post, Lynn. I’ve written on both department stores AND co-creation, so love the weaving of the topics. Kudos.

    • Lynn Serafinn says:

      Thanks for reading (and commenting), Ric! What’s your take on department stores? I’ve been thinking a LOT about this lately.

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