My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.
— Desmond Tutu
The book you are reading is full of data, proprietary and public. It's rich with case histories of businesses, large and small. It comes complete with step-by-step instructions, like an IKEA bookcase or recipe for spaghetti Bolognese. We like to think it's also rather inspiring. But, at the most basic level, Can't Buy Me Like is a book about a simple truth: If you are still selling goods and services by blanketing the world with advertising, trying to persuade or entertain or flatter consumers into submission, you are doing things all wrong. Because the world has changed. A lot.
The old ways belong to a faraway time, kind of like Betamax and Yugoslavia. Whole industries continue to cling to the remnants of the status quo, but their grip gets ever weaker. The digital revolution and societal shifts have brought us to a new period. It is called the Relationship Era.
Don't worry. Confounding as change has been for business, this is a good-news tale. Technology hasn't sent us all plunging into T e Matrix or some other nightmarish techno-dystopia. On the contrary, in a happy paradox, we're being transported back to a more humane future. The digital revolution that has been so disruptive to business as usual has not merely multiplied the channels of communication between a consumer and consumer brands; it has launched us all into an era in which human needs, human values and human connections will define success or failure for those brands. The currency of Relationship Era marketing is not awareness, nor even quality; it is authenticity. Trust. Loyalty. Pride. Yes, you've gotta have the goods, but public expectations have changed and those qualities are now part of the goods. Commerce can no longer be about manipulating people into purchases. Relationship Era marketers do not see purchasers as conquests to seduce, or even persuade. They see them as friends — members of a community dedicated not only to the same stuff but to the same ideals. And this community is not confined to customers and prospects any more than the world itself is confined to customers and prospects. In the Relationship Era, your essence is transmitted in your relations with all stakeholders: customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, neighbors and the earth itself. In short: Across every function of an enterprise, corporations and their brands now can and must behave with their various constituencies in ways exactly parallel to human relationships.
Across every function of an enterprise, corporations and their brands now can and must behave with their various constituencies in ways exactly parallel to human relationships.
And no amount of image advertising can paper over the gap between rhetoric and reality. Look around you. Signs of the paradigm shift are everywhere.
Just for Instance
You are no doubt familiar with Flo, the irrepressibly cheerful spokescharacter for Progressive Insurance. She's the saleswoman in the heavenly Progressive "store," squeaky with delight at being able to help customers with their insurance needs. It's easy to love Flo, not only for her over-the-top exuberance but for her adorable devotion to her employer — the incandescence of which adoration, plus $1 billion in media spending on her since 2008, invited the public, too, to see Progressive in a flattering white light. All of which was fine, until the public was presented a reason to think differently. That took place in August 2012, when blogger Matt Fisher called out the insurance company for its conduct in the vehicular death of his sister and Progressive policyholder Kaitlynn Fisher. To keep from paying policy benefits, Matt alleged in a blog post, Progressive cheerfully appeared in court on behalf of the man who'd run a red light and killed their own customer.
Social media went predictably ballistic. And who took the brunt of the abuse? Flo, the fictional face of the company, created to distract us from what goes on in the back office behind the shiny store.
13 Aug@Stepto In other news @progressive's behavior has finally cured me of my attraction to Flo.
13 Aug@NickadooLA I wasn't surprised to hear Progressive's Flo killed all those people.
14 Aug@iamledgin The worst Progressive commercial is the one where Flo kills that guy's sister.
14 Aug@EricDSnider I happen to know that Flo chick is also Progressive's CEO, so if you see her, punch her in the face.
And with that, two things happened: Progressive was obliged to pay the Fisher family, and Flo virtually disappeared from view — a billion-dollar investment forced, at least temporarily, into hiding, like a fugitive or a snitch. That backlash was the direct and inevitable result of fabricating a brand image that did not square with reality. In today's world, reality will always catch up, and when it does — if the public feels hoodwinked — the damage will be irreparable. In the Relationship Era, brands can no longer project the image of their choosing. Rather, they must locate their inner selves and make common cause with the outside world. Yes, an entirely new way of doing business; what a nuisance.
In the Relationship Era, brands can no longer project the image of their choosing.
From Can't Buy Me Like: How Authentic Customer Connections Drive Superior Results by Bob Garfield and Doug Levy. Copyright 2013 by Bob Garfield and Doug Levy. Excerpted by permission of Portfolio/Penguin.