Synergistic Collaboration

The days of customers accepting brands’ “my way or the highway” systems are nearing an end.  No longer can self-proclaimed “customer-centered” or “customer-focused” organizations survive with lip-service and no actions to back it up.  While customer segmentation and predictive analytics have increased the speed of compatibility assessment and worldview-matching, optimal results cannot be achieved without inclusion of the HUMAN ELEMENT.  

My assertion is that we have reached a critical point in our futures as brands, representatives, AND customers. The actions we choose in the next two years will determine our success or failure for the next century across multiple industries.  And yet, so many of these industries are choosing to hunker own in their storm shelters when they SHOULD be harnessing the storm’s energy. Doing so would fuel changes that would provide them a competitive advantage difficult, if not impossible, for an organization clinging to bureaucracy to overcome.  Making this happen can be best demonstrated using the example of the most powerful force in nature: The tornado.

Harness The Power

Tornadoes aren’t a force because two opposing air masses necessarily COLLIDE.  Instead, they are a force because two opposing air masses collaborate in a way that intensifies the rates of circulation and rotation.  (Admittedly, this is a simplified way of describing how tornadoes develop, but being from the Midwest, let’s just say I’ve been up-close and personal with them more than a few times.)   In fact, an EF-5 tornado is one of the greatest examples of synergy ever witnessed in nature, far more powerful than the individual winds and air masses that combine to generate its destructive capability.  

Any area impacted by such a catastrophe is admittedly heartbreaking, yet one cannot help being awestruck by a force powerful enough to drive a 2” x 4” piece of lumber through a chimney. Then two blocks away removing an entire dining room wall while two glasses of red wine remained undisturbed on the table.  My family and I witnessed both in our own community when a tornado struck in 2006, literally 100 yards from where we were huddled under the stairs in our basement. While thoughts and memories of such events evoke fear, I ask that we set them aside for the remainder of this post and, instead, focus on the potential to recreate the same degree of power, except for the attainment of a POSITIVE outcome—SUPERIOR CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES.  

Synergistic Collaboration

I’ve brainstormed hundreds of ideas for acquiring and building momentum in my business model, but nothing ever connected the solution to the problem.  Then I began focusing on what WASN’T being discussed—what was missing from a large percentage of the proposed solutions. That’s when I searched the term “Synergistic Collaboration”.  Perhaps cultures don’t necessarily be changed, per se, but rather culture, brand representatives, and customers all need to work together to achieve synergy in ways that harness the power of the tornado.  This all starts with a laser-focus on the customer experience: It’s at the center and everything else “rotates” around it. Unfortunately, momentum isn’t picking up because of breakdowns in trust and communication of responsibilities between all three components of the “storm”.     

Like the tornado, the higher the speed of rotation the greater the potential strength.  Air masses (in this case brands, reps and customers) should not collide, but collaborate synergistically for maximum outputs as deemed valuable by each component.  This collaboration and rotational force is exhibited by the directional arrows.

Enterprise forces coming from one side apply the high-level influences by protecting brand image, keeping promises, developing and updating systems for operational and transactional efficiencies, etc.  Representative forces from the other side provide grassroots influences by creating and promoting a differentiated and transparent personal brand, building network connections, sharing and engaging with customers in an educational manner, etc.

In the center of it all is the customer, which, in line with the tornado analogy, is also the CALMEST part of the storm.  The customer should never feel the impacts of what is rotating around them. The more consistently “calm” their experience is, the more likely they are to advocate for the brand and provide direct introductions to the representative who serves them.

Make An Impact

Or as Chris Brogan and Julien Smith say in their book, “Impact Equation”: CREATE an impact:

Impact = C(Contrast) x (R(Reach) + E(Exposure) + A(Articulation) + T(Trust) + E(Echo))

To fully understand how to apply the Impact Equation requires effort and reflection.  The important thing is that the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE must always be the focus. Referring to the diagram above, note that two elements of the IMPACT equation have been assigned to each of the three parties involved. Doing so makes it easier to identify activities that can be combined in a manner that creates synergy. Like a tornado, circulation of ideas (versus air masses) is what generates the greatest amount of energy.

Combining the Theories

This is what my personal branding impact graph looks like today.  All metrics are based on the only thing that truly matters: CUSTOMER PERCEPTION (preferably acquired from direct feedback.)  For example, contrast asks if an idea stands out. You and your organization may think it does, but to a customer your idea may be nothing more than a commodity. On the other end of the spectrum, you and your organization may think your idea connects to the intended audience, but marketing reports say otherwise.

Here’s a breakdown of the 6 factors of the Impact equation and the primary drivers of each:

  • Contrast—Primary metric driver:  Customer feedback
  • Reach—Primary metric driver:  Office systems
  • Exposure—Primary metric driver:  Parent brand
  • Articulation—Primary metric driver:  Enterprise systems (Namely precision and efficiency of systems
  • Trust—Primary metric driver:  Personally-branded representatives
  • Echo—Primary metric driver:  Customer feedback

In summary, the graph reflects weakness in two areas:  Reach and Echo. In my situation, the two are directly correlated and have been kept low intentionally until the next phase of a larger vision is initiated.  At that time, an increased focus on community engagement and education should improve potential personal AND parent brand advocacy if done correctly—with the best interests of the customer in mind.  One more reason reach was kept low intentionally?  To monitor disruptive trends and industry responses to them in order to create effective, agile personal branding strategies.

Perhaps a similar analysis would benefit you as well.

Thank you for your time and attention. Also, many thanks to Chris Brogan and Mark Schaefer for being the inspirations behind this post. If anyone cares to discuss Synergistic Collaboration in more detail, Google me (Gary, Iowa City).

Learning To Swim

When learning to swim, do you begin when it’s sunny or when the flood waters are approaching your second-story windows?  Why, then, have you waited for the proverbial storm clouds to fill the skies? Probably because, like many others, you never thought it would be THAT bad.

The Industrial Age is Gone

There are times when being an optimist is perfectly reasonable, but this isn’t one of them.  Now it’s all about realism. It’s time to open the blinds and take a long, hard look outside.  The Industrial Age is gone. So are land lines, televisions with 13-channel dials, and 8-track tapes.  We are now in the Internet Age, where consumers are armed with more information about brands AND individual  representatives than can be printed on a direct-mail piece. Where does all of this information come from? Transparent sharing by real human beings in and between an infinite number of online communities.  If you think your “dirty little secrets” can stay secure forever, prepare for a big surprise. You may be able to secure most inside information that is protected legally, but common-knowledge across-the-board “perks”  in any industry will likely not fall in that category.

It’s NOT About You

What happens when full disclosure really means full disclosure?  How do you explain to customers that the true reason for your 40 calls to their cell per week is less about them and more about you.  The legacy generation of customers that has provided your income stream for the last three decades already knows, but they no longer care. They are nearing the end of their buying cycle for your products and services.  Unless they are independently wealthy, the likelihood of them needing more from you than they already have is slim to none. What you’re failing to realize is that every generation of consumer that follows is going to have access to exponentially more information shared transparently across infinitely more platforms than their Industrial Age elders. No longer are they going to lie down in a sales appointment.  In fact, there won’t be a “sales appointment”. It will be a “validation meeting”. They will meet to validate that you are a real human being, confirm that you are as represented by your online avatar, and that your brand’s solution has identical features and pricing when you submit the application as when they quoted it on their mobile device.

How are you preparing for that reality?