I’ve always looked at the best marketers and communicators as very good psychologists trying to tease out the inner desires of their audiences and then crafting messages that would resonate with them. The intuition they use was much simpler to apply in the past, before the Internet and before social, because all you needed to do was paint a bull’s eye on the group you’re targeting and fire away.
However, in today’s world, it’s the company that wears the bull’s eye. Today, everyone is potentially the audience, and in a very real sense, the stakeholders choose you rather than the other way around. So to succeed, the best marketers and communicators have to apply their intuition in a different way. Not only do they have to learn how to identify common priorities of this much broader group of potential stakeholders — all with varying interests to consider — but they also must do a little psychoanalysis on their own organization. Which of the priorities for customers resonate with the company? Which feel authentic, and which can the organization honestly uphold so that the experiences the stakeholders have with the company live up to their expectations?
Today, the relationship between company and stakeholder, at its very best, is more like a friendship. Consumers respect the brand because the company shares values that they think are important, the same way we pick our friends. We can even be forgiving when a brand occasionally falls short of expectations. Inversely, we also can feel betrayed when a brand does something that contradicts those priorities and violates our trust.
Thanks to the burgeoning social grid, brands and stakeholders can potentially enjoy a closer relationship than ever before. But the responsibility on the brand to be consistent and communicate honestly and transparently is a heavy one. It’s not only about providing a quality product or service; stakeholders are increasingly expecting companies to strive for something greater, whether it be in how they treat their employees, the values they bring to life as a corporate citizen, or how they respect and protect the environment.
This is where tools from analytics and big data come in handy. They let us see — even in real time — whether the performance of our organization is living up to our promises. And companies must recognize how critical this performance is. In today’s world, brand and reputation are intimately intertwined, and a violation of promises to any stakeholder group can result in a swift downgrade of both. While the world is full of cynicism, the very best organizations — those that authentically uphold the values they espouse — are likely to be rewarded with a trust that can even endure rocky times.