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Preparing Relationships for an Unknown Future

by Andrea Learned  |  
March 7, 2007

Last week I attended an incredible multi-disciplinary conference on the topic of "community" called The Vine. From the perspective of residential community developer John L. Knott, Jr. of the Noisette Company to that of fiction author/english tutoring nonprofit founder Dave Eggers...

...and that of renowned organizational expert Margaret Wheatley, among many others, we audience participants got fresh inspiration (and lots of motivation) on how to nurture and develop the connecting relationships of humans.
Meg Wheatley, in particular, got me thinking, when she mentioned networks of interdependence (which is something that comes naturally to all species but humans -- interestingly) and how many things exist that connect below the surface or our radar of awareness.
In a similar way, it can only make sense to trust the process -- not get overly caught up in the visible/rational when you are serving a web-thinking woman's brain. Try to imagine just how many decision influencers exist in her world (in terms of consumer purchases or otherwise) that no one can see. As Wheatley put it:

"We can't prepare for the unknown future, but we can prepare our relationships."

Though Wheatley's work is absolutely not about marketing, her ideas can be applied to more effectively create the environment/happenstance for community with your customers: Have you had the conversations with your community members so that you might really understand what's going on below the surface - such as, who they are connecting with and why? Are you preparing and building trust relationships long before "the future" arrives?
There is no step-by-step process or easy answer for building community with and around your customers. There are no easy demographic profile formulas for making it occur either.
Rather, brands should be looking to find a unique and passion-based "universal mindset" (to quote another Vine speaker, Ken Losch) in their marketplace, and focus in on serving that. Word will get around and like-minded folks looking to connect will find you.

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Andrea Learned is a noted author, blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior. Her current focus is on sustainability from both the consumer and the organizational perspectives. Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides sustainability-focused commentary for Vermont Public Radio.

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  • by Lewis Green Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    Ah the hallowed walls, as expressed here: "a unique and passion-based 'universal mindset'" Brands must be passion-based and able to project that passion. But what the heck is a universal mindset, and whatever it is I pray it doesn't exist. Sounds like Big Brother is in town or the marketer who says his/her target market is everyone.

  • by Ryan Turner Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    I took it to mean tapping "basic" (maybe not "baser" but what the hey) human instincts, senses, emotions, physical responses; and narrative frames of reference that have universal resonance regardless of how they're conveyed, cultural contexts, etc.

  • by Andrea Learned Thu Mar 8, 2007 via blog

    Yes - Ryan, your definition is what I took from Mr. Losch's presentation. One community he's developed is based mainly on the whole "slow food" lifestyle. I think "movements" like buy local first or some definition of environmental/social responsibility are examples of the emerging but already somewhat universal mindsets that marketers can tap today. People within those realms are operating under a much more holistic perspective - everything is interconnected, so let's all do our part. Their passion starts with one main belief, but acknowledges and expands in line with the interconnectedness of systems (for example - horticulture). What IS known about the future is that everything/everyone will only be more interconnected, so how do we acknowledge and allow for that as marketers? How can we prepare our relationships?

  • by Ryan Turner Fri Mar 9, 2007 via blog

    I can't help but be struck by a simple question: when wasn't everything interconnected? One answer to the challenge I think you're posing might first involve pulling back to notice a funky human trait: the tendency to aggregate what we've dissect ourselves-- instead of using what's usually already in place. In short, we have to pick apart the world around us, pre-existing relationships, etc.; in favor of self-developed measures, terms, connections, etc. that impose order/reflect ourselves/allow us a sense of a control over things that most likely are tough to master. Knowing that, on a professional level at least, we could start to realize that it's less about the tools we can build and more about the range and depth of knowledge and experience upon which we can draw to make connections for increasingly better-informed clients, who will lack context and direction as to where to go and what to do with what they know (and think they know). Clients arming themselves with more information, for example, should be liberating but won't. I think they'll miss the wholecloth concerning "what it all means". We can be the ones who tell that story not only through facts but other means as well. Rather than spinning new measures out of the air, we could start with explaining solid no-BS contexts that are relevant and unique, outlning what's important and what isn't. There will be no shortage of relationships and connections to bring to realization in such a reimagined role. The more professional worth is based upon and reinforced through identifying things that have no relevancy to clients but that sound great to us, however, your posed challenge will continue to vex. All this requires a leap of faith, more creativity, constant exposure and connections (!) to other influences, learnings, and disciplines. Maybe even a bit of professional atavism, since all these were actually done at the roots of our discipline...

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