Got Relevance?

One of the most daunting challenges companies face now is how to market themselves.

Think of it: There are many businesses with the same or similar offerings. Customers can purchase goods or services from anywhere in the world, thanks to the Internet. With rapid commoditization, effectively marketing a business is more challenging than ever. It takes more than a marketing plan, strategy and tactics, positioning and differentiation to successfully market now. But what?

When reviewing a number of companies' marketing campaigns and Web sites, it is readily apparent that their marketing is "all about us." Problem. While it is necessary for businesses to clearly and directly state "who we are and what we do," marketing should be "all about the customer." Prospects are left wondering: "So what about me? What can this company do for me? There's nothing here that addresses my concerns, my needs."

It's time to answer some important questions:

• What motivates my customers? What is relevant to them? Have I asked them?



• When looking to add value, service or convenience to our business offerings, have I asked customers what they place a high value on?

• How can my business transcend its basic offerings to connect in a meaningful way to my customer?

By continually innovating and improving current offerings, or adding new ones, many businesses think they continue to add incremental value for their customers. While there is some truth to that, there will always be competitors that will go one better -- so in the end, this isn't sufficient, either. So what is? Relevance.

Relevance makes a business truly sustainable. It comes from a deeply ingrained set of values that go to the heart of a business and its brand. Like anything else of merit, relevance must be constantly worked at and put into practice. Yet it's the most important thing businesses can do, since relevance sharply differentiates it from a myriad of others. It also leads to something competitors can't touch regardless of price: a higher perceived value.

Here are my seven C's to achieve relevance:

Conviction. Develop a business brand with deep convictions at the core, and unwavering commitment to it. A system of values that are clearly spelled out and adhered to. That core consistently aligned with every business decision, every bit of communication and every customer touchpoint. Make sure employees understand the company's core; they represent the company to your customers. They aren't "units of production"; they're brand-builders.

Commitment. Make it a point to understand customers' needs. Consistently ask them what they value and deliver it. Ask for honest feedback. Use negative comments to improve your business. Build on the positives.

Communication. Amazing but true: communications between businesses and their customers are either nil or inconsistent. Is there a customer who doesn't appreciate a phone call or email when there is an unforeseen delay in delivering a product? Completing a project or repair? Receiving periodic updates? Ongoing communication deepens relationships between businesses and customers.

Caring. In showing customers genuine empathy and simultaneously delivering uncompromising service, a true relationship can take root. While competitors may offer the "latest" and even excellent service, empathy and human bonding will lead customers to your business again and again. Don't forget to say "thank you" every time. Every customer wants to be appreciated and valued.

Crystal clear. Make sure your brand is authentic and unfailingly honest. The lack of honesty and transparency has plagued many companies, causing real harm in some cases, and total failure in others; the result of a lack of trust by consumers.

Community. Become participants in the community. Give back. Conserve energy, cut down on waste, or donate time or money to worthy, local causes. Or mentor young people and share what you know. Start a blog or send tweets out on Twitter. Great insights are gleaned in conversations among friends. Weave your business into the fabric of your local community.

Cultural shifts. Many business owners think if sales drop, increased advertising and promotions are the answer. Are they really? Are you losing business to competitors because you are not engaging in enough marketing activity, or have you lost touch with them and a rapidly changing culture?

Example: if you own a sandwich shop, your customers are looking for lower-salt, -fat and -cholesterol options, multigrain breads, wheat-free, gluten-free breads ... are you offering what they're looking for?

Bottom line: achieving and maintaining relevance begets long-term success.

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