Barbara Gray, CFA – February 12, 2013

“Welcome to the Relationship Era. Say goodbye to positioning, preemption, and unique selling proposition. This is about turning everything you understood about marketing upside down so that you can land right side up. This is about tapping into the Human Element.”

Doug Levy & Bob Garfield – Advertising Age – “Welcome to the Relationship Era” – January 1, 2012

Wow, I thought to myself, as I read the opening paragraph to the Advertising Age article – here are some marketing guys that really get what we’re talking about. This was back in January 2012 – and we had recently published our Social Capital Play research report – so I was excited to find someone of like-mind. And thanks to the amazing bridging power of LinkedIn, I was able to reach out and connect with Doug Levy. Although we haven’t yet had the pleasure to meet in person yet (Doug lives in Dallas, Texas), we have had a number of great exchanges via email and phone. And when Doug recently told me that he was coming out with a book, which he was kind enough to send me a sample draft copy of, I thought it would be a great opportunity to interview him and share his story with all of you.

Doug founded IMC2, his digital advertising agency, back in 1995. A decade ago, he developed the Purpose Discovery Process to help his clients identify their WHY. Last year he changed the name of his firm to MEplusYOU to better align with his firm’s own purpose to advance relationships between companies and their customers, According to Doug, the ME is meant to imply the introspection of “what’s important to me”.

Book_Cant_Buy_Me_LikeIn talking with Doug, I really got the sense of how passionate he is about business being an amazing source for innovation and the role of business in improving humanity. He is a strong supporter of the Conscious Capitalism movement and the belief that business can be a force for good. His soon-to-be released book, which he co-authored with Bob Garfield, explores how the changes in technology and the media landscape are really about a deeper and more important story. The original title for their book was “The Human Element” but after a lot of input from their community and 500 different stops along the way, they decided on the title “Can’t Buy Me LIKE: How Authentic Customer Connections Drive Superior Results” I love the title as it plays on two different levels of senses as I keep catching myself humming the famous Beatles’ tune “Can’t Buy Me Love…” and the image of the “LIKE” on the front cover is styled after the famous LOVE sculpture with the tilted O. The title also touches on social media and brings into question the primary way of marketing today. Doug believes that paid media doesn’t lead to love or like, as it has to happen on a deeper level with customers.

The book talks about the shift from the Consumer Era to the Relationship Era and identifies the “Four Forces at work in the Relationship Era”:

  1. collapse of “mass”
  2. increase of “transparency”
  3. rise of social connectivity
  4. primacy of trust

It’s interesting as there is a great table in the book that really highlights how we are “shifting from the rapidly deteriorating Consumer Era of mass marketing to the rapidly emerging Relationship Era”:

  • Objective: Persuasion of brand’s desirable attributes and benefits TO Engagement on the brand’s purpose.
  • Strategy: Find and claim “white space” in consumers’ minds TO Be clear about brand’s purpose and vision.
  • Starts with: Consumer research TO Brand purpose.
  • Leads to: Campaigns to demonstrate positioning TO Movements that inspire people to join the brand.
  • Creates: Brand positioning (which may change) TO Brand stand (which is not likely to change).
  • Success Measure: Brand is associated with the new position TO Brand is known for its authentic stand

Although social media is accelerating this shift, Doug acknowledges we haven’t reached a tipping point yet as many companies still need a wake-up call. It’s interesting as this viewpoint echoes the findings of the Social Attributes research we did back in the summer when we looked at how companies scored in terms of transparency, authenticity, and engagement on Facebook and Twitter. Like us, Doug sees this shift as bigger than marketing, “Digital revolution…has launched us all into an era in which human needs, human values, and human connections will define success or failure for these brands.”

Doug sees this new framework as an opportunity for companies to avoid the fools’ choice of profit versus purpose. In his work, he has seen that if a product is a manifestation of a bigger belief, it tends to do better than companies that just stand for making money. “A clear purpose defines what the brand or company stands for, beyond the financials, and inspires people to not merely patronize the brand, but to join it.” He sees it as getting clear on trust at a different level as trust is sacred and is not just another mechanism for influencing transactions. In our conversation, Doug confided with me how cause marketing makes his skin crawl. As he states in the book “This behavior is cynical and often sordid, exploiting other people’s tragedy to purchase borrowed interest.” When you get clear on trust, you have the opportunity to develop a deeper relationship – “Trust is an asset, not a commodity. It cannot be purchased. It must be earned.”

As it states in the book, “According to 2012 Nielsen global study, trust in TV, magazines, and newspaper ads has plummeted an average of 23% over the past 3 years, while confidence in word-of-mouth, online reviews, and other so-called earned media has grown to 92%.” To determine how the public’s stated preference for honest and transparency correlates to their actual choices in the marketplace, Doug’s company developed the Brand Sustainability Map, which plots a company’s level of transactions (i.e. market share) on the x-axis against its level of trust (according to IMC2’s commissioned survey data) on the y-axis. Companies that rank low in both terms of trust and transactions, such as United Airlines, have a “LIMITED Relationship” while companies that rank low in terms of trust but high in terms of transactions, such as AT&T, have a “RELUCTANT Relationship”. Companies that score high in terms of trust but low in terms of transactions, such as Volvo, have an “EMOTIONAL Relationship” while companies that score high in both terms of trust and transactions, such as Amazon, have a “SUSTAINABLE Relationship”.

It will be interesting to see how the whole trust equation plays out as social media accelerates the shift into what Doug calls the “Relationship Era” and what we call the “Social Era”. When my husband Greg and I attended SXSW last year, one of the biggest topics on everyone’s mind was “what’s the ROI of social media?” As Doug states in the book “The traditional advertising people who control these dollars are trying to fit social media into a framework they understand. So they want reach and frequency. They want to know the value of a Like.” It will be interesting to see at this year’s SXSW if anyone has figured out the answer to this puzzling question. But companies would be wise to pay heed to the wisdom found in these lyrics composed by the Beatles back in 1964:

I’ll give you all I’ve got to give
If you say you love me too
I may not have a lot to give
But what I’ve got I’ll give to you

I don’t care too much for money
For money can’t buy me love