I’ll take a day away from science and psychology and invite you to think about that big, bad, beautiful word: Relationships. It is used, abused, misused and distorted for marketing, with cliches like: “We have great relationships” or “We value our client relationships.”
Sure, relationships are important, unless we all think we are inhuman machines. Yet we should not misinterpret the importance of value (and values). When we combine the two, we have the magical edge in marketing and business.
Let’s look at that massive, wonderfully successful (and in business extremely new) business, Google, as an example. Most of us “relate” to Google as a human relates to a machine. Google’s algorithms seem friendly enough — they “hear” us and respond with useful information, 24-7, exactly when we need the information. Yet, we don’t really spend that much time talking to anyone real within the big borg based in Mountain View.
Google’s primary business is about advertising. Yes, the company has sales reps, phone support, and all the other “relationship” attachments needed to make clients happy. Yet the population of employees in relationship to the amount of business Google does is staggeringly small. Clients relate to Google primarily on a man-to-machine level. The systems are set up with the minimum of human interaction.
This process is even more dramatic on Google’s ad brokerage system for websites and other publishers. Google shares close to 70 per cent of the revenue it receives on the “content network” around the world with third-party publishers. You can find Google ads on seemingly tiny ads in truly remote places. The Google machine pays out to publishers whenever the numbers reach $100.00. Meanwhile, if you have a book for sale through Google’s system, the autobots will generate payment at even lower thresholds.
Of course, Google has people and employees, and they spend much of their time testing variations and alternatives. They can test tiny things because they have such a huge sample size. A 1 per cent improvement in search quality, for example, would generate benefit to a few million searches, probably.
But what about the personal touch, the relationships?
I’m one of the lucky ones. I am a Top Contributor (a kind of moderator) on the AdSense help forums. This status conveys a few perks, the most significant of which are real human connections and relationships with Google employees. As I understand it, there are several hundred people with similar status, across all of the company’s help forums, around the world. Google will be paying for our flights, meals and accommodations this fall for the second Top Contributor Summit in San Jose, CA. It will be quite a party.
We earned our status, of course, through relationships; in this case, by answering questions and helping out on the help forums with our answers to questions from service users around the world. In other words, by behaving like humans, with respect and some common-sense care, we have been rewarded with a uniquely human experience. Human and machine — where relationships really matter.
Of course, this out-of-business experience has value for my own organization. I’m able to peer in to the search engine giant (though I cannot disclose all that I see, because of non-disclosure agreement requirements) and capture the trends and directions of the publishing and advertising industries — and adapt our own company’s vision to these insights. More importantly, my experience has taught me that contribution in different places (even if seemingly indirect from the primary business) can have incredible value, because relationships sometimes transcend experiences or expectations, and if you look outside of your obvious clients, you may find associations, links and communities that you enjoy being with, and where your relationships can lead to significant real growth.
The key here is to look beyond the cliches. Relationships are important, sure. The question is, how can you integrate your natural interests and relationships with the broader visions and dreams and your own values, and those of your community around you? You may discover that the best results occur when you take your marketing mask off, and put on your true human face.