The Age of Relevance

by colbert | June 10, 2011

Been trying to post more, but it’s hard.  It’s not for a lack of thought, but rather wanting to make sure that what I think (and share) is actually of relevance.  And that’s the topic for today.  Relevance.

A few weeks back I saw an old movie called “He’s Just Not That Into You”.  Not a great movie but a really cold reminder that if your lover doesn’t call you/call you back, he or she probably doesn’t love you that much. You are just not relevant enough.

The economic downturn has turned the heat up on business relevance. In good economic times, “interesting” can suffice as relevant. Companies and consumers will buy your products or services because they can afford to, because what you offer is interesting, mildly helpful, feels good, whatever. A great example of that are research expenditures.  Big brands spend gobs of money on interesting research.  They don’t actually do anything with the research, it doesn’t guide decision making, there’s no “return” expected, it’s just interesting.

But when the economy softens, the definition of relevance hardens.  It shifts from “interesting” to “influencing”, i.e. the investment has got to connect in some, even if indirect, way to an action or benefit.  Management starts asking the question, what are we getting for this?  The consumer begins contemplating what life will be life without that pair of shoes.  But even then, there’s some latitude on how consumers and businesses assess the return, on how relevant the relevance is.

Now, serve up an economic setback like the one we’re still mired in, and the definition of relevance becomes rock hard. Relevance = Essential. Essential = our business cannot operate without the benefit of this product, service (or employee). Essential = my personal life will suffer in tangible forms if I don’t buy this thing (or call my girlfriend back).

The definition of relevance as essential puts intense pressure on all of us but I think it’s a healthy pressure.  Good economies delude us.  They make us think that the value equation (and relationship) is solid and secure when in fact it is not.  Our capacity to grow as individuals and companies, through good times and bad, is purely predicated on our ability to be essential to whomever we serve (or love).  So I encourage you to ask yourself the tough question: Are they returning your phone call?

And if not, you know what to do.

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