The secret to being relevant

If you don't find this post relevant, you'll stop reading any second. So how can I make you stay? I need to give you something you'll feel in your bones and in your heart, and that you'll need to share with your friends.

If you don't find this post relevant, you'll stop reading any second.

As your eyes glaze over, you'll click the back button and follow legions of consumers who, every day, are bored stiff by news releases, articles, ads, tweets, posts, speeches, demos, products, booths, and videos that don't stand out from the clutter.

So how can I make you stay? I need to give you something you'll feel in your bones and in your heart, and that you'll need to share with your friends. Oh, and something  that makes logical sense.

That, in a nutshell, is the recipe for relevance, the holy grail of a cacophonous media age. When you Google, you know you want relevant results. But relevance is also what you want every time you pick up the paper, tablet, or TV remote. People want to connect to something real and resonant and, better yet, form a community around it.

So, faced with a staggering range of choices and messages, do people yearn to connect with your product, service, candidate, or community? Only if you are relevant to them.

I define relevance as the full experience of an idea, product, brand, candidate, or cause, one that not only changes minds, but changes behavior, and sustains that change. So how to become relevant? By fully engaging a person four ways: through his or her value system, senses, and social impulses, not just the rational mind. Yes, logic is overrated.

Consider the sensory experience of trying your first tablet computer – your finger against the glass, the frisson of delight, and the pace of your heartbeat — you find yourself smiling. That's relevant because you feel it. It's less about your practical need for a form factor halfway between a smartphone and laptop.

Remember that General Motors commercial from 2010? It's pure emotion. A boxer gets knocked down, Evel Knievel crashes his bike, and Popeye sinks into the sea. Then they pull themselves together. “We all fall down,” the ad says. “Thank you for helping us get back up.” If I needed a new car today, I would start with GM. I love the commercial that much.

Relevance is also about habits and formulas that make one choose, say, Target over Wal-Mart or Coke over Pepsi for a lifetime. How does this happen?

In all of these cases, the brand, product, or cause becomes part of us. We move from curious to committed, passive to involved, indifferent to eager. We are compelled to act, whether it's walking for cancer research, recommending a favorite restaurant, or spending money on a product we've fallen in love with.

Consider your communications program. Is it relevant? How relevant? Are you reaching your stakeholders through their sensory experiences, value system, social interests, and rational thinking? Where are your relevance deficits?

Think about it. Then act. And thanks for reading.

Andrea “Andy” Coville is CEO of Brodeur

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