It’s Not Who You Know

Mafia MenWe’ve all heard, “It’s not what you know but who you know.” In my life and career that has proven true time and again, and I’ve been on the fortunate end of that equation. But recently, that idiom has grown nuanced for me in—of all places—a movie theater.

Thanks to our town having a second-run (“dollar”) theater, I got to watch this summer’s A-Team movie four times before it left the big screen. I’m not normally an action movie guy, but I’m hoping whichever sibling drew my name for Christmas this year gets me the ensuing DVD. There are too many quotable lines to count, but one of the most practical lines came from “Face.” In military prison, living large with luxury amenities, he reveals the secret of his success.

“It’s now who you know. It’s how you know them.”

This is the premise of black mail and organized crime, extramarital affairs and Free Masonry, BALCO employees and undercover police officers. On a warm, fuzzy note, it’s also true of romantic relationships—unless you just heard the death knell of, “I’d like to be [just] friends.”

What does this have to do with marketing?

Consumers are more comfortable transacting with vendors who’ve gained their confidence—local or otherwise. You gain part of that confidence through consistent branding, the sum of advertising and customer interactions that continually reinforce the culture and quality of your services and/or products. Some of the biggest disappointments that we as consumers face is discovering a disconnect with the expectations companies have created in us, like Apple has recently experienced with their iPhone 4 foibles.

Western culture celebrates the brands we love, even wearing or displaying the logos of our favorite companies on our clothes, shopping bags, and Facebook “like” lists. We recommend the products and services we buy and talk around the water cooler about those with creative marketing or cool stories like TOMS Shoes and Zappos.

So, how do you initiate those relationships? And how do you move from initiating those relationships to brand trust or—even better—customer evangelism?

Evaluate and extrapolate from your current client base.
If all you want is more customers in the store, you’ll waste your advertising budgets. So, research the common denominators of who already likes you and recommends you. Discover the kind of people or businesses that best match your culture and proficiencies; then research prospects that are as identical as possible to them.

Codify and celebrate your company culture.
Chick-fil-A and have very different brand images; and both have experienced wide-spread success. You get specific mental images when you think “Geico” or “Yankees” or “VH1.” Determine the mood and message of your brand; then build your advertising and transaction environments around them.

Hire some brand police.
Don’t just spend money to fill a media quota; and don’t let advertising leave your office, unless it meticulously matches the rest of your materials and media. The public’s retention of your brand runs parallel to your advertising’s consistency both (1) from one advertising medium to another and (2) between your advertising and your company’s underlying culture.

Keep the hits coming.
Most guys don’t propose on first dates, yet entrepreneurs do it all the time. One of my clients recently lamented that their first mail piece to a certain demographic didn’t generate any significant business. They wanted to get to at least second base on their first date. While that may be possible with some creative marketing or serendipitous matching of their need—at their time of need—and your solutions, you’re probably going to have to take the prospects on multiple visual dates. People may not need your services right away or may need multiple impressions to recognize and remember your message apart from the din of the marketplace.

Get conversational.
Go to the trade and home shows where your clients mingle. Host free seminars or cocktail receptions; take people to lunch or a sporting event. Personalize invoices and/or receipts. Write hand-written notes. Sponsor local fundraiser events or maybe create a float for a parade. Better yet, get behind a non-profit as a corporate partner or spokesperson. Even if you have to hire someone to do it for you, use social media presence to post helpful links and interact with people as humans. Don’t interrupt their Facebook and Twitter streams only for broadcasted announcements; no, jump into show-and-tell like Local Motors does. The more patient and engaged you are, the more interest and/or trust you can capture.

For a lot of this, the payoff seems abstract, if not distant. But I’ve read or witnessed too many success stories to dismiss the value of a brand that’s unique and authentic, creative and engaged. So, discover who you are, and spend your time with folks who like people like you.

Charles Jones said, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” It’s interesting for me to compare where I was spiritually, relationally, emotionally, and experientially five years ago to today’s vistas in those same categories. I’ve met a God I hadn’t known, despite life in a minister’s home. I have more and deeper friendships than I anticipated having at this stage in life. Five years ago this month, Crystal and I were planning our first post-honeymoon vacation to somewhere other than a family gathering. Since then, we’ve traveled to multiple countries and found interests we didn’t know we had. My magazine subscriptions and other non-fiction inhalation has sling-shot me into valuable positions with influence.

As a Christian, how I relate to God and his book definitely determines the rate of change in my life. Right now, we’re going through a challenging series at church, called “All In.” The basic premise is that we have as much of God and his supernatural impact on our life journeys as we want. That’s heavy. That means we change only as much as we release to sovereign access.

We can do the ritual gig, punching our spiritual time cards each weekend (or even more often) and living mostly-tidy lives. Or we can fall in love with our eternal groom and watch what that intimacy does to us. It’s scary. I struggle regularly with surrender—in multiple areas and on various levels—to the unseen omni-everything. Thankfully, heaven rewards me with an unexplainable pleasure and presence, when I do surrender. And he’s got a bunch of that for you, too—if you want it.

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