Robert Schooling

Recently, in advising a client, I realized that the client had perfectly good arguments and perfectly logical communications about why what they were doing was valuable, ethical, useful, etc.; however, after talking it through we realized that the problem was that while all their arguments may be true, nobody really cared.

It’s a stunning realization for many organizations that their brand (company, organization, etc.) simply isn’t understood to be relevant by key stakeholders. “Understood to be” is really the key idea. If your brand isn’t “actually” relevant that’s a bigger problem. Many times though the problem is one of perceived relevance. 

So what constitutes perceived relevance?

Relevance means that your brand speaks to needs, wants, interests, etc. that fit into the way in which your stakeholders see the world. Different brands have different tests of relevance.

Much of the work we do at Reservoir involves influential audiences and their tests for relevance are often different (though rooted in the same principles) as those of consumer audiences. For these influential audiences relevance can be thought of simply as your brand’s ability to help solve a well-understood problem, shed light on complicated issues, or advance dialogue on topics of interest. 

Too many brands skip the relevance question and jump straight to persuasion, something they would rarely do on the marketing side of their business. No one advertises snow shovels in the Caribbean – they don’t address a need that is relevant. That doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly good snow shovels that could be very well received in Boston.

GE (not a client) is a good example of a company that has embraced relevance. As an industrial giant they are no doubt highly relevant to policymakers, but they went further and embraced the environment with “ecomagination,” health care costs with “healthy imagination,” and their “GE Works” campaign speaks directly to their relevance to economic growth.

The temptation to skip over the question of relevance is often a reflection of the assumption that relevance exists. After all, your brand is valued by other constituencies and may even be immensely popular with those who use your product. However, that doesn’t guarantee relevance with all audiences. 

Brands seeking to shape perception of any audience need to start by asking three very basic questions:

  1. What topics are of primary concern to my audience?
  2. What particular attributes does my brand possess that might be relevant to those concerns?
  3. In what way can I align my expertise/resources to help address those concerns?

Most brands can find ways to be relevant, it just may require approaching the problem a little differently.