Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of presenting a session on audience experience at Creative New Zealand’s annual ‘The Big Conversation’ conference.
Opening the conference, the keynote speaker, Diana Ragsdale, gave a thought-provoking talk on the role of the arts in our societies, which included the notion of ‘transformative engagement’.
This post is based on the concepts outlined in her presentation and owes a significant debt to her thinking. Quotes in italics are hers.
Although Diana’s words weren’t intended for a digital context, I was startled by the relevance of the concept for businesses in the digital age.
Why are the arts a good touchstone for digital? Because they are inherently about people, about empathy and about human emotion. Because, despite the wealth of data and analytics at our fingertips, a digital programme without a human at its centre is a programme destined to be cold and empty.
‘Transformative engagement’ means engaging with the community in a way that changes how your organisation thinks and what it does.
It is a concept based on relevance, on learning how to really matter to consumers. At the heart of the principle is the maxim, “Do not try to change your customers. Instead, let your customers change you.”
In other words, brands have a choice. You can reinforce stereotypes and narrow your view, or you can open your arms and try to create broad communities.
What follows are five principles for making transformative engagement a reality for your business:
1. Let customers in
In the digital age, if you want to become a social (media) enterprise, you literally need to become a social (community) enterprise. Allow customers to participate in your organisation, in the design and delivery of your products and service.
Ask the question: “how can I invite people to help make this better?” (hat tip to Nina Simon)
2. Practice ‘radical hospitality’
‘Radical hospitality’ has a startling relevance in an audience-centric digital world.
‘Radical hospitality’ as a concept requires intentional invitation and welcome. It aims to bring groups of people together, while stimulating collaboration and participation. It requires organisations to be proactive, to be accessible, to be relevant and to be empathetic. Digital can be a wonderful enabler of this.
How many brands pour resource into their outreach efforts only to be met by apathy? How many brands miss the opportunity to bring customers together, to facilitate relationships, rather than demand one?
Blue Ocean strategy talks about the enormous opportunity and latent demand of ‘non-customers’, the group of people on the edge or beyond your target horizon, who with the right offering could become loyal consumers.
Is your business only for a certain kind of person? Are you over-segmenting and actually reducing your potential audiences?
Try opening the doors and see who walks in.
3. Be the centre
Are you trying to build a database of potential purchasers, or are you trying to build a loyal community of advocates?
“A community isn’t just an audience … a community talks back and it criticizes and it challenges and it questions and it reshapes our organizations to fit its needs or it walks away if we will not listen.”
You need to become, or provide, the space for your customers to engage in an ongoing conversation about what really matters to them. And you need to be open to the feedback – good and bad – that will flow from those conversations.
4. Focus on impact, rather than size
In other words, less is more; quality over quantity. We increasingly see this in many aspects of digital – content, for example. Focus on delivering real value, being genuinely useful and generating a tangible result.
Another thing: it’s hard to be agile when your focus is on being big. For all the talk of big organisations ‘disrupting’ themselves, how many actually do it? Very few – it’s hard to turn an oil tanker into a speedboat. That’s one reason disruption starts at the bottom.
5. Create meaning, as well as money
All businesses have a commercial imperative, but if we think of customers entirely in terms of the dollars they represent, we miss the opportunity to offer added value and develop the ‘relationships’ that will be far more profitable, on many levels, in the future.
I use ‘relationships’ loosely here. I don’t believe most consumers really want a relationship with a brand, but they do want to feel valued and feel like they matter.
I’m not talking about ethereal notions of brand purpose either. This is about contextualising an experience and adding value in the moments that matter. Can you create a meaningful narrative or experience around your business that is removed from the transaction?
Organisations much balance embracing the market, with embracing a value system that matters to its customers.
In a networked, digital age, there is huge value to be gained in adopting a community-based approach to the way you run your business. These concepts can also be applied internally, to develop a more collaborative and engaged workforce.
What are your thoughts on transformative engagement? Are you practicing this already?
Transformation or Bust: When Hustling Tickets and Contributions Just Isn’t Cutting it Anymore, was written by Diane Ragsdale for the 2016 Creative New Zealand Conference: The Big Conversation.