By pa360, Apr 5 2021 10:13AM
We are all hard-wired to seek relevance. This is primarily because it provides validation, affirmation and assurance. The thing about relevance is that, whilst by itself it does not solve problems, it is an important gateway to better things. In the context of a brand, relevance can be the difference. between the possibility of something and the guarantee of nothing.
Relevance ensures that a brand is able to navigate its way through a changing market-place. At the very least, it keeps a brand visible and at best it can give a brand a significant competitive edge. By contrast, nothing chokes and kills a brand quicker than ignorance about how relevance works. With this in mind, set out below are ten things that you need to know to make your brand relevant.
1. Relevance is often contextual
To fully appreciate what is and is not relevant, you must first understand the context and space within which you operate. It is often the case that relevance is no more than a window of opportunity at a point in time, which narrows incrementally over time. Whenever I think of 'contextual relevance' I am reminded of boy bands. It is well known that boy bands are relevant to a particular demographic. It is also well known that they are relevant for as long as it takes for the target demographic to grow out of them or for as long as it takes for another boy band to usurp them in the affections of the target demographic. In other words, with 'contextual relevance', there is no expectation of longevity or survivability and even though you do everything you can to make yourself relevant, you do not expect your relevance to last very long.
2. Sometimes relevance will find you
There are times when relevance finds you, without you even having to search for it. A particularly pertinent example of this is the Covid-19 pandemic. During the lengthy periods of 'lockdown', many people have been forced to seek out online tools to stay in touch with friends, family and co-workers. Zoom in particular has emerged as a market-leader over the past 12 months, not because of carefully designed and targeted marketing and promotion, but rather due to the exigencies of social distancing restrictions, brought about by the pandemic. Suddenly a product has taken on a level of relevance and achieved a reach, that could not have been imagined or forecast, in the year prior. Sometimes, unforeseen circumstances create the climate of relevance, that you cannot achieve all by yourself.
3. In the long run, relevance is meaningless without significance
The fact is this: there is no point trying to reach your intended destination if, when you get there, it makes no material difference. A politician becomes relevant when they are elected to high office. However, if whilst in office they fail to fulfil any of their campaign promises, it is likely that their tenure will be considered an irrelevance. Equally, if a product is launched with a fanfare and to popular acclaim, but fails to catch on and is quickly forgotten, then in the grand scheme of things, that product is also likely to be considered an irrelevance. Relevance without significance is like a light bulb that is never switched on. What is the point of everyone being able to see it, if no-one even knows why it is there?
4. Relevance is something that you work for, not something that you wait for
Often-times, we want what we want when we want it. We want access and opportunity on tap as though it were a microwavable option. There seems to be little desire or appetite to put in the hard miles in order to achieve the desired results. Yet the fact is that the road to relevance is often demanding and difficult; requiring dedication, relentlessness and conscientious effort. So, does that mean that on the road to relevance you will never have to exercise patience? Of course not; but the point being made here is that you earn the right to wait while you work. You don't assume the right to wait, while you do nothing.
5. Sometimes irrelevance is relevance
Several years ago, I was watching an absorbing soccer match and at the end of the game, one of the commentators mentioned that the referee had performed well because the game had flowed almost without interruption. For those who are fans of soccer, a good match is one that is remembered for the quality of football, not the frequency of refereeing interventions. Moreover, during the match when things do go wrong, the expectation is that the referee handles the matter deftly, quickly restarts play and reverts to their position of on-pitch obscurity. For referees therefore, the skill and art of the brand is to be known for anonymity and quiet efficiency, rather than visible presence. Sometimes irrelevance is relevance and if less in more, then it is only right that more is better.
6. Relevance is a journey not a destination
One of the biggest mistakes that people make is to think that relevance is definitive. In their reasoning, they liken it to climbing a mountain or running a marathon. In actual fact, it is unlike either of those things. There is nothing at all that is definite about relevance. Depending on the particular area in which you are operating, relevance can be a never-ending process of reinvention, re-purposing and re-imagining. There is probably no better example of this than the tech industry, where whatever might have been thought of as cutting edge and ground-breaking just a few years ago, will be considered a museum piece today. In such a environment the ability to keep running, if only to stand still, is the only way that a business can truly remain relevant.
7. Relevance can limit opportunities just as much as it can open doors
It is important to know who you are relevant to, as well as what you are relevant for. There are products and services that are only relevant to certain demographics and communities. These days, typewriters are quaint collectors items, for people of a certain vintage. However, the truth of the matter is that they no longer have mass-market appeal because businesses and individuals now routinely use computers. Likewise, a trade in music cassette tapes, whilst holding nostalgia value for some, is unlikely to see much growth amongst the general population. This is because cassette tapes are no longer the media produced by manufactures or preferred by consumers. As such, relevance can be a value judgement that, whilst appealing to some, may be of little or no interest to others.
8. There are times when you don't even get to choose why you are relevant
It is extraordinary how people can become relevant for reasons that they had not expected or intended. The story of supermodel Kate Moss, is an example of this. Miss Moss, then aged just 14, was apparently recruited as a model in 1988 at at JFK Airport in New York. By all accounts, the young Miss Moss was neither canvassing for, not expecting the opportunity that came her way and subsequently changed her life. I have no idea what Kate Moss' career ambitions might have been at 14, but it is probably fair to say that they did not include being catapulted to fame a few years into her teens. As is so often the case with relevance, it is for others to make the discerning judgement, not for you to decide.
9. To be relevant you don't just need to know your purpose, you also need to find your place
Have you ever seen a green leaf insect camouflaged on a green leaf? The way they blend into their environment is quite incredible and an excellent example of the necessity for purpose to be complemented by place. A green leaf insect attempting to camouflage itself amongst dead and dry leaves on a forest floor, would likely see its life chances decrease significantly. In other words, as much as relevance helps to define your purpose, by itself, purpose is of limited or nil value unless it finds a natural blend with place. It is when those two dynamics come together, that the chance of survivability is increased.
10. Sometimes relevance is forged in the fire of disappointment
No-one would accept disappointment, if it is something that they could avoid. Yet the value of disappointment cannot and should never be understated. The reason for this because more often than not, disappointment is the sand-box of learning and development. There are times when it is only through the frustrating and painstaking process of discovering what is not relevant, that you can uncover what is relevant. Much as we hate the idea of not being able to get things right at the first time of asking, it is the commitment to bounce back and keep going that tests our resourcefulness, builds resilience and reveals character. Not only that, but the above-mentioned traits are also the very building blocks of what makes a brand relevant.
Ok, so in conclusion, relevance is a critical component of any brand. In fact no brand can expect to be successful without it. However, as this blog sets out, relevance is also a multi-faceted, complex and often organic construct. You may look for it and find it, you may search for it and miss it, you may encounter it without expecting it. With relevance there are a multiplicity of rules, some of which apply at different times and others which apply at the same time. In the context of a brand, the key learning point is that relevance is what matters to others, not what it means to you.