Do you, your leadership and your business strive to establish trust with the people and businesses that offer your company the greatest growth opportunities, or do you use total market strategies that often fall flat and come across as inauthentic? If it’s the latter, how are you differentiating your target audience from the total market approach if all you do, for instance, is swap in the “Wong family” or “Garcia family” for the “O’Brien family” in the same new car ad? That may work with some of your target audience fleetingly by playing the status symbol card: They got a new car; they must be like everyone else!
But do you think that’s a long-term evolved strategy that reads as genuine to Chinese-Americans, Hispanics or any population that’s not the same as the O’Briens? It looks inclusive and, in some senses it is, but it’s a superficial approach at best. Here’s what nonwhite families think when they see that: Are you trying to cut costs because you don’t care what our community represents to you? Do you not value us enough to engage with us the right way?
Recognizing the distinction between what the Garcia or Wong family looks like and what makes them special is what needs to be understood to connect with them or any Cultural Demographic Shift (CDS) population. We need to recognize the role they play as they become the face of America, understand their family values and capture them in a genuine way to elevate and strengthen our value proposition to them.
Yet companies are at a loss to do it any other way. So while it may seem heartening that advertising outlays in Hispanic markets are growing by 12 percent, according to Ad Age -- which is more than double overall U.S. major media ad spending -- it doesn’t mean much if it involves superficial approaches like Photoshopping different ethnicities in car ads. If you start with a baseline of the majority and try to engage the minority with that same approach, you’re fundamentally flawed. That’s not evolution, that’s substitution.
You need to build new perspectives. As Caroline Wanga, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Target Corp., explained to the audience at my CDS summit, “The problem dealing with the Cultural Demographic Shift is we’re using a Caucasian baseline and applying a colored filter. African- Americans are not brown white people. We need to change the baseline. That’s an uncomfortable thing to say to some people, but having those intrusive insights and conversations that make people uncomfortable call out the real problem.”
External partnerships can help you do this. Their goals should be similar to mine when I work with a company internally: strengthen an organization’s solve -- mitigate flaws, prevent them from happening and give leaders and their businesses the right intellectual capital to strengthen their business models when they don’t have the time and resources to own it themselves. But this works only if the leaders and businesses are engaged and aligned. This goes back to innovation mentality characteristic four: Live with an entrepreneurial spirit. But it’s not just the workplace that must become more entrepreneurial -- our external partnerships must be so as well.
You need to re-evaluate your external partnerships and establish new ground rules for the role they play: what you should expect from them and what they help you solve for. They should evolve with you! And you must interact with them: If you hired that ad agency that photshopped the Wongs for the O’Briens and your only interaction was to cut them a check, you effectively abdicated responsibility and handed them the keys to your company instead of working with them to identify the intellectual property that allows you to drive and lead better. You need to stop paying people for their platforms and create ones that can be managed by your partners as if it was your own.
Every day, leaders erode trust in their brands by complacently and willfully discriminating against the very groups that offer them the greatest opportunities for future growth. This is why Dell became the largest publicly traded company to revert to being privately held. It wanted to break free from the proverbial chains of Wall Street and regain its competitive advantage by taking new risks and trying new business models that were not beholden to shareholders. After a two-year hiatus, Dell has roared back with some new thinking about partnership through acquisition, moving to acquire storage giant EMC and spinning off its cyber-security division.
We need more companies like Dell that allow risk to become their best friend and who are willing to take personal accountability in how they wield the power and influence that comes with their role and responsibilities. Simply put, the external partners that you decide to align your business with can either positively or negatively impact your short-and long-term success. They can either lift your business up to reach greater levels of significance or pull your business down, elevating your risk profile and guiding you down a path of ineffective decision making. Relationships with external partners (vendors, consultants, advisors, strategic industry partners, nonprofit organizations etc.) can either make you stronger and wiser about your future, or they can weaken you and blind you to the opportunities perhaps right in front of you. More often than not, it’s the latter as the partnerships grow complacent, opportunity gaps widen and it becomes more difficult for the relationships -- and the business -- to evolve.
That’s the situation one of my clients found itself in. I asked one of the senior leaders, “Why do you continue to conduct business with this particular external partner? Are they adding any real value to your business needs? What are they helping you solve for to enable your business to evolve? Could it be that the relationship is being taken for granted?” What did this leader say? “They’re a legacy relationship. We pay them $50,000 a year to provide us market research and attend their annual conference. Since they don’t have much financial impact on the business, we continue to support them.”
But a year later, my client informed me he had courageously considered the questions again and ended the relationship: “We stopped taking the relationship for granted and realized that for $50,000 a year they weren’t adding value to our business. The quality of their research began to wane and was no longer relevant to our current business needs. They weren’t evolving, and the relationship had become an unnecessary expense, no longer an investment, but one in which they were hurting our business, not helping us grow.”
And that brings us to market intelligence: To ensure your organization continues to evolve and grow wiser through your external partnerships, ask these six questions influenced by and based on the six characteristics of the innovation mentality to evaluate your relationships with those partners:
1. Do they broaden your perspectives? Think of external partners as an extension of your organization’s leadership that broadens the landscape of opportunities previously unseen for your business.
2. Do they keep you on your toes? It’s not a strategic business relationship unless your external partners hold you accountable to anticipate the unexpected.
3. Do they make you more courageous? Business relationships that make you more courageous to take action and help you effectively maximize the full potential of the opportunities that are right in front are the ones that generate measurable ROI and mitigate risk.
4. Do they help leverage existing assets and resources? Do they help you cultivate greater strategic focus and connect the dots of intellectual capital to create and strengthen ecosystems to make your business smarter and wiser?
5. Do they have your best interests at the forefront? Those that do will always have your back and share the harvest of the momentum it should be fueling organically for the betterment of a healthier whole.
6. Do they strengthen your significance to sustain your success? Business relationships are sustained when shared values are continuously reciprocated. They recognize that success comes most to those who are surrounded by people who want their success to continue.