As a long-time advocate of putting the human back into corporate communications, I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about what works and what doesn’t in our new, hyper-connected digital society. Marketing has changed dramatically since the dawn of social and there’s no denying that the brands that do well are those that find a way to connect with their fans that goes beyond the simple broadcasting of an advertising message and actually engage with clients.
What kinship networks can teach us about designing a social marketing strategy
Take a look at any marketing blog, and you’ll come across endless examples of brands that are successfully reaching out to customers with innovative inbound marketing campaigns that aim to start real and genuine conversations with clients. Here’s a simple example: Asda (a UK supermarket chain) asked their Facebook fans to choose what design they preferred for their Christmas kitchen towel. Think that’s a boring question? Perhaps, but 4,500 people voted for their favourite design – that’s a success by any metric.
The fact is, marketing people like to think that ‘social’ is a brand new phenomenon that requires a fresh take on what it means to interact with your clients… but ‘social’ is simply the modern-day equivalent to the kind of exchange mechanisms that have been going on for millennia. And a look at traditional societies will show you how to create the kinds of relationship that work.
There are many parts of the world where societies are based on intricate networks of interdependency. Without the need for Facebook or Twitter, individuals can map a whole system of interconnectedness that guides their lives. They can name thousands of people to whom they are connected via the slightest of marital ties, or an obligation to a member of a distant tribe based on the loan of an animal to a now-dead relative. These connections, a concept known to anthropologists as ‘kinship’ networks, form the basis of a moral society, or moral economy. You see, social networks aren’t new; we’re just conducting them in a new way.
David Maybury-Lewis illustrated this perfectly in his book, ‘Millennium’. He described a moral economy as:
“…an economy permeated by personal and moral considerations. In such a system, exchanges of goods in the ‘market’ are not divorced from the personal relationships between those who exchange. On the contrary, the exchanges define those relationships. People who engage in such transactions select exchange partners who display integrity and reliability so that they can go back to them again and again. Even when cash enters such an economy, it does not automatically transform it. People still look for just prices, not bargain prices, and the system depends on trust, complementarity, and interdependence. In traditional societies the motto is “seller beware,” for a person who gouges or shortchanges will become a moral outcast, excluded from social interaction with other people.”
So, here’s a challenge. Imagine if, instead of approaching your market with the western-centric philosophy of “There’s a sucker born every minute” (David Hannum), you consider what it is that you can offer in return for the sale of your product or service. Think about how you can build a real relationship with each and every client – one that is sustainable and repeatable, one that will transcend generations, one that will lead to further relationships with those in your clients’ own networks.
Imagine if you could create a kinship network with your clients, instead of just growing a client base. The possibilities are endless.