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Being Relevant

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | April 18, 2019
Every business, organization, or non-profit should consistently ask themselves: “why am I absolutely necessary in the lives of my consumer?”  Necessity can mean something different depending on your stage of life, your financial situation, and your personal preference.  Something that is “necessary” to a retiree may not be necessary to a young parent.  A product or service that is absolutely required for a family with a household income of $300K may be different than the needs of a family with a $40,000 yearly income.  We are all different people, and what is relevant to one person may not be relevant to someone else.  HOWEVER, there are some common elements when designing a business or organization that holds lasting relevance in the mind of the consuming public.
1.  What do you actually do?  Among economic development specialists, there is a process known as “buzz word bingo”.  You have probably heard of people saying something like “we are the leader in producing quality products for our consumer at reasonable prices with outstanding service”.  What does that business or organization actually do?  Be honest with yourself, and talk about the product or service that you actually produce.  When you start distilling your entity down to “actuality”, you can determine your level of necessity.
2.  What problem(s) do you solve (and is that problem relevant)? Relevance in problem solving is more complex in the era of automation.  At one time, the phone book was a critical tool for businesses and consumers.  With the ascent of online databases, people have access to a worldwide phone book with their smart phone.  Physical connectivity in knowledge points has often been replaced (or at least diminished) with on-line alternatives.  For other business/organizational models, your ability to solve for issues generally has a measurable item related to it.  Some solvency expresses itself in sales of your products.  Sometimes you can look at third party market penetration models to show your ability to remain relevant to the consumer.  For non-profits, you can look at changes in the issue you are trying to change to determine your relevance.
3.  How do you make lasting, positive change?  Beyond the sale, beyond the “we made contact”, beyond the “we offered services”, how do you make a lasting change in the lives of your consuming public?  For some businesses, you can track impact by customers becoming employees or volunteers over time.  For other entities, you can measure the “nostalgia effect” with people that share fond stories of your entity years after they intersect with your organization.
4.  Do you follow up?  It’s a bit of a cliche, but many businesses and organizations will talk about how they “change lives”.  You can typically tell how serious they are about actually creating that change by determining if they follow up with the people that have the lives they have supposedly changed.  Relevance often means talking to your target customer as they continue to evolve, and evolve your organization to meet their needs.  Adaptability is a key to relevance, but you can’t adapt if you don’t follow up.
5.  Is your reality your consumer’s reality?  It is important to stay “up” in most businesses, because a positive mind set can more easily identify growth pathways.  Some entities can get sucked into the “rainbows and unicorns” level of positive thinking, and that divorce from reality can inhibit a business or entities ability empathize with your consumer’s needs.  To maintain relevance you need a group of individuals within your market that can be honest with you, and you need to be honest with yourself.  Maintaining relevance means aligning your products with your consumers actual needs.
6.  If your entity was gone tomorrow, what would the impact be?  If you really want to know your relevance to the market, play “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  In this classic Christmas movie, an individual get’s to see the state of the world if they didn’t exist.  While we don’t have access to an angel in training that can show us what the world would be like without us, we can ask questions or make educated guesses.  If you think about the immediate impact of your removal from the market, you can typically tell how relevant you are to your customer.
7.  How are your resources directed?  You can tell a lot about a businesses priorities by how they prioritize expenditures.  Are consumers the focus of your spending?  Are you making yourself and your needs the focus of budgeting, or are you trying to grow your impact by prioritizing long term impacts for your clients.  Your spending priorities are evidence of your actual priorities.
Too often, our internal business or organizational discussions are about “selling more”, “reaching more”, or encouraging “more to join us”.  Those “more” results are generally a function of adding value to the consumers lives in a way that they can understand.  Finding a way to remain relevant to your market enables your organization to grow.  Take a few moments to answer the questions above, and you may find the way to better connect with your niche.

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.