The connection economy is taking us all by storm. We are all learning how it works and many are grabbing onto the future while some are struggling to hang on to the past.

I trust that you are looking forward.

Which brings us to an interesting point in history. For the past 100 years or so, the industrial age has had it’s processes and created the way things work into today’s business world. They have done a great job of creating the world we have today, for the most part, and the infrastructure that has been built worked well for many years.

But things have changed.

It’s about connection

They don’t call it the connection economy for nothing. The world revolves around connectivity now and will even more so in the future. We’ll discuss that more a bit at the end of this article though.

Brands today must understand the power of connection and what is has to not only offer, but steal. By that I mean that smaller brands have an opportunity to steal business from the larger ones because of the connection they can form with the consumer. It’s the power of connection that will drive purchases, not price or availability.

Let’s discuss a case study that has been very well documented. The story of Starbucks.

Onward

Back in 2008, Starbucks made some major changes. We’re talking serious changes including closing 7,100 stores for training, shutting down 600 stores and Howard Shultz, the Founder, returning as ceo (not capitalized because they don’t within the company).

This made a serious ruckus because of the abstract and seemingly rash decisions that were being made. But there was a plan. A good one too.

Howard Shultz recognized that the company was in a downward spiral and that they had lost their meaning and purpose. They had forgotten their why and neglected the remain true to the one thing that had allowed them to grow into the huge coffee company they were.

In the book, Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul, Shultz takes us through the journey from beginning to end of their transformation. Upon examining the state of Starbucks, he said the following.

I always say that Starbucks is at its best when we are creating enduring relationships and personal connections. It’s the essence of our brand, but not simple to acheive…Starbucks in intensely personal.

That speaks volumes to those of us that understand the power of connection. It shows that Shultz really understands that the power to grow lies within the existing customer base and how they feel about the brand itself. That is a huge key to growing in the marketplace today and, especially, in the future.

The other very interesting thing that Starbucks did during this transformation time, was think small. They decided it was time to figure out how they could replicate the Starbucks Experience, as they call it, to every single store. Each store needed to have it’s own unique place in the market but at the same time, had to fit the branding that all other stores had.

To be honest, I’ve noticed this. Every store, while it looks the same for the most part, has different caveats that makes it it’s own. The baristas are all training equally well, but all have their own unique personality. Some stores have slightly quieter music than others based on the location because of the people that typically visit there. And still some have different aromas because of the amount of one type of coffee that is made and served each day.

This makes a lot of sense because it’s important for them to all have their own footprint within the larger corporate one. I trust that regardless of these differences, the drink I order will taste exactly the same at every store. This is something they have all but perfected and personal connection is at the core of every store and everything they do.

What we can take from this is a simple but powerful lesson. The deeper we can go with our connection with our existing clients or customers, the more they will want to talk about us on social media, with their friends or an any other part of life that our products or services can be of assistance to them.

Deep and genuine connection with our clients is a must if we’re going to survive in this connection economy. (Tweet that!)

The 3 Reasons

Now I’m going to discuss the three main reasons that smaller brands have the edge on larger ones. These are the very things that make me so excited to be building my personal brand and the very reason you should be working on yours as well.

1) Flexibility

Small brands are flexible. We have the ability to change our model and shift gears if the market says we need to. And with technology changing as quickly as we can think (sometimes faster), we need to remain flexible.

Larger brands can’t do this as well. They have a hard time turning the ship around when there are 500 or 5000 people involved. It’s simply just not as easy to shift when there’s that type of weight moving forward at full speed. This is exactly why I say that larger brands want to be smaller as we move into the connection economy.

Take note that this doesn’t mean we have to shift every time the market suggests we do. We don’t need to get trigger happy and get away from our core offering or why simply because a new fancy widget came out. It’s important that we be discerning about what we shift to and when. The point is that we, as small brands, have the option to shift fairly easily. Making sure we don’t get in over our head with monthly costs and such is good way to insure we are flexible when the time comes to make a change.

2) Responsiveness

The cousin to flexibility is responsiveness. As one person shops (or very small ones) we need to learn to be responsive to what the industry and our market is wanting. Having the ability to be flexible will do nothing if we don’t actually take action and respond.

I was once asked how I write and release a freebie as quickly as I do. This came from the fact that I did a poll with my audience and had a new (very small) ebook for them within a couple weeks. I did that because I’ve made sure to remain flexible with my time and respond when I see a need. It resonated with a lot of people and helped the position myself as an authority a little more in their mind.

Other brands have done this as well. I know for a fact that Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing did this with a book he released. He went from idea to launch in about 6 weeks. It was something his audience was asking for, so he responded. The result, he was able to build more clout with his audience and provide more value to them when they needed it.

Larger brands can’t do this as well. While they have the ability to turn something quickly because of the workforce, there’s often too many hands involved or committees that have to meet to make something happen fast. Social media and this new economy won’t allow for that in the coming years. Companies will have to learn to liste and become responsive if it fits with what they have to offer and their target audience.

3) Personal Connection

This last one is insanely important. The term relationship marketing hits on this very well and is something that I whole heartedly agree with. It talks about building relationships with your customers or just people in general to get your brand and theirs into the hands of those people that need it.

But personal connection is something that has been lost over the years with marketing and we’re seeing a shift back to this. It’s becoming increasingly important in the connection economy and will be the reason for people to choose one brand over another. Price and availability will take a backseat to how people purchase. Word of mouth will be on steroids as it already is in many places.

When a brand builds a personal connection with us, it’s next to impossible to break it…unless they really screw it up. Larger brands have a harder time doing this because they haven’t been in touch with the first two items here. They haven’t been flexible enough to see the wants of the consumer and behavior or responsive enough to show them customer they care. So the connection build is weak at best.

Smaller brands that offer a similar service can then swoop in a save the day by communicating directly with the customer and that bond will often end in a public shout out to the saving brand and detriment to the larger one. You’ve seen it…I know you have.

Connection is key. I can’t say that enough.

In the future…

Actually, it is the future. I just mean the next 20 years or so. During that time, we are going to see a shift in the way business works even more than we have already. Brands are going to have to connect with us, as we discussed above, but they’re also going to work with each other more.

As we get out of the industrial age, we are going to see an influx of consultants and solopreneurs enter the marketplace. As individuals, we’ll have the ability to maintain the three things discussed above but we’ll be lacking some creativity and the ability to span multiple services.

Enter collaboration.

This is really an entire other post for the future but the gist is that consultants will be the focus of business and things like co-working offices will continue to replace agencies and so forth. We will build our own personal brands over the next several years and that will become our resume and our networks will become our business colleagues.

Big brands will continue to be there for support but they will no longer be the decision makers or innovators of the world. They will take a backseat to personal brands and will work with consultants on a regular basis to help train employees, respond to consumer needs and build connection with consumers.

Where are you?

If you’re like me, you’re a one-person show. I used to believe that I wanted to run a huge ad agency and have several hundred people working for me. That just doesn’t sit well with me anymore because of what I believe the future holds.

So I ask you…where are you? Are you being diligent about building your personal brand so you have a place in the future? I trust if you’re reading this that you’ve not got all your eggs in the basket of your employer, that’s a bad place to be.

If big brands really do want to be us, we should embrace this time now and start getting more focused on building our personal brand so we can go where we want in the future. That is the power of the connection economy. And, as a matter of fact, that’s the power of a connection brand.

Question: Would you agree with me about where business is headed? Do you have any experience to back this up or prove it wrong? Comment below and let us know. 

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