How To Be Relevant

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It’s important for a brand to understand their new role as a Publisher. It’s important for a brand to understand that nothing happens unless they are interesting. It’s also important for a brand to understand that none of that matters unless they are relevant.

A lot of people confuse "being relevant" with simply following a "trend" or "fad." You can quibble over the semantics of that last sentence, but think about American Idol and what Simon Cowell constantly attempts to reinforce to the young, aspiring singers in the early days of the competition (and no, I too can’t believe that I’m using an American Idol reference here). Cowell constantly lets these artists know when they are (and when they’re not) being relevant in terms of their age, their song selection and the general zeitgeist of the world. It’s a great question for a brand to constantly question and prod…

Are we, truly, relevant to our consumers and the industry we serve?

When you think about some of the best Creative Directors in advertising, you can see one common thread amongst their varying looks, style and approaches. For the most part, the creative folks who are at the top of their game are either culturally relevant or are directly tied in to the many various components of our society that inspire them to be relevant. Relevancy is such a complex concept for most brands because they do tend to confuse what it means to be relevant versus getting caught up in trends and fads.

Being relevant is (and can be) many different things to many different people and industries.

We are at a unique moment in time when Social Media enables and empowers everyone to publish their thoughts to the world. What makes it even more unique is that a lot of the focus (for many people and brands) is in using these channels to help them reach a bigger and broader audience. Prior to all of this, we had traditional media and a very fixed/finite amount of companies publishing content for the masses. Now, we have this conundrum where we have to become better human editors to sift through the masses of content (for more on this, please read: Mass Media Or Mass Content – What’s Worse?). Who comes out on top? Which type of content wins?

It’s not those that are publishers, and it’s not those that are interesting. The ones that come out on top are the ones that are relevant.

How does one become relevant? Ahhh… that is the secret sauce (the mystery… the little black box). It’s some parts imagination, some parts curiosity, some parts hubris, some parts creativity, some parts execution, and some parts insights. Those that are able to find some magical (and personal) concoction of those parts are, typically, those who do become relevant. Awesome timing doesn’t hurt either.

Think about Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Blogs, etc… Who do you follow? Who can’t you live without? It’s always those who are relevant.


  1. Mitch,
    do you believe this is where companies like Apple have a leg up on their competition because they have so many people devoted to their brand?
    If you have many friends who are also devoted to the same brand, it makes the brand even more relevant.

  2. Hi Mitch, I think this question is super relevant and would call a lot of thoughts to merge as there is no perfect definition for being relevant in a business.

  3. Mitch, Hello
    I wanted to weigh in here on a recent business result that I believe speaks to your relevancy point. To frame this, I am not a brand manager, or even a marketer, just a small business owner in SE MI attempting to practice getting better at each of them.
    We had an interesting direct experience this year at SwSW, and how that is further propelling our shift in our marketing directives and initiatives, but specifically, relevant marketing.
    Urbane (our apartment and co-work business) co-sponsored the road trip for the #DETChevySXSW Detroit Team, where they competed with eight other teams across the nation for a chance to win a $10,000 sponsored tweet up in their hometown from Chevy.
    This was a pretty unorthodox path to a significant result, which for us is simply to Rent More Apartments.
    The Marketing Takeaway here; “The marketers who do the best will have creative and literate marketing leaders who are able to tell a story, let it acquire dimension and let it loose from the defined constraints of a brand. This is the stuff of folklore meshed into marketing, and the thought of that evolution is unsettling, no matter how oriented you are to the potential of social media tools”
    Here is a re-cap of what unfolded over the ten day road trip from Detroit to Austin. Pretty high profile event with our core prospect demographic, and for Urbane to be on the same ticket with Chevy illustrates the leverage and reach of Partnership Marketing. The following that this generated locally was pretty cool, and with most of the thousands, (yes over ten thousand) of Tweets and Re-Tweets, Urbane was attached, to lot’s of them. Add in the dozen or so blogs, then the video blogs by this crew with their thanks to Urbane not only significantly broadened our local reach of available rental prospects.
    We have just compiled our March Traffic numbers
    -) Traffic; Up 64% Year over Year Results
    -) Tours; Up 42% Year over Year Results
    -) Rentals; Up 178% Year over Year Results (No Concessions either)
    But here is the point, no one from Urbane told any of these stories, that was handed off to the Brand Ambassadors, and with that, you don’t even get to moderate much of what they are saying or doing, let alone control it. That is part of the difficulty that folks have with Social Media Marketing. I can tell you that each of the four we helped send off were expert publishers, each with an impressive brand reach themselves, and I am delighted that they have made a choice to share our Urbane Brand with so many of their friends and following they have influence over. Maybe Controlling the Message has long been an overrated fear.
    The long winded point here is, had the message, the folks delivering it and the idea in general not been relevant to our core brand, none of this would have worked. And honestly, I didn’t really realize that relevancy until after this unfolded,

  4. Since this post starts with “How to be…” I’d expect it to set out attributes or tests to help publishers connect with their audience.
    So here’s my favorite “how to” Seth Godin’s attributes of a good blog post:
    Pithiness and
    Is that relevance? If a communications is considered these things by its audience, then I think it hits the bulls-eye for relevance.
    Always a pleasure to read your site.

  5. This is very relevant. I love this post and if I had a little more time, I would add a relevant comment, other than “nice to meet you.” I found you on twitter.

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