Someone I’ve known a long time recently commented on the way I interact with people, and it’s something which is probably true of you and particularly your business.
I’ve always tended to view confrontations as something to generally avoid in business. The main reason is that it’s unlikely someone is going to totally change their mind in the course of one debate or argument, and that it’s generally more productive to let them get out all of their thoughts and reasoning. That way I can not only look at what they want, but more importantly figure out why they want it, and what led them to that decision. By working on those areas longterm, I’ve often been able to find the best solution for both them and their business.
It also means that people can underestimate you until it’s too late, which is a handy advantage!
But occasionally it appears to people that I’m not commanding enough respect by standing up more visibly, and that’s something I’m changing right now. Whereas the softer approach is definitely more productive if you have a longterm relationship with friends or in a business, it’s not necessarily right if you’ve only got one shot at getting a new client, for example. And it also means that although the business benefits, often people don’t realise how you’ve shaped things and you don’t perhaps get the credit you deserve – I’ve certainly seen that happening to some of my colleagues in the past.
Show the fight:
Standing up and being counted has never mattered more for brands and businesses. It’s not only about believing in what you are doing, but also showing your fans and customers that you are willing to claw tooth and nail up a vertical cliff for all of you, if the situation requires it.
When Adele was cut off mid-acceptance speech at the Brits and showed her annoyance with her middle finger, she may have offended some potential casual fans. But most of the hardcore Adele fans are on her side, and they’re the ones who buy her records, go to her concerts, and appreciate her being herself as she was the previous year bursting into tears by the end of her performance.
When Godaddy was revealed as a supporter of the proposed SOPA Act, several domain and hosting came out against it, and immediately saw their profile and new business increase. And when Godaddy flip-flopped in withdrawing support, they did it in the most lacklustre and non-committal way, rather than gaining support from either side.
It’s ironic that media publications are often quite obviously targeting, and are categorised by, their political leanings, and yet so many try to claim impartiality by forbidding journalists to remain neutral on everything in public.
There are some areas of my life in which I don’t hesitate to fight passionately for what I believe in. If it’ll adversely affect my son, my close friends and family or my business, the longterm approach isn’t an option.
But that follows on – if you’re providing a service to my company, I want to know you’re also going to stand up on my behalf. If you’re dealing with individuals or small businesses, that long tail of people who are probably feeling set-upon by the current economic conditions would love to know that someone is genuinely trying to help them – and take note that it absolutely, positively has to be genuine. Look at #Occupy, Anonymous, The Pirate Bay, The Grameen Bank, Kiva, the outcry at SOPA, PIPA and ACTA or the uprisings around the world.
And it doesn’t have to be a political fight – Apple built fanatical fans by fighting for beautiful design and implementation. In the words of clothing store Howies, ‘every company needs an enemy. Let ours be the landfill’. Look at Dylan or Neil Young, an author like Cory Doctorow, or a filmmaker like Kirby Ferguson.
What we’re fighting for here.
Personally, I’m starting a mission with TheWayoftheWeb. Too much bad writing is being bought cheaply to supposedly help bad search engine optimisation tactics and drive traffic to websites and businesses which aren’t even built to take advantage of it properly.
On one side you have companies and agencies paying pennies for crap content which is using keyword stuffing and other techniques long disproved. And on the other side are journalists either complaining about low wages or being made unemployed at a time when companies are repeating the ‘content is king’ mantra.
It’s time to fight harder for the methods which really do produce good, longterm results by putting in the right resource and effort to create a successful digital business with clear returns.
In the words of Network’s Howard Beale , “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” The question is, have you got a business capable of standing up and fighting? And what are you fighting for?