Eclectic Thought Samples From Larry Burns

Thoughts on Staying Socially Relevant (on a human scale) in a Global World

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I attended the LEAD Marketing Conference in Chicago in early October, and it was fascinating on many levels. One of the main ideas running through the two and a half days of the conference was that, at the end of all of these marketing efforts, with all of our data and new technological solutions, we need to understand consumer behavior without neglecting the fact that we are dealing with actual human beings. I, Larry Burns, am part of literally hundreds of marketing segmentations, yet I’m still at the root of all our marketing efforts – just me – each and every time I appear, regardless of some brand’s prismatic view of who I might be.

During LEAD, there was a presentation given by Michael Sansolo, who I’ve known for a very long time. This time, he reported on some work done by the Coca Cola Retailing Research Council and shared a wealth of fascinating information with us. It was apparent to the Council that truly comprehending the social world is a fundamental challenge for senior management. Marketing practitioners coming to speak with high-level executive CMOs and CEOs were talking about things in a language that their audience didn’t really understand.

So the Coca Cola Retailing Research Council took on the challenge of figuring out how to bring about a better way of thinking, understanding and focusing one’s mind on these new communication vehicles. Michael, in his unique style, took us through a lot of very interesting ideas, and thankfully, one can download the full reports (in 5 parts, each amazingly thought-provoking and rich in content) at Here are just a few morsels that “got” me. I’d encourage you to devote a bit more attention to the reports themselves.

The 150-Relationship Limit

One thing Michael said that really struck me was that from an anthropological perspective, on average, a human being can keep a total of about 150* relationships working and understood inside their brain. Think about that for a moment – and consider that in the context of online social activity, in which some people have hundreds of “friends.” Clearly, humans have a real challenge making very many of those into “real relationships.” In fact, “strong ties” are really only formed with the 4 – 6 people you interact with most frequently.**

Now, why do some folks attract huge followings? Well, what others say about you adds or detracts from your “reputation.” Reality is exactly like that. And even in the online social world, boring people tend to get overlooked while fun and exciting people tend to attract a crowd.

So now, in a world where one has the potential to connect with literally millions of people, how does anyone determine how they are going to really fill those 150 “relationship” slots? Since somewhere about 85% of decisions that we human animals make are done unconsciously, what is really driving our choices? This question gave me pause…

The 4 C’s

When you’re interacting on a large scale, it is vital to consider that these are human beings you are reaching, and that a simple ‘human touch’ can be critical to forming any sort of lasting or important connection. There are 4 C’s that you should keep in mind:

  • Communicate
  • Create
  • Collaborate
  • Consult

Everyone on the front lines of your company needs to Communicate by listening, understanding, and participating with customers. Relationships can form, allowing you to seek to Collaboratively Create solutions for human needs, issues, and desires, which quite naturally leads to viable product development. And finally, you can see if what has been created meets people’s needs by Consulting once more with actual human beings, in a virtuous loop.

As a marketer, this is a much more direct way for you to engage and create groups of relationships among your customers than has ever been legitimately available to you in the past. In order to have a prayer of succeeding, you have to be fundamentally authentic when you interact with consumers. You need to interact and respond specifically to people who are reaching out to you, and if you are marketing to any sort of substantial audience you should have already started doing that long ago.

Creating Strong Advocates

Here was a fact I could not help but write down: 75% of people who post a negative comment in one of your social media environments expect a reply – and quickly, too! The interesting tidbit about that is, that when replied to in an authentic, genuine way that helps solve their problem, 70% of those people will, in fact, change their mind. This kind of interaction can actually create stronger advocates for your company than those customers who never had a problem with you.

This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the fundamental shift in consumer expectations of companies. Remember that you’re competing for one of only 150 spots for a relationship within an average person. That’s not a lot of space. You’ve got to have a really good reason to be there. If you’re boring, you’re much more likely to be overlooked than ever before. If you upset someone, they have lots of other places to go. Unless you’re talking about cable subscriptions, people often have choices.

Just remember that it’s really all about the human relationships you establish. Period.

*Paul Adams. (2010, July 1). The Real Life Social Network v2. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare/net/padday/the-real-life-social-network-v2


Categorised as: Learning, Marketing

  • LLMcIsaac123

    Thanks for sharing Larry.  Interesting thoughts.