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Speaking Sustainably

Understanding the Nature of Connection to Build Green Brands

<p>If brands want to create and maintain relationships with people, they need to understand the natural limits of what those connections will look like.</p>

I started Tweeting two weeks ago, and I can already see how it could be a huge time suck -- constantly feeding me information I'm interested in and giving my brain that addictive combination of anticipation and instant gratification it craves.

I was amazed that within an hour -- an hour! -- several leading companies were following me. I confess that it gave me a little ego boost…but it also made me start thinking about the nature of connection. Technology has certainly changed how we interact with one another. I did a quick audit of all the ways people can reach me now: snail mail at home and office, personal and work emails, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Skype, instant message, home and work phone numbers, Facetime, the comments section on this blog, and I'm probably forgetting one or two.

Humans have a fundamental need to connect with one another -- to share and compare experiences, forge relationships, to be affectionate. It's these connections that help create meaning in our lives. As we all collect more and more ways to connect, it'll be a challenge to make these technology-based connections truly meaningful.

But perhaps that's an unrealistic expectation.

Some would argue that there's simply no substitute for face-to-face human interaction. Others would posit that connection is connection, no matter how it manifests itself.

If brands want to create and maintain relationships with people (I'm intentionally avoiding the word "consumers" here), they need to understand the natural limits of what those connections will look like. In "pure" human relationships, there's not an expectation or demand -- "I'll like you but only if you do this thing I want you to do." In brand relationships, this is the undercurrent, the seedy underbelly. It is, and never will be, a relationship based on unconditional caring.

If you really want to create relationships with your brand, you need to create experiences that connect real, living, breathing people to one another. Not through an impersonal e-blast featuring a coupon. Not through a Facebook post. You need to bring your brand to life and find the place where it lives in the lives of those people who like you. You need to spark conversations, help make memories, and introduce new ideas and ways of having fun.

Just to be clear, I'm not advocating abandoning all these other forms of communication and connection. They work to create certain forms of connection, but just not on the deeper level that's most meaningful in the human experience. With all the hype around social media, it's easy to get caught up and let your expectations run wild. But when we take a look at the fundamental human need to connect, we may just find that these technological methods have natural limits and it's time to recalibrate our expectations for how deep of a relationship they can facilitate.

PS: You can now connect with me on Twitter @barneshead in addition to the 19 other ways listed above {grin}

The original version of this post appeared on the Shelton Group blog and is reprinted with permission.

Image by sxc user hoefi.

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