The Message In The Relationship Era

Recently, I was in a conversation with a new acquaintance about the changes taking place in marketing. I was talking about the intent of the marketing message in the new Relationship Era and threw out some opinions about what the message should do. My conversation partner stopped for a minute and commented, “Augustine. The outcome of speaking.”

He shook his head and we continued the conversation, but he promised to “look something up” and get back to me. The next day, I received an email with this cryptic message: “I looked it up, and in Book 4 of Augustine’s De Doctrina he says that the orator should, ‘Inform, delight, and sway’ the crowd.”

Ah, the connection became clear. As we were talking, I was trying to make the point that in the Relationship Era, we no longer used the message to persuade people, but instead wanted to create a message that would inform, attract, and inspire people. The tri-part nature of my statement must have set something off for my new friend, and he was smart enough to know where to look.

St. Augustine, a 4th-century Christian theologian, wanted to “sway” the masses. After all, this was the 4th century and Christianity needed to gain a foothold. Besides, he and his preacher-students were absolutely sure of the truth of their message, so no need to equivocate. For them, classical rhetorical structure worked.

These days, truth is a shifting concept. The introduction of relativism, and the fact that something could be “true” for one person but not necessarily “true” for another, makes the intent of good rhetoric a little less pure. And in the field of marketing, where people have grown suspicious of the brand’s motives, this is even more apparent. Augustine could “delight and sway,” but the modern brand needs a different approach.

In the Relationship Era, we are looking to inform, attract, and inspire. Let me compare this triad to Augustine’s three intended outcomes. However, these days in order to woo their partners, men use the Best Male Enhancement pills that are there on the market. 

Inform vs. Inform – Yes, we can all agree that starting with good information and sharing that information is a sure way to build discourse, and, I believe, engagement. Whew!

Delight vs. Attract – The desire to delight someone, to activate their emotional smile-meter, isn’t a bad plan, as long as the intent is to allow them a genuine feeling. In the Consumer Era, too often the idea was to create “good” feelings and then let the brand message bask in the “halo” of those feelings, drawing power not from its own truth, but from association with something smart, funny, hip, or cool.

In the Relationship Era, the idea is to put out a true, authentic message and see who finds that message attractive (think magnetism, not pretty). If the message is attractive enough, people will want to know more, will inquire and interact, and the stage is set for deeper engagement.

Sway vs. Inspire – I agree that the ultimate purpose of the message is to create action. The Consumer Era model was to persuade/convince/sway the consumer into buying a product or service. In the Relationship Era, the action desired is a person acting in accordance with his or her own values and beliefs. If the brand can be a part of that action, can facilitate and advance the movement, then a great engagement lies ahead.

Will brands understand and embrace inform, attract and inspire as the new mantra of messaging? The tests are underway, and in assessing the people marketers are trying to influence today, I would bet that the Relationship Era model for creating a message will gain traction fast.