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Forget the hard sell

STR Team 

Simply being liked could be your silver bullet against competition as it helps build more sustained word of mouth, says Likeonomics

Whether your audience is children, international business travelers, or local politicians and nonprofits, the challenge of relevance can be difficult. And this is not only because getting people to care is generally difficult. There are a few other reasons why real relevance can be so hard to achieve:

* Relevance is easy to assume. When you think about answering the question of whether you are sharing something that is relevant, it is easy to assume that the default response would be yes. After all, if you sell bikes and you know that someone searched for a bike store on Google, you know that bikes are relevant to them. They just searched for the word, right? The important thing to remember is just because a topic is relevant for someone doesn’t mean that you automatically have relevance to that topic.

* Relevance requires you to know your audience. Unlike a principle such as truth, which can be seen as something of an absolute, relevance can be different for different people. As a result, offering something that is truly meaningful often requires the extra step of really understanding the people you will be talking to.

* Relevance can be tough to scale. When you have a principle that can change based upon whom you are talking to, you can’t necessarily count on the same thing to make something relevant to a wide group of people. When it comes to considering how you interact with multiple groups of people, this might lead you to share something differently from conversation to conversation.

People care about other people and the relationships they build. The best way to combat these barriers is to first find a way to be personally relevant to people around you, and then build the right relationships.

is an expert in psychoacoustic theory and one of the leading experts in the world in how sound affects business. Aside from his consulting business, Treasure is also a noted speaker on the impact of sound and listening in our lives.

In a TED presentation in 2011, he shared that the greatest problem facing the world right now may be what he calls our loss of “conscious listening,” where we truly pay attention to what is happening around us. It is an insight similar to what drives Paolo Nagari to teach executives how to relate to different cultures by seeing the similarities instead of the differences.

Listening cannot just be a passive activity, though. When James Wolfensohn was looking to make an impact at the Bank, he had to look outward and pay attention to how the Bank was perceived by others before he could act. For Mohamed Nasheed, it was only by paying attention to greater world events that he could find the right opportunity to make his country relevant on a world stage. The first element, therefore, involves an ongoing dedication to more active listening.

Once you have built some level of understanding about the situation and perceptions around you, offering a meaningful point of view is critical. One of the hottest topics in the business world today that will continue to grow is the importance of content in communications. People use terms like content marketing and curation to describe this concept in various ways.

Fashion brand Louis Vuitton, for example, has a “luxury storytelling” website called NOWNESS, where they collaborate with designers and thinkers to tell stories influencing contemporary culture and global lifestyle.

What multiple companies have realized is that having a meaningful point of view is a necessity to make your organization relevant to your customer and the world. Nothing makes a message fade into the noise more easily than if you are saying the same thing that countless people have said before and offering it without a considered point of view. When you do have something to say, people are much more likely to pay attention, particularly if it is useful or helps them to solve a problem or think about an issue in a new way.

The final element to relevance is making sure to have the right context. To understand the power of having the right context, the simplest place to look is at the psychological principle known as the Context Effect. A classic example of this effect is below:

Most of us would have no problem reading this as THE CAT even though technically the H and the A are identical. In the absence of information, our minds are hardwired to fill in the required context in order to get meaning and find relevance.

The study of archaeology offers another example of the importance of context. Today, most archaeologists use a recording system created back in 1976 for recording all the context around any artifact found, from the place to the type of soil and layers. When a site is properly excavated, you can learn everything about a culture and people. The context makes the difference for an archaeologist, and without it almost any artifact would be meaningless.

It is the perfect analogy for the importance of relevance in everything that we do. Without it, our actions and the things we say simply don’t matter enough for anyone to care.

Excerpted with permission from the publisher, from Likeonomis by Rohit Bhargava. Copyright WILEY India. All rights reserved. is also available as an e-book

The author speaks

Author Rohit Bhargava tells Ankita Rai where ‘likeability’ stands vis-a-vis other determinants of success

To what extent can your theory of likeability help avoid costly failures?
The biggest mistaken belief that people have about failure is that it comes from doing something wrong. Most failure in business comes from losing to a competitor who is doing something better than you are. The big idea of is that likeability is the secret weapon that can help you beat your closest competitors because of the simple and proven fact that we all choose to do business with people that we like. So likeability can give you the ultimate competitive edge.

In the book, you have used examples of Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison as two people who weren’t particularly liked by their employees, but who were highly successful. Which is better — being liked or being respected?
This is a false choice. You can certainly be respected and feared but you can also be respected and liked. In the short term, both will work. In the long term, only being respected and liked will ensure success. One reason is that most people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. And the organisations that can hold on to their best talent will do better in the long run. The challenge is that not enough businesses focus on how important the interpersonal connection is to getting the most performance from your employees, and the most loyalty as well.

How important is ‘perception’?
Mass perception and brand have always been important predictors of how much money people are willing to pay. It is the reason why people pay more for a can of soda that has the Coca-Cola logo on it versus some generic product name. One way to think about the importance of likeability is to put it also into the context of the new power of word of mouth. Personal experiences and referrals have always been critical. With the growth of social media, they are even more important. When a brand focuses on improving its likeability, it is increasing the likelihood that customers will talk about their experiences and recommend the brand’s product or service to others. In other words, likeability leads to better and more sustained word-of-mouth.

AUTHOR: Rohit Bhargava
PUBLISHER: Wiley India
PRICE: Rs 399

First Published: Mon, September 10 2012. 00:29 IST