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Getting to be the go-to
Strategies for being a default, 'go-to' choice, helping people navigate a complex world
Many of us have friends that we can rely on to guide us on the things we need or like to know about. What is a good film to watch? Where shall we go on holiday? What is a good pension plan to have? Of course, few of us are in the fortunate position to have a ‘go-to’ person for all the different guidance we might need, but typically we may well know people for at least some of these needs.
In a way this is the relationship that many organisations seek to have with the public. Public-funded bodies media or advice bodies will fall into this category. And in the private sector there is, of course, a wide range of banks, media, household goods and food brands that are seeking to have that ‘go-to’ relationship, to be the place that people go to get advice and access goods and services.
But how do you manage to retain a special relationship with the public when you are in an increasingly crowded world with ever more organisations competing for the attention of your once loyal customers? Imagine that a whole bunch of new friends arrived on the scene offering advice on good films to watch, where to go on holiday, which pension plans to invest in. Your loyalties may well be strained. This is exactly the challenge faced by many large organisations that once dominated their category; there are simply more organisations chasing the same number of people, who, by the way, have less money to spend.
And as services get more sophisticated, the number of options proliferate and decisions more complex then this ‘go-to’ position is desired by people more than ever. For example, there is little value in offering current accounts if people go elsewhere when they want a loan, mortgage or life insurance. And on the other side of the fence, as the market-place becomes more crowded then there is a danger that if you do not have a special relationship with the public then you become marginalised. If you are a media brand that is only visited by people to watch the news, then it makes life difficult if they do not see you as the go-to place for the range of other (expensive to produce) content. If you are a bank that is simply used as a current account and not seen as the go-to place for loans or mortgages, then profits will be under stress.
Strategies for being a ‘go-to’ partner
What can an organisation do to address this, to find a way to develop a primary relationship so they are the ‘go-to’ place for a range of media consumption or financial products? First we propose a ‘Disrupt-Engage-Enact’ strategy:
Disrupt to gain attention: It perhaps goes without saying that in a crowded market place there is a need to standout. Being visible is part of the answer, as evidenced by the huge amount of advertising that we can see for brands wanting to be ‘front of mind’ for consumers.
However, there is a danger that this does not really get the cut through, especially for brands that are established; we are so used to seeing their names that it is easy to not pay them attention. Hence the disruption element – we need to find ways to insert ourselves into the intuitive dismissal of the advertising. This may be through the use of measures such as curiosity, challenging our sense of confidence or feeling of rightness of our current choices, pulling us into giving it attention.
Engage for sense making: Once we have attention then the focus is on how to develop a meaningful relationship with the person, one that provides a means of sense-making for people. We can think of this as way we can support people to make effective choices, connecting with them in a way that is relevant to them.
For a media organisation this might be understanding what matters to sports enthusiasts – what do they want to hear about, what information do they want, how do they want it delivered, how might you surprise them and so on. For a bank this will be about ways to connect effectively and communicate with people at key points in their life when buying a house, setting up a mortgage and so on.
These activities require an intimate understanding of people, so market and social research is important here, as is a behavioural framework to help to understand and structure the key components of what an effective relationship entails.
Enact for activation: Once we understand how people wish to engage, the ways in which the organisation can be the ‘go-to’ place that people turn to, then it is important to find ways to actually make this happen, to make it easy for people to use you as their ‘go-to’. One obvious example is personalisation – we now expect our online relationships to have a record of what we have looked at, what we are interested in, suggesting things that are relevant and interesting to us. Another route may be bundling, offering incentives to access a number of different services together in way that makes things easier and more attractive for people.
Note that Enact only comes after the other stages – only once we have got attention (by having disrupted attention) and engagement (by showing how the relationship makes sense for them) are then these sorts of tools important.
This Disrupt-Engage-Enact strategy offers a good model for organisations seeking to position themselves as the ‘default’ for consumers. Note that this is something of a departure to more ‘traditional’ models that suggest it is all about being front of mind so that people default to your organisation because your organisation has the strongest mental association. As we set out, this has a role to play but is certainly not the full story.
Being known as a ‘go-to’ (Promote)
An important but often overlooked addition to this guidance is the way in which we find out from each other who are good ‘go-to’ people or organisations. We live in a shared social space – what is important is what sits between us as much (if not more than) what we each bring individually. Something like sport, for example, is a very social activity – as are things like mortgages and pensions. People will talk about where to go and who to talk to. So how sources of advice are culturally understood is critically important. In other words, we outsource cognitive effort to our community and in doing so we are heavily influenced by social norms.
To help unpack the way this operates we can look at the social ways in which we seek to understand risk. This makes sense if we see that advice not only helps enhance our choices but could also be understood as risk mitigation – it helps us to reduce the risk of choosing the wrong holiday, pension or film (for example).
This means we can turn to the Social Amplification of Risk theory to understand the very social nature of advice seeking. This theory sets out the way that mass and social media play an important role in terms of what the risks are and what the signs are that we should be alert to. We could argue that the same principles apply to understanding what the cues are for guidance on how to mitigate risk. For example, we are alert to subtle cues from people that may tell us if they are likely to recommend films that we like – maybe what their other interests are, how they manage their appearance, their style of speaking all tell us if we are likely to have similar taste in film choices.
We draw on semiotic analysis to inform the way that these subtle cues then exert a layer of social influence on where we go for advice. And as we self-select who they want to spend time with, so our beliefs about the value of these cues and who or what the best go-to people and organisations are, then reinforce each other.
In an increasingly crowded and complicated world we seek guidance to understand how to navigate our lives. We cannot possibly know ourselves what the best options for ourselves might be, it makes sense to get advice and guidance from others. The preference for default ‘go-to’ options is based on the presumption that these deliver good solutions – for us as individuals or for our communities as a whole. Indeed, Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson use simulations and historical data to show that intuitive adherence to trusted guidance is more likely to serve us all well. Being in that trusted ‘go-to’ position is therefore a key position that can be very influential in many lives – no wonder that individuals and organisations seek to occupy that position.
We have set out the way that part of this is about operating in a way offers a partnership for people via our ‘Disrupt – Engage – Enact’ strategy. But this on its own is not enough for organisations as they may find themselves doing a great job but just for a few people. Few want to be in this position as they will typically have a public service or commercial mandate to serve a wide population. On this basis, we also need to understand the social cues that people intuitively use to identify where to seek out expertise to make good choices mitigate risk. So we can can the extend the strategy to be DEEP - ‘Disrupt – Engage – Enact - Promote’.
By taking these steps organisations can then not only be a good partner for people but, crucially, they are also known for it.
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