20 Dec

CASE V recap: Lessons in loyalty

Thanks to all those involved in making this year’s CASE V Conference a success.  I was honored to be a part of the conference, presenting “The Heretic’s Guide to Marketing to Millennials” with colleague John Dalton.  The University Advancement Blog debuted in early 2010 with a post about the 2009 CASE V Conference.  Last year’s coffee spill seems minor in comparison to the weather-related adventures of this year’s conference in Chicago.

Beyond the snow and altered travel plans, most memorable was the opening keynote by James Kane, a researcher and consultant on the science of loyalty.  It was a fascinating talk on building loyal relationships.  Loyalty has been the subject of the last two posts here: a discussion with Jim Langley and a review of Tiny Essentials of Donor Loyalty.

While we often try to measure satisfaction, Kane cautioned that we not confuse satisfaction with loyalty.   Satisfaction is a mood; loyalty is a behavior.  Satisfaction is about the past; loyalty is about the future.  Satisfaction is about what you do for them; loyalty is about what they do for you.

Kane explained that we are programmed to be loyal.  Our brain looks for three triggers: a sense of trust, a sense of belonging, and a sense of purpose.

A Sense of Trust

Trust is the foundation of any loyal relationship, but it doesn’t end there.  We shouldn’t give ourselves too much credit for being trustworthy; our relationships expect us to be trustworthy.  They expect you to demonstrate competency, character, consistency, and capacity. What do your relationships already expect of you, and are you earning trust by managing those expectations?

A Sense of Belonging

This is the real key to building and maintaining loyal relationships.  According to Kane, we convey a sense of belonging through recognition, insight, proactivity, identity, and inclusion.

In higher ed advancement we’re sometimes quick to put our various stakeholders into groups (e.g., annual donors) – groupings that matter more to us than to them.  We must recognize their individual needs.  What seemingly small gestures will show that you know (and care) who they are as a unique individual?  We need to gain insight about what they really care about, understanding that our institution represents just a blip among all that they think about and do.  Reevaluate your school’s different communications to all of your different target audiences.  Are your communications useful?  Do they really matter to your audience?  (Kane lauded a “useful” IKEA ad that included a tiramisu recipe.)

Proactivity also breeds loyalty.  We can become indispensable by helping solve their problems before they even have to ask.  By sharing a little more about yourself than you normally would (e.g., what is your passion?), we can create a stronger identity with our relationships.  When you create those connections, Kane said you never know where they can ultimately go.  Lastly, we must have an inclusive environment in order for our relationships to be loyal.  Simply put, our stakeholders need to be “part of the process.”

A Sense of Purpose

We create a sense of purpose through vision, fellowship, and commitment.  With technology, we’re able to see that there’s a whole world out there dealing with the same things that we do.  Our stakeholders want to make a difference and be a part of something bigger than themselves and our institution.

Kane pointed out that we can’t make everyone loyal; we need to pick which relationships should be loyal.  He stressed that building loyal relationships takes time, effort, and practice.  (The speaker recommended the following books that delve deeper into the significance of practice: Talent is Overrated, Outliers, and Bounce.  In addition, Kane has two of his own books forthcoming: The Loyalty Switch and Virtual Loyalty.)

I walked away from the CASE V keynote challenged to gain greater insight on the needs and motivations our university’s most important relationships.  Best wishes to you and your institution in building better relationships in 2011!

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2 thoughts on “CASE V recap: Lessons in loyalty

  1. Could not have said it better myself! Thanks, Rob. (I will share one other thing I didn’t mention in my CASE V presentation that may be useful to your readers.)

    It is important to understand that all our our relationships develop in phases. Phase I is Attraction. In our personal lives, it is that instant feeling you get when you look across a room and that certain someone stands out to you despite being in the middle of a crowd of people. It all happens in a split second and doesn’t require us to think about or analyze what we are seeing. It results from the context and experiences of our lives – what the standard for beauty or attractiveness was in our culture, in our community, in our family, etc. In our professional lives, Attraction can be equated to a marketing campaign. If your school is trying to engage an alumnus, a donor, or some other strategic partner, you need to understand their context – what appeals to THEM personally – otherwise they will never notice you across that crowded room.

    The second phase of a relationship is Passion. Attraction is what caused you to notice that person across the room, and it’s what caused you to find the courage to ask them out on a date. But very soon afterwards is when Passion kicks in (or doesn’t). Passion is our brain’s way of justifying the decision it made by over-appreciating the positive qualities of that person we chose and downplaying the negatives. We have all been in that passionate stage of a relationship when we ignore certain habits and idiosyncrasies that will later drive us bananas! “Oh, sure he eats with his hands, but he looks adorable doing it.” “Shopping? I love shopping with her. It is so much fun.” In the Passion phase of a relationship, our brains have an objective, There is something it wants (you can fill in the blank of all the possible things one person may want from another in a new relationship) and does not want to do or say anything that will hurt it’s chances. Between trying to justify its original decision and reach its certain objective, passion creates a lot of energy and excitement. In our professional lives, the Passion stage occurs after the relationship has been secured (you sold them on your proposition) for a period of time that can vary from one person to the next. Think about that recent graduate or that first time donor. They will be in the Passion stage of their relationship with you and are willing to put up with a certain amount of idiosyncrasies on your part because their brain needs to justify that it made the right decision being involved with you and your organization. They are excited, and therefore will be more engaged and involved if you ask them to be. (Think “I would love to go to the football game with your beer-drinking, college roommates” or “I would love to go shopping with you and your girlfriends.”) Those in the Passion stage of the relationship are the ones you can recruit as volunteers, or to sit on a committee. They want to be involved and are willing to ignore the drudgery that sometimes comes with volunteering your time. They are also the ones who will be more generous with their time and money if you just show them a little love (Think about the things you do in the Passion stage of your personal lives – flowers, unexpected gifts, personal notes, etc.)

    Finally, once the Attraction and Passion of any relationship fades, the third phase takes over. That third phase is called Pair-bonding. Pair-bonding is different from the visceral feeling of attraction and the emotional-laden euphoria of Passion, in that it engages both our logical brain and our primitive instincts. We choose to stay in relationships long-term because that other person makes our lives easier and better. Our brains understand our own limitations and looks to others to fill the voids and make up for the deficiencies. From an evolutionary standpoint, pair-bonding was the reason that men were hunters and women were nurturers. They were able to accomplish more when they worked together. Those “give and take” relationships still exist and we stay in them because that other person or organization can do for us what we aren’t always capable of doing for ourselves. So think about your long-term professional relationships. For them, the attraction and passion may have faded and what they now seek is a Pair-bonding relationship where you can help them accomplish things they can’t do on their own or with their limited resources. They don’t need flowers or love notes sent to them the way Passion-dwellers do. They simply need you to be a valuable resource to them. You need to understand what they want and what they need help with (better insurance rates, helping their kids get into school, help finding a job/retraining, etc). They will stay committed when they see that there is an equal exchange in the relationship.

    So those are the three phases you need to think about when fostering your relationships. For those you are trying to Attract, it is essential you understand their context and what their standard of “beauty” is. What makes you attractive to THEM at this moment in their lives? Those in the Passion phase, shower with love, pay attention to them, tell them how wonderful they are, and get them involved. Treat them like a new girlfriend or boyfriend when everything seemed perfect. Lastly, those you have had a longer-term relationship with will seek Pair-bonding. The passion and attraction has faded and like an old, married couple, they don’t need or want the same things they needed and wanted when you first met. They seek a sharing of responsibilities and a fulfillment that can make their lives easier and better.

    Hope that helps.

  2. Jim,
    Excellent insight! Thanks so much for the follow-up thoughts, and thanks again for a great keynote at the CASE V Conference.

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