Flashback: My 2-year old daughter, like many 2-year-old daughters, has a doll that she has latched onto: Chandani. She carries it around; it rides in the car with us; she puts it down for naps. This particular doll has a bit of prescribed interactivity: touch her cheek, “mama”; tickle her foot, laughter; squeeze her hand, crying. My daughter does not understand why her doll cries out; however, her reaction is always the same. She does not sing to Chandani, she does not chastise her, she does not try and converse with her, she does not ignore her. She simply touches her doll’s head and softly states, “I am right here. I am right here.”
The one and only priority in this relationship is presence; rain or shine, good or bad, light or dark, my daughter simply assures, “I am right here.” Because to her, that is precisely everything that matters.
Yes, that is all a bit emotionally-tingly. However, there is a truth here that has resonated with me again and again during the five years since I first wrote about this. The idea of presence-above-all-else haunts me, as a husband and father, as an employee, and, especially in these days of Social ubiquity, as a marketer and brand representative.
In marketing, we spend a lot of time presenting. We present our perfectly-crafted words and images; we present our latest and greatest offerings; we present offers and upgrades at key conversion points; and we even present other people’s content to boost our own halo. That’s a lot of presenting, and it’s a big part of what we, as brands, do.
But is presenting really what our audience wants? Sure, my daughter presented her stories and songs to Chandani, but the presentations were a very minor piece of that relationship. Take away the presentations, and the foundation still held true. In the end, all that mattered was her presence, not what she had to present.
In marketing, we also spend a lot of time gifting. We offer free trials, free downloads, free resources, etc. to get attention and bring in leads. In these days of everything-Social, there seem to be more presents than ever offered via Facebook tabs, Twitter contests, etc. These programs can grab a lot of attention and, best case scenario, convert a lot of leads. But again I struggle: is this an ideal foundation for our relationships? Is offering presents really the best tactic that we have, or is it simply easier than the alternatives?
The doll illustration breaks down a bit here because Chandani could never actually take. However, even if it had the capacity to try, trial, download, or sample, presents would have made for a pretty weak connector. Presents tend to beget the desire for more presents, and that give-and-take is a game that is naturally out of balance. Yes, our audience wants presents, but would they trade it all for the homonymic other?
Presence, it seems to me, is perhaps the most basic, yet imperative factor in the brand-audience relationship. To state the obvious, your presence is vitally important. How many of us spend our few minutes posting to Social, then disappear until the next day? #guilty There is very little evidence of my presence on the social channels that I am responsible for, so why would my audience believe that I’m there, that I’m truly present, or that I’m available for them? How about you? How present are you really?
Yes, it’s incredibly hard to be fully present. It is especially hard to be present not only in form, but also in function. But ask yourself, what is of utmost importance in relationships? If you could have only one thing from me, something I present, a present, or presence, which would you choose? Only one of those choices is long-lasting, and only one is a reliable promise. So, though I will continue to struggle with honest and genuine presence, I will tell you today that I am not only here, but I am right here.
To test me on this, and to make your own presence known, I’d love to hear your opinions, thoughts, reactions, or contradictions (@mhollowell or use the comments box below). And if I can help you out in any way, simply reach out, and I’ll do what I can…as long as I’m present.