LOVE AT FIRST PRICE: SUSTAINABLE BUSINESSES NEED TO DEVELOP MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS RATHER THAN ONE NIGHT STANDS

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In one of her most famous lines Lauren Bacall said …You know how to whistle don’t ya? You just put your lips together…..and blow. Surprisingly, not everyone can whistle. Whistling, just like connecting, is easy for some and not so for others.

During my time putting beautiful business together I’ve had to connect with lots of people and lots of businesses. Being the shy, introverted type (sic) this doesn’t come naturally, but having said this, connecting is absolutely essential. What metaphor shall I use?…it is the life blood, the heartbeat, the core of any business or organisational venture. For small-medium sized enterprises it is survival…if you don’t connect you die. It is something we in the West are relearning. In Asia this lesson is so natural and so normal for businesses with cooperative ventures an everyday occurrence.

The most basic way to connect with customers and ‘attractive others’ is through that agreement between a buyer and a seller to exchange an asset for payment: I’m talking about price. Though I’m sure to be corrected by economists, price breaks down many barriers and makes the connection easier and in some cases more palatable for consumers. If the price is right it more often than not trumps many other considerations. It can be love at first price.

But this type of connection is very superficial. Based primarily on a simple exchange it fails to create meaning beyond the most basic economic transaction. It is the transactional equivalent of a one-night stand. Having said that, libertarians may think that the one night stands are in some way refreshing, dynamic and energising much the same way that consumers and businesses also need their basic and their bottom line needs satisfied. Selling is what businesses do, bargains are what consumers love. Hey presto…lots of cheap, synthetic love. We are all cheap bargain tarts on the surface.

imageSo, what about real love and meaningful relationships? Given markets flooded with cheap alternatives, mass produced in industrialised processes, many small and medium sized enterprises cannot compete with this, so they have to find other, more resonant ways to connect. This is where a simple transactional- emotionless gives way to psychology and behavioural economics. This means moving economic selfishness into the background and moving forward towards reciprocal altruism and emotional-value based connection. One might suggest that in the dimmed light of the night club the bleached white teeth and a spray-bronzed body may look attractive, it doesn’t always make for a good relationship with meaningful outcomes…GSOH (good sense of humour and being kind to puppies often springs to mind). For a reality check though,lets not forget…many market based connections are superficial in their own right, with many based upon pure instrumentalist reasoning; I need you…you need me..lets get along.

For ethical, sustainable and people orientated business to work and flourish, their relationship should be based on different metrics. The relationship needs to be more meaningful and that means building work.

Heres some ideas; For longer lasting freshness (hehe) and meaning in relationships for small and medium sized enterprises, their goal should be the development of products which create meaning beyond purely economic rationality. Meaning comes from value yes…but also values, craft, skills, quality, sustainability, people-first and of course, trust. When products are produced ‘beautifully’ they can create a real alternative to cheap products made badly by ugly business.

Businesses can connect with local communities and competitors. Sounds crazy to work with your rivals, but creating a local vibe, an aesthetic and reputation for geographically rooted small scale artisanal activity can create significant energy and a buzzy reputation for ‘that place, that neighbourhood and that region’.

Other forms of connection with those in your ‘industry’ create strength in numbers, the potential for cooperation, bulk buying, sharing services or products, creating economies of scale which will may further help combat the flood of cheap products.

Beautiful connections create meaningful relationships with consumer and fellow small businesses. Together you can overcome ugly business. Connect.

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