How to Stay Relevant and Ahead of the Competition


In any given day we receive thousands of messages.  Our inboxes explode with email.  Our social media accounts are never-ending streams of new information and updates from friends all over the world.

Staying relevant in the midst of all of it is an ongoing challenge.  Breaking through the noise and standing out whether personally or professionally is a constant challenge.



RelevanceAndrea Coville is the CEO of global public relations agency Brodeur Partners.  Paul B. Brown is a best-selling author and contributor to The New York Times.   Together they have written an excellent book called Relevance: The Power to Change Minds and Behavior and Stay Ahead of the Competition.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about the concept of relevance.

What do you mean by relevance and why is it so important?

Let us start with why it is so important. Worldwide, organizations spend hundreds of billions of dollars annually to get people to buy a product, embrace a brand, follow a candidate, or join a cause. And yet we can all agree that these marketing campaigns, ads, public relations initiatives, communication programs, and social media and change efforts are—to be kind—often less effective than they could be.

Relevance is a guiding principle to ensure that all your marketing and communications efforts make a sustained impact.


Relevance is a guiding principle to ensure that all your marketing and communications efforts make a sustained impact.


Okay, so what do we mean by relevance? We mean your offering is practical and especially is socially applicable.

We have found that most people misread the definition, putting almost all their emphasis on the practical.  That’s understandable.  It is certainly true that what you are offering must solve a customer need and do it well, but you need to do more.  And that is where the emotional part of relevance comes in.  If your product/service/idea resonates with a customer, if it means something to him in addition to being utilitarian, then the relationship will be deeper, longer lasting, and more profitable.


Avoiding Irrelevance


Let’s flip to the counter.  Irrelevance.  When you think about becoming irrelevant, it paints a whole different picture.  Would you share an example of a company becoming irrelevant?  What can be done about it?

Unfortunately, it is easy to come up with examples of companies that became irrelevant.  Think of a technology company that had THE hot product five years ago and now is a distant also-ran. Or think of entire industries—the makers of payphones and print encyclopedias spring to mind—that are no longer relevant.AndyCoville.HeadShot

As for what is to be done, well the first thing—which people and companies have a hard time doing—is admitting that you are no longer relevant—and then you need to begin taking steps to once again become practical and socially applicable.

Why is staying relevant such a challenge?

Great question.  The simplest explanation is things change.  Consumer needs evolve. Your competition gets better at filling them.

The secondary reason?  Companies get arrogant. They start doing well and so they think they have all the answers—and stop listening to consumers or anyone else.  Suddenly, they find they are not relevant.


The Interrelation of Relevance and Innovation

One of your chapters is dedicated to relevance and innovation.  How are these concepts related?

They are more than related. They are inter-related.

If you think it through, innovation has three parts.  You identify a market need; you come up with an idea to fill that need; and then you create communication that explains points one and two to the potential customer.



PaulBrown_ColorRelevance serves as a great way of checking at each part of the process that you are on the right track.  Is the need you have discovered relevant to a large enough audience? Is the way you are planning about filling it relevant?  How about the communication?

One strategy you discuss is segmentation.  Would you briefly explain segmentation and how it can increase relevance?

Sure. The premise is simple.  You cannot be all things to all people. Or at least you cannot be all things to all people and do it well.


One way to be relevant, however, is to stress one aspect of your product or service and put it in terms that will resonant with a certain part of your customer base.

For example, if you make a luxury car that has the biggest gas tank, that fact alone is not particularly relevant to most luxury car buyers.  However, if you present that fact in terms of “you can go visit the grandchildren on one tank of gas,” all of sudden that large gas tank is relevant to a significant percentage of your audience.

We’ve talked about organizations.  If an individual’s skills become outdated, that person could become irrelevant.  What advice do you have for individuals to stay relevant and vital in a challenging, constantly changing economy?

The exact same principles apply to individuals as organizations.

Whether you are trying to land a job, succeed in an organization, or get a date, there is a lot of competition out there, and people are busy and easily distracted. You want to be able to offer them something that they need and do so in a way that resonates beyond the “simply” rational.

Relevance: The Power to Change Minds and Behavior and Stay Ahead of the Competition


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