This post is by Jeff Carter from Points and Figures
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I started reading this book, Alienated America, yesterday. It’s pretty good and it’s pretty deep. I am not surprised by it. My wife and I have driven all over the US over the past number of years and witnessed the differences between small-town America and big city America.
No place is better than the other, but it’s different.
This book is different than Hillbilly Elegy, and it’s also different than Coming Apart. It really looks at a lot of data and then looks at the initial takeaways from that data by both political parties. It comes to a different conclusion than both parties. Trump surprised both parties. I have to say, once the Iowa caucus happened he didn’t surprise me. He grabbed territory in the conversation that no other candidate can claim. Even in 2020. It’s not that much different than in 2008. If a candidate would have run on Hope and Change and Yes We Can in 2012, the message would have not been authentic and it would have rung hollow. Obama had already claimed that territory.
If we think about the race in 2020, what I am hearing from Democrats a lot is the word “free”. Anyone that has been in business knows that when you are offering something for free, it becomes a commodity. To administer free means that the differentiation between things is very small. Right now, every Democratic candidate is a commodity and that is not very exciting.
I think that the book has a lot of insights for entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to marketing.
I was talking to a startup about the concepts in the book a couple of years ago. This particular startup was targeting traders. As an old trader, I thought about the things that I really missed about trading. One of the biggest was the concept of “community”. The book talks about this and how institutions formed a community. Communities have habits. They have responsibilities. They have some ritual. The book says it might be more dangerous to your local town if a church goes out of business than if a factory goes out of business.
I think that if you are a brand today, you really need to focus on building community. Once you have it, you will make your brand stickier. One of the best ways to work on creating that community is to figure out ways to use word of mouth marketing. In a virtual world where we are bombarded with visual and artificially intelligent cues, the human touch makes an outsized difference. Brands need to enable early adopters to build community and spread the word like Johnny Appleseed.
Unfortunately, most of the effort I see these days are brands standing on a soapbox shouting.
People are craving community as institutions diminish. Institutions could grab that community back and fill the void, but they are so blind they can’t see it.