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As our relationships drift apart.

Editor's Note

Not long ago, there was a time when families Were close-knit. So were communities. And businesses and governments, for the most part, were respected and trusted for their integrity. But over the last 50 years, that environment has shifted, and our primary relationships have become strained and distanced.

In his latest book, long-time ABA Bank Marketing magazine columnist Robert Hall examines this relationship problem and recommends ways that we can strengthen pur personal connections, thus making both our communities and our businesses more happy and productive.

Below are three excerpts from his book, "This Land of Strangers: The Relationship Crisis that Imperils Home, Work, Politics, and Faith," by Robert E. Hall. Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press, Austin, Texas, [c]2012 by Robert E. Hall. Reprinted with the authors permission.

In the first excerpt, Robert Hall outlines the scope of the difficulty.

While we often focus on tangible assets like money and possessions as being pivotal to our well-being, it is uncanny how often at crunch time it is the intangible value of our relationships that helps us navigate through individual crises--divorce, illness, financial disaster, loss of a job, loss of faith--as well as collective crises such as the terrorist attacks of September 11,2001, Hurricane Katrina, or the recent financial meltdown. The truth is, relationships are the most valuable and value-creating resource of any society. They are our lifeline to survive, grow, and thrive.
  Today, the unprecedented unraveling of these relationships is
  destroying us. At home, at work, in politics, and in faith, a
  cumulating and compounding loss has collectively Retarded our
  growth and development and injured us in ways both known and
  repressed. It is hard to miss, the fact that pieces of our
  relationship infrastructure--family, friends, community,
  organizations, politics, churches--are crumbling. But until
  now, no one has fully connected the broader dots that form
  the plummeting are of decline and the rising slope of its
  cost; nor has anyone pulled together the narrative on its
  causes and cure. We cannot build better lives or a stronger
  society on deteriorating relationships.

The measurable decline in the strength, number, and duration of genuine relationships has occurred at a time when the array of" relational choices and the freedom to exercise them has never been greater. Our democracy, capitalism, freedom of and from religion, technology, and physical and social mobility afford us an incredible array of relational choices regarding whom we select as our leaders, do business with, worship with (or not), and interact with (or not).

Already carrying the baggage of a disposable society; our most harmful waste has become discarded relationships, now piled up and rotting all over our planet. That we have a relationship problem is not news. What is news, however, is just how broad and consequential the relationship demise is across all facets of our lives:

* In homes, growing relationship dysfunction feeds growing economic disparity between "haves" and "have-nots" and the expanding costs of social services threaten government solvency.

* In a tough global economy, businesses strain to compete, while a few profit inordinately on the backs of broken stakeholder relationships (employees, customers, stockholders).

In the political arena, federal and state government leaders are gridlocked on tough issues like health care, employment, and deficits in an environment of extreme partisan divide.

* In matters of faith and belief, communities whose expressed intention is to heal wounds and to love one another are now characterized by the loud and divisive voices that dominate, throwing fuel on the fire.

This all points to a society exhausted by attempts to function when its core fabric--relationships--is coming apart at the seams.

We have lost our way. Like a native culture invaded by outside forces, suffering the ravages of having lost its beliefs, rites, and customs, we have come to a place where our society seems to be losing its grip on relationships. The loss has come primarily from within.

The collapse of great societies has historically been first and foremost about the collective decay of relationships. While theories on the fall of the Roman Empire abound, a common thread is the change in relationships. British historian Edward Gibbon famously placed the blame on a loss of civic virtue among Roman citizens. He defined civic virtue as cultivation of habits of personal living that kept the relationships of the community healthy, vibrant, committed, growing, and thereby successful. Contrast that to the outsourcing of the Romans' defense to external barbarian mercenaries--relationships for hire. Whether a corporation is outsourcing customer service offshore or an absent father is outsourcing parenting responsibilities to an ex-wife, abandoned relationships create a very heavy load.

Marketing Overkill

In the second excerpt, Robert Hall, discusses marketing overkill and the negative effect it has had on business.

I recently attended an NBA basketball game where I was reminded that the pros have reached yet another level of advertising excess.

The game was one giant ad promotion from the time we entered the arena until we left. There were signs on every cup, tray, and wall, and ads were periodically dropped from the ceiling or floated above the crowd on balloons. The game has now become formatted not only (or TV commercials but also for live commercials that emanate from all over the facility before the game and during intermission and every time-out. You can quickly count scores of commercial names, logos, and signs all flashing "buy me" It was an advertising circus interrupted by short bursts of basketball that no longer seemed to be the main event. My wife commented that it was hard to focus on the game.

For a time, businesses that wanted to grow could tap into a simple formula:

Spending more on marketing (especially advertising) and sales would lead to more revenue. Sure, the product had to be decent, but if you ran more ads, added more salespeople, and promoted more aggressively, you would usually see an increase in business. Marketing became more creative in finding new ways and places to get the message out Sports stadiums sold naming rights; "Intel inside" stickers were placed on computers; pop-up ads appeared as you surfed the Web; airplanes flew overhead and trucks prowled the streets brandishing banners or signs; sporting events started branding certain plays, like the "kickoff," to products such as beer; product infomercials began to appear on television screens in airports and on airplane flights; and even public bathrooms became advertising venues. Holidays like Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Halloween increasingly became heavily promoted for gifts, costumes, and food items. We're inundated every day, in every way

Often, the content of messages has become more controversial, edgy, and counter to our best interests. Beer com mercials targeted to the young promote raunchy parties. Victoria's Secret promotes very revealing underwear that would have been viewed as pornographic just a few years ago. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition has increasingly featured swimsuits sans the tops. All of these are commercially based promotions designed to sell products. Would most of us think it a good idea to encourage more drinking and wild parties among our kids? Sexier underwear for our daughters? Is that the advice and influence true friend and family relationships would provide? Yet these messages are often promoted by cultural icons, celebrities, and credible publications paid to influence us and our kids. We have invited strangers into our living rooms and given them the microphone to influence us and our children in ways that are counter to our values and beliefs.

Marketing saturation also has occurred in other channels, such as telephone solicitation and direct mail. According to Synovate, a market research firm, credit card issuers hit their peak in 2005 when they mailed more than 6 billion offers, a jump of 16 percent from the 5.2 billion sent in 2004. This translates into about six offers per month per household. Sound like overkill? After the financial crash, that number fell but is now edging back up. Phone solicitation is no different, and even with the do-nol-call registry, most of us still receive constant solicitations that interrupt and annoy us. As we are continually blasted by advertising and extreme commercialism, we become immune to it: We ignore junk mail and use caller ID to screen calls.

Immunity to advertising is not just a business problem. The political version of extreme commercialism is also out of control. As discussed earlier, during the 2008 U.S. presidential election, the candidates raised close to $1 billion for their campaigns, more than the size of the economies of several countries in Africa.

The irony is that as we hit saturation, the more spent on paid advertising, the less impact those messages have. As Karl Rove said regarding the 2008 presidential election, "Television ads don't matter as much as they used to. Going on the air with the earliest and most ads doesn't count for nearly as much as it once did ... Mr. Romney, who spent $2.4 million on TV ads in Iowa beginning last February, found that out. Voters are discounting advertising. They may be blocking out ads, relying more on personal exposure, information from social networks, alternative information sources like talk radio and the Internet, and local media coverage." (However, his negative ads aimed at opponents in the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary had significant impact.) What? Money won't buy votes. A disturbing trend for politicians if ever there was one.

The goal of marketing is to sell a product or service by positively influencing relationships. However, as extreme commercial efforts promoted by ever more invasive marketing outreach began to compete with and even replace the role of relationships, something had to give.


Something did give. As the amount of advertising and promotion has grown, its credibility and impact have shrunk. Recipient receptivity has declined. Recently, Forrester reported that 67 percent of all consumers think there's way too much advertising. A staggering 95 percent of them say that most advertising fails to be "honest and authentic." In some cases, the distrust has become so pronounced that the government exerted pressure to ban some forms of advertising (remember Joe Camel?). Many of us have come to feel that advertising is too pervasive, invasive, and persuasive. To quote Marshall McLuhan, "the medium has become the message." When customers are hounded over the phone and through the mail, yelled at on television, and interrupted on the Internet, there are consequences. Aggressive telephone solicitations, junk mail, and cross-selling efforts in the middle of a service-problem discussion have caused consumers to distrust organizations. Targeting vulnerable groups such as children, old people with failing mental faculties, and the uneducated poor has stirred particular contempt.

In essence, customer-marketing initiatives by both for-profit and not for-profit organizations have repelled many of us. We've often encountered those whose commercial purpose--whether to sell us insurance or to gain referrals, for example--led to relational distrust. The bottom line is that invasive messages ultimately result in blocked access and possibly destroyed customer relationships. The uptick in permission based marketing has been an attempt by providers to give customers more control by allowing them to opt in or out.

The Growth of the Distrust Economy

In the final excerpt, Robert Hall reviews relationships in today's "distrust" economy.

Extreme commercialism has, in fact, birthed the distrust economy that runs on a range of new products and services: from spam-blocking software, computer security systems, and shredders for our mail, to unlisted phone numbers and caller ID to protect us from extreme marketing and relational abuse. Consumers caught in this distrust economy first became numbed and immune to the sway of false messages, but now they increasingly seek the refuge of family and friends as trusted sources of information. A Capgemini study into the influences on automotive purchasing found 71 percent of the respondents favored word of mouth compared to just 15 percent for TV advertising. According to the Roper Organization, over the last 30 years, word of mouth has increased dramatically for U.S. consumers in its perceived value as a source of information and ideas about new products (from 67 percent of respondents to 91 percent). Roper points to the 1990s as the period when the change occurred; it was the decade when trust in traditional sources (government, politics, and business) started to slip. To adapt what was said about music the day Buddy Holly died: It was the decade that commercial trust died.

As discussed earlier, word of mouth now drives two-thirds of the U.S. economy. Let that soak in. How ironic that word of mouth, born of relationships, has made dramatic gains over an industry that spent more than $240 billion in 2009 to influence us. Extreme commercialism and the purchase of influence have hit the wall; influence for sale devolved into influence for rent and then, finally, to no influence--'sold out."

The response is predictable. In its fifth annual report on trust among the worlds opinion leaders, the Edelman company reported that people were trusting each other more and traditional authorities less. Hdelman termed this "the democratization of influence," whereby the average person (along with independent experts) was being seen as much more credible than organizations and other groups.

At a time when many entities have crossed a line and become commercially extreme, our trusted word-of-mouth community has become a safe haven. Families, businesses, politicians, and religious groups failing at the business of building and sustaining true relationships cannot endure. Today's technology and media have provided very powerful tools to reach people and build relationships; too often that opportunity has been squandered for short-term commercial gain.

Those abused by extreme commercialism will be slow to recommend anyone or anything with even a whiff of distrust. That is why social networks are so powerful; they rely on highly valued recommendations--one of the ultimate acts of relationship.

We are a society that has enjoyed the fruits of commercialism, but we got off track and suffered unintended consequences. Extreme commercialism has impoverished by subtracting trusted relationships and even dividing us. It has promoted a spirit of winner-takes-all that means win-at-all-costs. We have paid the price in broken relationships.

Win-at-all-costs has become the surest way to lose. While not all have practiced extreme commercialism, we have all suffered the distrusting effects of a soulless marketplace. We have become disappointed so often that we reflexively distrust. Unlike at any other time in history, the void created has stimulated a demand for trusting relationships: relationships that are ... worth riding for, and reputations that aren't for sale.

Social and technology trends have conspired in recent decades to--degrade our human connections with our families, our communities, our employers and our businesses. The fact is that you can't grow a bank--or Create a stronger society--when you try to build on the foundation of crumbling relationships.

"The most important healthcare system in the world is a mother."

--Dr. Richard Klausner, former executive director of global health; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The goal of marketing is to sell a product or service by positively influencing relationships.

"In English-language online social media conversations, 'false' is the term most closely associated with advertising."

--Nielsen Online, Buzz Metrics21

The collapse of great societies has historica been first and foremost about the collective decay of relationships.

The irony is that as we hit saturation, the more spent on paid advertising, the less impact those messages have.

"United States corporations now lose half their customers in five years, half of their employees in four years, and half of their investors in a matter of months."

--Philip Kotler, Kotler on Advertising


Robert Hall is the author of the "Marketing Solutions" column that appears in each issue of ABA Bank Marketing magazine. Email: Website:
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Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hall, Robert E.
Publication:ABA Bank Marketing
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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