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Great parents, teachers, leaders and teammates have some surprising similarities. They get into other people’s heads. David Brooks' editorial last year on the new business skills of attunement, sympathy and metis -- proposed they lead to the condition of “limerence.” This term, in addition to being poetic and highly unusual in a business context, may in fact, be the common link. And, I submit, that it is limerence at scale that is the true brand aspiration.

Brooks has very specific definitions of these words that are remarkable in their brevity and richness.

Let’s review:

  • Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.
  • Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.
  • Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.
  • Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.
  • Limerence: This isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, or the challenge of a task.

Lovely, no? Keep these in mind and think again about what happens when a mother touches her child. The teacher, who reaches into your mind and helps you repaint reality. The leader who does exactly the same. A recent study rigorously demonstrated that patterns of communication are the best predictors of team success. Is this another form or manifestation of limerence?

Limerence at Scale

How could a brand achieve this level of intimacy? How could it scale? We do have examples of mass, limerent experiences -- we generally call this art. Poetry, rock and roll, humor. The artist gets into our heads (though the reverse isn’t always true) directly through his or her work. At scale, perhaps we call this a community or a movement, or something we identify with.

As a brand, we want to create limerent moments -- for our market and by them. How do we aspire toward limerence? Well we start with meaning and authenticity. That is to say, focus on something meaningful and communicate with authenticity. That’s a start. (I watched “The Blind Side” with my kids the other day, so “Hope for authenticity, try for limerence,” if you know what I mean.)

When you dig deep and uncover a fundamental truth, when you get as near to art as business can, and when you are talking to the right audience then you might have limerence. Limerent moments can be lighthearted or deeply serious.

The “Imported from Detroit” ads that are now over a year old and which they have tried and failed to extend and expand were limerent. The other superbowl ad of that year that got more attention -- the kid trying to channel “the force” into a volkswagon -- that was too.

Which brings me to the real thing that you want your brand to do.

Strive for it, Brand Manager

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, dear brand manager, is to evoke a truth, an aspiration, a meaning. You may say, oh that’s just for consumer stuff -- "real" business isn’t aspirational. Government is anything but. Nay, I say.

Real business is complicated, and getting more so. B2B/G tech companies in particular are selling complicated things in complicated situations for complicated reasons. And enterprise is now dependent on more than a few of these technologies. The complexity, the unknowns, the risks, are paralytic.

And what those customers want -- what they REALLY want -- is for you to come in and say, don’t worry, I understand. I understand exactly what you’re going through, and I can give you the rich, poetic language that you need to understand it better yourself. I can give you a sense that your stress and confusion is not shameful. It's normal. And I have the solution.

You want a limerent moment with them -- where they suddenly feel understood, and liberated. They see a solution before them.

Of course it really does help if your products back it up. If, once they finish wiping the lenses of their glasses as they pause to absorb this little bit of truth you’ve handed them in the boardroom, if you don’t have the goods, it’s not going to go well.

It Really, Really Matters

You need to have the meat to back it up. You need a model which describes how to get there, and the proof that your product or service delivers against it. Prove you’ve done it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a messaging hierarchy. This, ladies and gentleman is what the fullness of brand is. This, is marketing 2.0.

The real beauty of this aspirationally grounded messaging hierarchy, however, is that it is not just for the market, it's for the team. Watch what happens when the engineering team begins to absorb it. Watch what happens when sales does. Suddenly your business is not a spreadsheet and a communal time clock. Suddenly it matters.

When you have that story that connects deeply with your market and your team, you have aligned the imaginations of your team. You have a brilliant way to tune your products. They are now thinking along common lines. They now have meaningful criteria to assess what they have and to make the millions of decisions -- both large and small that make a product. The he-said, she-said is so much less important.

Many products share the same “value proposition” -- the theoretical benefit you’ll realize from using it. But the difference between the theory and the reality is not the list of features, but the whole they create. When you have this deep connection with your audience, you have a clear vision of what your product needs to be (not do, be), you have the ability to transform your offering from a collection of capabilities to a meaningful whole.

When you think about the products or tech you love, you know that they have been built with deep insight and passion. They reflect the attunement, the metis, the sympathy of the makers, they are limerent products.

The last thing I bought? A pot. Perhaps one of the first 100 things ever invented. But this pot is the best thing I’ve ever used. This pot made leftovers sublime. This pot changed my experience of making dinner. And no, I’m not kidding (it's a Staub).

The team that made that pot did not make that sublime cooking vessel by thinking about the cheapest and fastest way to pour metal into a shape and slap handles on it and get it into the best sales channels. If you are investing in social software (or any software for that matter) are you comparing tick-mark features, or are you looking at who understands your needs best?

Social business is just a step along the way. You don’t want a social business -- you want a business that matters.

The best is yet to come.

Title image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.