It was a heartbreaking situation.
A dear friend, who worked for a community organisation, had placed an Asian child – it could have been any war-torn Asian country – with a foster parent in rural Australia, and the child was going downhill, fast. She didn’t talk. She didn’t smile. She didn’t play. And she didn’t eat.
Every morning, the girl poked her cornflakes around in the bowl, watching them turn slowly in the milk. She didn’t know what they were. Didn’t really know what to do with them.
“The child needs rice,” my friend told the foster parent.
“Rice! I don’t have time to cook rice in the morning!”
“You don’t need to. We’ll get you a rice cooker. All you need to do is put it on in the morning and just leave it on all day. She can help herself whenever she’s hungry – you won’t have to worry about it.”
“No! She’s in Australia now – she’ll have to learn to eat what we eat.”
To most Asian peoples, rice is important. Not just as a crop, but socially and psychologically. In some Asian countries, the equivalent of “How are you?” is some variant of, “Have you eaten rice today?” And because rice porridge is most often a child’s first food after weaning, rice is their oldest taste memory. So to deprive an Asian child like this one of rice isn’t to deprive them of a mere ingredient: it is to deprive her of basic nourishment, as well as of a sense of community, of identity, of stability, and of continuity.
The girl’s problem wasn’t lack of rice. Her home country was at war, and she was dealing with a range of very serious issues that rice alone couldn’t fix. But that one small consideration would have restored something vital in her, and the stability and continuity would have meant a little less homesickness, and a little more strength, with each bowlful. She would have engaged with her foster family, and her new culture, far quicker and easier than she did.
Many businesses believe that engagement happens when you set out to be different. They believe, and are constantly told by the pundits, that engagement happens to the Heston Blumenthals of the business world, not the tea ladies. “Look at THIS!” they shout, lifting silver cloches for their clients and would-be clients to reveal wondrous dishes.
Except that people don’t need Luxury Pie and tower-shaped soup every day.
People need rice.
Rice is nourishment. Rice is connection to the expected and the valuable. Rice is easily recognised as good.
Rice is consistency.
Consistency is the basis of engagement, because engagement is connection. Connection – true connection, one that’s profound and long lasting – happens not at the moment that someone leaps out to surprise you, but when you feel you know someone. It’s a direct result of steady, congruent actions and communications over time.
Big acts of razzle-dazzle may catch someone’s attention, but they won’t create engagement. In fact, the best time to schedule your big act of razzle-dazzle is once you know you’ve been consistent: an engaged audience is a receptive audience. In fact, going for the razzle-dazzle without laying a foundation of engagement first means that you’re risking suspicion and distrust. I mean… who are you to these people? Why should they engage with you when they are suffering from extreme marketing and social fatigue? Like that foster child who had plenty but did not care for any of it, they won’t, even if you are offering the proverbial feast.
But consistency gives them a reason to engage.
Consistency also gives them the context.
So your bowl of rice can be a bed for something dazzling or different, whether it’s lobster or ribs.
Your investment of consistency is repaid in engagement and loyalty. That’s over the long term, because consistency is a marathon, not a race. The engagement prize may be a while coming, but once you get it, you get to keep it (unless, of course, you stop being consistent).
Where many businesses fall down at this point is in confusing consistency with sameness. So a business may provide the same thing, and even excel doing it and meet their clients’ needs for a long time, but when clients’ needs change, they are not there to meet those new needs. They lose longtime clients and scratch their heads, wondering where they went wrong. This happens countless times a day, the world over.
The solution? Make meeting your clients’ needs at every stage of their journey your first consistency.
If you do this, you will have continuous, long-term engagement, and you and your clients with sup together at a sumptuous table for a long time.
What is the second consistency your engagement strategy should have? Let’s chew over that next week. In the meantime, if you’d like to talk about engagement, content, productivity, or anything else comms-related, get in touch.