Executive Director, People, Culture & Communications | Legal Aid Alberta.
As a communications executive and mom of three, I make it a point to give my middle child attention because it’s easy for him to be “the forgotten one” in a family of five with busy parents. My middleborn is often the mediator or intermediary, just like I was growing up as the middle child between two brothers.
Interestingly, in business, intermediaries tend to get a bad reputation. As Philip Kotler and Kevin Keller explain in A Framework for Marketing Management, there are various types of intermediaries, from merchants to agents and facilitators. Intermediaries often get pushed out of the value chain because they are middlemen — an added layer and cost. Hence, we have the saying, “cut out the middleman” — or as fancy marketing people like to call it, disintermediation.
Disintermediation is ubiquitous in many industries now — from banking to travel, home improvement, interior design and even the music industry. When I think about how to limit disintermediation and support reintermediation, I think of my own 6-year-old middle son, Gideon. My perspective in disintermediation has also been informed by Dr. Lee Keple’s Executive MBA discussions at Athabasca University.
Some say middle children are becoming extinct in the U.S., but their characteristics are still valuable. Middle children are often described as people-pleasing and somewhat rebellious. Intermediaries should embrace these qualities to survive — because nobody likes a middleman, but everyone loves a charming middle child.
Be A People-Pleaser
People-pleasing means providing convenience and saving the consumer time or money. A prime example of this (pun intended) is Amazon. It provides a one-stop shop for its consumers. It reportedly carries more than 12 million products and provides convenience and service. Shoppers can go there for home improvement products, clothes, books, diapers and groceries.
People want to cut out the middleman because they are an added layer, which usually translates to added time or cost and added profit margins. As an e-marketplace, Amazon is the distributor and retailer, and it serves this role well by pleasing its consumers. Along the same lines, as the people-pleasing middle child, Amazon is arguably often forgotten as the intermediary. Most people don’t consciously treat Amazon as an intermediary. In fact, it can feel like Amazon has cut out the middleman by bringing products directly to them.
In marketing communications, people-pleasing means:
1. Providing the best service to clients, whether they are internal or external. This helps build trust in your strategy and create partnerships with stakeholders.
2. Making it convenient for your audience to engage: Don’t make people dig (or scroll) to respond to your content. Provide links, buttons and contact information in a clear and easy-to-navigate way.
3. Being forgotten: Just like people often forget that Amazon is an intermediary, we should forget that communications is even involved if it’s done successfully. People should be too focused on and moved by your stories, key messages and real content.
Be A Rebel
Ever since they were born 25 years ago, Amazon has always been a bit of a rebellious child. Who would have thought you could buy a book through your computer and have it arrive at your home within days? Amazon rebelled and disrupted us forever. Now the rebel is opening a hair salon in London to test new technologies.
Other rebellious intermediaries include well-known companies like Uber and Skip, but there’s also Instacart, which has disrupted the way we buy groceries and could disrupt more households in the future. Instacart says it now delivers from more than 45,000 stores across more than 5,500 North American cities.
As a leader, being rebellious can mean:
1. Trying that team member’s crazy idea and supporting them in it. We cannot be disruptors if we don’t cultivate a culture of creativity and trying new things.
2. Allowing people (and yourself) to make mistakes. If we don’t give grace, there will likely always be fear. Mistakes can motivate us to learn and move us to take risks like rebels do.
Intermediaries have their moments, and fear of disintermediation is real in business. But reintermediation is possible, and we can always learn from the middle child — the ultimate mediator.