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Let your Marketing Flow

Let your Marketing Flow

What is ‘Flow’?

‘I was totally in Flow today! It went great.’ If someone tells you this, you might imagine they had a great day achieving all their perceived goals. But where does the term ‘Flow’ come from?

The concept of Flow was introduced by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (see link for pronunciation) in the 1970s. Csikszentmihalyi defined Flow as “an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” As one of the co-founders of the positive psychology movement, he conducted extensive research on optimal human experiences and coined the term “Flow” to describe a state of deep immersion, focus, and enjoyment in an activity. In a professional context, a flow state goes hand in hand with peak performance. Sounds great. So, what should we look for if we want to achieve Flow?

Csikszentmihalyi identified phenomenological characteristics that he found to be commonly present during Flow: 

  • Hyper-focus, task-specific attention; 
  • Intrinsic motivation;
  • A challenging task-performance;
  • A sense of complete control over the challenge;
  • Total absorption in task-engagement; 
  • Loss of self-awareness and awareness of physical actions;
  • Real-time positive reinforcement feedback that causes euphoric enjoyment and feelings of meaning and purpose;
  • An altered perception of time.

These characteristics have become the way researchers both define and measure Flow. Whether all these characteristics are necessary and sufficient conditions for a flow experience remains an open question. We can assume they play a significant role and are suitable guiding principles for anyone wanting to set the requirements to achieve Flow.

Research into flow states began to increase in the 1980s and 90s, and we are only now beginning to understand its unique types, characteristics, triggers, and neuroscience. If you want to learn more about the background and the scientific advancements around this phenomenon, please check out the Flow Research Collective.


What does this mean for the Enterprise?

As a supporter of the Flow Manifesto, I want to explain my fascination with flow states and their bearing on strategy development, operational excellence, and peak performance. The more we learn about what brings us flow and how to get into that state, the happier, more prosperous, and fulfilled we are. Because (I believe) a state of Flow is an indication that we are doing what we are born to do. This goes just as much for a company as for an individual. If a company intends to operate in a state of Flow to increase its success, it can consider the following guiding principles. 

Set clear goals: Besides clearly understanding their individual roles or tasks, all your team members should clearly understand the value (substance or purpose, if you will) your business brings to market. 

Look for Intrinsic Motivation: Flow emerges from intrinsic motivation. It is essential that a business – as much as possible – recruits and attains talent that is intrinsically engaged with the company’s purpose for the sheer joy and satisfaction it brings rather than for external rewards. 

Set Challenging but Attainable Tasks: Flow will occur when the perceived goal and tasks match your team’s skills. You need to evaluate regularly if team members feel challenged in an inspiring way. Not in a sleep-depriving, stressful way. 

Facilitate a Sense of Control: A flow state comes with a sense of control over the activity at hand, contributing to a sense of mastery. This sense of control is enabled by an Enterprise Architecture that supports relevant collaboration and data flow, supporting team members to understand their interdependent responsibilities and needs to improve their decision-making. In addition, ensuring appropriate decision-making power at an individual and team level should avoid unnecessary approval processes that block Flow.

Enable Concentration: In a state of Flow, people are fully engaged and highly focused on the task at hand, blocking out distractions. Your company should offer an environment and culture that supports concentration. Normalize the planning of focus time and ditch the expectation that everyone has to respond instantly all the time. And create awareness around using too many DM tools like Slack, Trello, email, WhatsApp, and alike to avoid interchangeable bits and bytes coming from different, incoherent directions simultaneously. 

Loose Organizational ‘self-awareness’: Rather than focussing on sticking to processes, aim for an organizational model and automation that feels as if processes don’t exist or instead run themselves.

Offer Immediate Feedback: Create a culture of recognition where relevant data offers insights into performance metrics. Celebrate success. 

Make Time Fly: Create an environment – a vibe – that has people forget about the clock. 


And for Marketing?

On top of the above guiding principles, I abide by my particularised guidelines for marketing.

Set clear goals: Clearly define – and continuously fine-tune – your (measurable) marketing objectives and goals and ensure internal understanding and buy-in. Whether increasing brand awareness, engagement, generating leads, or driving sales, having well-defined goals helps guide your marketing efforts and keep everyone aligned. 

Look for Intrinsic Motivation: Make sure that everyone – the marketing team and beyond – understands your business’s mission statement and is motivated to develop a customer experience that resonates with your audience’s values, desires, and aspirations. Tell stories that evoke emotions and connect with your audience’s intrinsic motivations, making them more likely to engage with your brand continuously – throughout their buying journey.

Challenging but Attainable Tasks: Provide value to your audience by offering content or products that match their current needs and skill levels. Whether it’s informative blog posts, helpful videos, or accessible entry-level products, ensure your offerings align with what your audience is ready for.

Sense of Control: Empower your audience and (potential) customers by offering personalized experiences. Provide support, options, recommendations, and customizable features that allow customers to tailor their interaction with your brand to their preferences.

Enable concentration:  Assess and address your customer’s needs and interests to prevent distractions and maintain an eye on the purchase – or goal. Create buying journeys that prioritize a seamless customer experience.

Loose Organizational ‘self-awareness’: Create content and campaigns that resonate with your customers emotionally, encouraging them to connect with your brand on a deeper level.

Offer Immediate Feedback:  Incorporate interactive elements in your marketing strategies that allow customers to engage and receive immediate feedback. For example, interactive quizzes, polls, and user-generated content can provide instant gratification and involvement.

Make Time Fly: Create content that is so captivating that your audience willingly spends more time engaging with your brand.