People buy a story, not a brand. In the current age of content marketing, this has never been more true, yet so many tasked with hearing their audiences fail to truly connect with them. Why? Because they fail to listen, and no matter how much time and money is spent in the effort, meaningful consumer engagement is compromised. There can be no good storytelling without good listening.
Effective listening applies to everything from big business to private conversations. Hearing is a physical ability; listening is a skill.
While Marketing 101 traditionally dictates a focus on the positive, sometimes we understand better what to do when we know what not to do, especially if we recognize the undesirable behavior in ourselves. (What’s more, neuroscience suggests that humans are more influenced by bad than good.) Therefore, let’s outline some qualities of poor listening that can also translate into poor marketing.
How to Lose an Audience in 10 Seconds
- Push your own agenda. Angling for your own motive or gain, whether you’re embarking upon a widespread campaign or simply chatting with your neighbor, is not listening. It conveys that you’re not really interested in the needs, desires or concerns of whomever you’re communicating with; you’re mainly in it for yourself.
- Steal the thunder. We all know that person who barely lets you get a word out before they jump into their own experience. Marketing efforts can have the same self-preoccupied effect. Brands that boast about the sales they’ve made or lists they’ve topped demonstrate that they’re more interested in touting their own accomplishments than knowing and meeting consumers’ needs.
- Preach/judge/mock. Few people share a story or experience with someone so that person can shame them or tell them what they should have done instead. Yet, some folks take that opportunity to chide, advise or even ridicule, rather than to simply listen, sympathize or offer real solutions. That mentality has infiltrated more than a few marketing campaigns, too, particularly those that showcase clueless fools whom others can laugh at or feel superior to. Intelligent, thoughtful consumers are turned off by these cheap shots that appeal to the lowest common denominator.
- Be ingenuine. Consider the many ads featuring actors saying things no one would really say, least of all consumers. Contrived, out-of-touch messaging does not resonate with real audiences. It is insincere, ineffective and shows that you have little grasp on your target market. Perhaps this is why campaigns that humorize true self (think Progressive’s “we can’t save you from becoming your parents” and CitiBank’s voice-throwing identity theft campaigns) are so well-received.
- Rush things along. Has anyone ever checked their watch or a text while you were talking? Likely, you were less apt to continue at all than to continue more quickly. Marketing and sales efforts that push people to act before they’re ready have the same dissociating effect. Issuing a call-to-action is an important feature of a solid campaign, but it must be done with a keen sensitivity to where people are on the customer journey. That can only be accomplished by listening to what they’re saying – and sometimes what they’re not. For those with the opportunity to meet prospects in person, body language says a lot.
- Trivialize. Just as it’s rarely wise to tell someone “it’s not that bad,” or “you’re making too much of this,” it’s equally isolating to make light of consumers’ needs and concerns. Consumers respond to brands that acknowledge the gravity of a pain point and don’t try to pretty it up, as if all is right with the world. Any brand that promises they hold the key to eternal happiness will likely be met with great skepticism. As prescription drug campaigns have increased dramatically, it’s hard not to notice the litany of side effects, some arguably worse than the original condition, juxtaposed against all those “shiny, happy people.”
- Interrupt. Cutting in on someone who’s talking implies many things, first of which is, “what you’re saying is so unimportant, I’m just going to rail right over you.” Indeed, modern consumers can feel railroaded by the barrage of sponsored content, particularly online, that yanks them away from their train of thought. A much more effective approach is to create content that is intrinsically meaningful, customer-centric and organically share-worthy.
In Part II of this blog, our team of experts will share how to employ the good listening tactics that define not only healthy personal connections, but also outstanding storytelling and successful consumer relationships.
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