Everybody is talking about listening: Listen to your customers, listen to employees, listen to your intuition. Listening has become the new buzzword in the marketing world. The whole idea of Conversational Marketing/Social Media is based on the concept of listening. And listening can make or break your business. But if you don’t know how to listen, you might do more harm to your business than you ever imagined.
Remember the Simpsons Episode, ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou’? Homer meets his half-brother, Herb Powell, head honcho of the Powell Motors car company, who decides that Homer is the perfect match to design a car for the average American. Homer comes up with a concept that he markets as ‘powerful like a gorilla, yet soft and yielding like a Nerf ball’, featuring three horns that play ‘La Cucaracha’ and a sound-proof bubble dome for his kids. Powell Motors goes out of business shortly after.
Yes, Herb Powell, listened. But he didn’t listen actively.
No matter in what business you’re in, customers expect from brands to solve their problems. Allergy medicine solves the annoying hay fever problem. Cottonelle for Kids solves a potty training problem. Mac’s solve the virus problem. (At least, reducing it.) Cottonelle for Kids solved a common parenting problem because they asked the right questions. Asking people ‘What do you want?’ will get you nowhere. Asking people ‘Tell me about yourself and the common issues you’re facing on a daily basis.’ will get your creative juices going.
Suggestions by people should not be treated as requirements for the next phase of your product development. Instead, suggestions need to be regarded as problem reflections that you’re tasked to resolve. Does a parent really want a soundproof bubble for their kids while driving long distances? Or do they want ways to entertain their kids safely while they can focus on the drive and listen to radio at the same time?
Businesses need to structure their listening initiatives to ensure they suspend their own frame of reference and judgement while leaning forward and attentively engaging in a conversation. The advent of UGC, Social Networks and consumer participation clearly show that people are growing out of the passive consumption phase. Brands need to catch up quickly. Or they end up with below monstrosity.