Listen First

By Association Adviser staff • November 5, 2012

By Association Adviser staff

Why are brands interested in listening? It’s pretty simple. We’re spending more time with social networking and less time with e-mail and portals, according to Stephen Rappaport, knowledge solutions director of the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) and author of Listen First! Turning Social Media Conversations into Business Advantage (Wiley). Coming out in April, Steve’s new book draws upon his decades of experience in listening research and creating listening-based business strategies for organizations. “After 25 years of effort, listening has finally become an overnight success,” he said, adding, “The book’s review of research and its many case studies answer the questions most often asked: Just what is listening? How is it done? How is it used? And, Where is it going?”

READER NOTE: Rappaport suggests substituting the word “member” for “consumer” in this article, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how many insights apply to your organization. Click here for his related weekly Webcast series and the blog about Listening.

  • The Advertising Research Foundation defines listening as “the study of naturally occurring conversations, behaviors and signals that may or may not be guided to bring the voice of people’s lives into the brand.”

  • Listening is not limited to conversations (although that’s most of it today), but also includes behavior and emotions. It is learning about what people say, do and feel.
  • The command-and-control communication strategy is being replaced by “co-creation”—the customer and the brand have an ongoing dialogue with each other and try to understand each other.
  • Companies are changing from a “make and sell” mindset and business practice to one in which they must be constantly sensing, responding and adapting their behavior, products and services to “harmonize” or “calibrate” with a changing business environment and evolving customer.

  • Listening’s value resides in its ability to help detect and interpret early signals and generate insights that can create a sustained business advantage.

Our Personal Budgets for Screen Time Are Shifting

Carat Research recently did a study and found that everyone, whether they know it or not, has a budget for how much on-screen time they have every day. That budget is shifting more toward social networking activities and away from traditional e-mail, related Rappaport, whose recent presentation about the power of listening was hosted at The New York Times building by the New York chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (NYAAPOR).

According to Rappaport, the nature of how we send each other messages, chat and share videos, music, our lives and our experiences with the companies we buy from and the organizations to which we belong is changing. These dialogues are occurring more and more frequently via online social connections and less frequently through e-mail. The power of this trend is that companies and other types of organizations can really listen in to what their customers and members are saying in a pure, free-flowing forum that you can’t duplicate in a focus group or customer survey. That’s what’s really piqued the interest of brands, said Rappaport.

Rappaport said the way messages are being passed through society has changed dramatically. Instead of brands believing, “We know what you like so we’ll expose it to you and hope you find it of interest,” it is now friends curating information for each other: “Mary, I know what you like and I’ll send it along to you.”

The dominant mental model for advertising stems from the “make and sell” era. That was one-way, interruptive and repetitive, with the intention of exposing consumers to messages, having them learn and persuading them to buy because companies or organizations know what’s best for their target audience. That model supported the marketing funnel notion, through which consumers move dutifully and rationally through a series of stages—awareness, interest, consideration and purchase. Today that model must be re-thought, said Rappaport, because search, social communications and e-commerce change the game. People need advertising less for awareness and learning, while evaluating or comparing products is quick as a click.

Associations Embracing Social Media to Listen to Members

  • Eighty-five percent of the 674 association leaders who responded to Association Adviser’s 2011 Association Communication Benchmarking Survey said they’re using Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to listen to members regularly.
  • Sixty-four percent said they’ll be using social media much more frequently over the next 12 to 24 months. That’s nearly twice as many as will be using discussion forums/list servs.
  • Forty-nine percent of associations are communicating with members on a weekly or more frequent basis using social media channels (Facebook, Linked In, Twitter).

An Era of Co-creation

Today it’s more open, said Rappaport: “The consumer tells us what they want. We need to listen carefully to what they’re telling us and then find a way to deliver it to them. Listening is the key. It’s an era of co-creation—the customer and the brand have an ongoing dialogue to understand each other.”

Examples of Co-creation:

  • Fiat’s Project Mio co-created a new concept car by enabling people around the world to join open forums to suggest product and marketing ideas for a perfect car directly to the company. The company took the best suggestions and showed the car at a world auto show in Brazil. Ideas from Project Mio have been used to market cars in their current lineup and have given the company great insights into customer interests and needs.
  • Starbucks has the My Starbucks Idea website. The company felt it was losing touch with its customers. Now customers can post ideas for Starbucks products, fellow customers can vote on them and Starbucks integrates the best ideas into its menu offerings and in-store amenities.

Listening allows you to pick up signals from the marketplace and derive business-building insights faster and sharpen competitive edges. First you listen, then you adapt your behavior and give consumers what they want—not what you THINK they want. The days of the big company (or big organization) as dictator are long gone. Are you and your organization ready to lead the way?

Check back in a future issue for part two of this series on Listening.

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