Listening to Understand

If you are listening to respond, you’re ½ way there

by Tracey Parsons |

Listening. I talk about listening a lot. Which is a really, really funny thing if I think about it. Maybe I talk about listening too much and in fact, should be listening more. Listening is not only under-rated. It is also not being done thoughtfully.

When I talk to most of the clients about listening (snicker) I find out that they are making the mistake that everyone makes.

Listening to Respond

ListenSteven Covey famously said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Today, many brands (if they are listening at all) are listening to respond. Which is really good, it definitely has a place in the social listening. It is important to be actively listening to the social conversation about your brand and your competitors. You can get a good understanding of sentiment and hear problems early before they become a full-blown PR crisis and you need to call legal and corporate communications. For this reason listening to respond is great.

But, let’s take a look at what Covey really is saying: The real benefit of listening is to understand. And when you listen to understand, that’s when you can get the real gold that a sound listening strategy has to offer. You can glean deeper, more robust insights. Insights that you might not even imagine were out there.

Listening to Understand

For example, let’s say you have a product or service that everyone uses. Let’s say toothpaste. If you are only listening to your brand name, you will be lucky to hear 5% of all toothpaste conversations. Which means that 95% of all conversations involving toothpaste you are missing out on. This conversation could provide insights into what makes a person choose one toothpaste or another. It could be that she has found the magic formula for never reminding junior to brush his teeth again.

When you listen to understand, you get the gold

Or even better still, let’s say there is a raging, maybe even political conversation going on about your industry (healthcare, I am kinda looking at you). What if you could cut through the rage and get at the nugget. When you listen to respond, you get the rage, when you listen to understand, you get the gold. The clear benefit to listening to understand is that it ends up generating great, differentiated content. These insights into the industry could help you develop content that resonates with the customer so deeply that it can help sway a sale your way vs. toward the other guys. Point is, when you listen to respond, you learn nothing new about your customer outside of your product.

Listening for differentiation

When you listen to understand, you can begin to really understand the problem your customer has in the marketplace. You can see where your brand can fit into this conversation. You can see where your customer is talking about your industry and how they view the industry and your category.

Though, be cautioned, listening to understand might give you more than you bargained for. This track may cause you to see first hand that thing that I keep saying over and over again: Your customers spend about 100% less time thinking about your brand than you think they do. It can be a blow to the ego, but once you lick your wounds for a minute or two, you start to see the opportunity that creates. It is strategic gold. Knowing what your customer is talking about as it relates to your industry and category can re-invigorate your content strategy. It can help you refocus. All of us marketers “know” the customer. But, funny thing is, we only “think” we know. I have yet to do a listening/conversation report for a client without hearing the sentence: “I had no idea.” Because we don’t, we are listening to respond. Let’s try to commit to listening to understand as our social/digital/mobile world continues to expand.

How are you using listening in your social strategy? Are you listening to respond or understand, or even better, both?

About the Author

Tracey Parsons

Since 1995, Tracey has been developing digital solutions. Currently SME Digital’s lead strategist, she continues to be dedicated to bringing cutting edge, thoughtful and measurable solutions to marketers. With more than 15 years in digital, Tracey not only brings vision, but the tools and strategies to execute against complex next generation concepts. She has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands to develop and devise cutting-edge social, mobile and digital marketing practices.