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Listening is the new black

Most marketers and advertisers love to tell stories. Storytelling, content marketing, omni-channel – the list of buzzwords is long. There is an enormous focus on how to communicate to specific segments and target audiences – and on getting the message right. But what about the simple art of listening?
Søren Friis Larsen, director of stakeholder relations at Caliber A/S and Mannov A/S, a part of Ogilivy Group.

A lot of smart coms people will tell you: don’t tell it, show it. And that is true. Yet a lot of marketing, advertising and communication in general is still about telling. Often, even when we show something, it is really just another way of telling the story we like our audience to react to. The real difference between telling and showing is often smaller than you think. There is a lot of science and literature on segmentation, targeting, and other tools of mass marketing, so it is easy to become engulfed by all the data and consumer insights. But in today’s reality, there are simply too many people, too many companies trying to pour out their commercial messages for one company to stand out this way. We as consumers become numb and disengaged, unless we are offered something else, something more.

What listening will do for you

I think that for a lot of companies what could really make a difference is for them to rediscover the forgotten art of listening. If we are too busy pushing our own message, too obsessed with our amazing product offerings, and too eager to sell, listening actually becomes surprisingly difficult. But it offers something else than the twin sisters of telling and showing can achieve on their own – it offers a deeper and more realrelationship with the consumer. We know this from our personal lives – nothing can make a dinner party feel like a Wagner Opera running long than being trapped next to a bad listener, who in a spell of verbal diarrhea insists on telling you every conceivable detail about himself.

Of course companies should tell about their products, and perhaps even more so they should tell about themselves and their visions. Today’s marketing is not just about touting the product and its amazing features, but rather about selling the underlying idea or the values or identities inherent in the product and the authentic company that stands behind it. But companies should also listen. They should listen and engage the consumer, not just communicate. And that goes for their other stakeholders too by the way.

Ultimately, it is about building trust and affinity as a company – or what my good colleague Shahar Silbershatz would call corporate character. If you listen you learn, but you also gain more credibility, and even the decisions you make that some customers might not like, they will be more willing to accept, if they somehow feel understood.

So how do you do it?

It sounds so easy. But of course, it is not. And it is not about the platform. Just because a company decides to start using social media in its marketing does not automatically mean its becomes more engaging or actually starts to listen. Often, in fact, a social media presence will very clearly expose that the company is really not listening. So listening starts by understanding that the approach needs to be fundamentally different. It takes a commitment of resources, and likely also a new set of KPIs and other metrics for this change to take hold and be successful.

If you keep measuring just how much your organization shouts, you should not be surprised when the noise eventually ends up deafening.

You can change company policies and make sure that top management is on board – and you should – but focus in the end should be on the people who actually shape the customer experience. Recruit people who understand how to listen. Train the ones you have. The microcosmic view of your consumer equity is the dialogue your people have with the customer. If you can make them listen more intently, you have truly succeeded in making it about the customer and not about you.

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