To produce authentic messaging and actions, commit to an internal culture of curious — and constant — listening.
Just like it’s hard to have a productive conversation if you don’t listen to the person you’re chatting with (or worse, if you opt to talk at or over them), it’s tough to tell your brand story if you don’t listen to the people you’re telling it to. Uninterrupted listening is a critical part of telling your story — which is why it (along with simplicity and flexibility) is one of the pillars of FIG’s concept of Dynamic Storytelling™: a way to keep your brand messaging engaging and relevant in uncertain, constantly changing times like those we’re living through today.
To understand the importance of listening, let’s start by talking about what happens when it’s not a part of your brand’s culture. Quite simply, it becomes an echo chamber. You remain static, happy with the customer data and analytics you’ve worked hard to procure. And it might very well be top-notch data and insights. The problem is, it’s likely one pandemic — not to mention one deep-rooted, global social movement — out of date. And even if it’s not, it almost certainly needs at least some tweaking based on the economic, health, cultural, racial, and social issues that have irreversibly changed our world. To remain focused on your spreadsheet from January, and your original 2020 goals, is to be in denial of the fact that we’re now in a new reality, and it’s time to pop your bubble and react.
This is why uninterrupted listening — a company-wide stance of continual curiosity, relentless observation, asking questions, and seeking out diverse perspectives that challenge entrenched ways of thinking — is so important. It keeps brands relevant throughout major socio-cultural shifts such as our current one, and it sheds light on opportunities to act that are on-brand and productive — not off-base and tone-deaf.
In the past few months, a number of brands have done a great job of listening to their customer, and then providing content, solutions, or messaging that reach their heads and hearts. Just a few of the ones with the greatest EQ and ability to read a room (i.e., their customer):
Chipotle’s Together Hangouts (made available on its Twitter feed), where up to 3,000 fans can join celebrity guests for a fun socially distanced meal;
Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer’s return of a $10 million PPP government loan and subsequent calls for overhaul of the government program after realizing it was underfunded and many small businesses were unable to get assistance;
Ford’s total overhaul of its production lines at its Michigan plant to manufacture respirators for U.S. hospitals where they were in short supply;
Little Caesar’s marketing pivot to address people’s health and safety concerns, with ads spotlighting its pizzas from a health angle by showing how they’re cooked at 475 degrees and not touched by a human hand until you grab your slice. (It also donated 1 million pizzas to hospitals and first responders nationwide.) And it did all of this by the first week of April.
Here at FIG, the commercial and related creative we developed for Benjamin Moore — a campaign called “Keep Hard Workers Working” — encouraged homeowners to hire local painters in their communities to do exterior paint jobs, with the dual benefit of enhancing curb appeal and helping these contractors earn income at a time when indoor paint jobs have ground to a halt.
Going extra steps in an effort to understand their core customer — and emphasize humanity as a core value — these brands demonstrated that they know how to connect with public consciousness and their customers’ emotions.
So how do you achieve that customer-centric focus? This takes a combination of head and heart. Social monitoring and market-research tech platforms (NetBase, Brand Watch, You Gov), which use AI to actively monitor a multitude of conversations like those around COVID-19, are obviously a start, as are great analytics and data teams who know how, where, and when to reach not just current and engaged, but also prospective, customers.
But that’s not all that’s needed. It’s also important to have a diverse staff — plus diversity training for existing staff. And beyond that, it’s critical to highlight the values of curiosity and observation from the top down. That means transparent, two-way communication with employees (a company that doesn’t foster dialogue in its own walls certainly won’t do well trying to do so with its customers), involvement in local and global charities and community organizations, and consistent follow-through in acting on negative customer feedback and perceptions.
But even that isn’t enough. A successful brand must use the above actions and insights to shape a brand identity that inherently addresses the way the brand is perceived by the people who are actually interacting with it. If you think your brand is all about customer service but 9% of customers agree with you, you need to be realistic, malleable, and humble enough to pivot your brand strategy.
The art of listening isn’t just about fixing mistakes as they happen. It’s about rebuilding your brand as one that’s customer-centric.
And yes, this takes more than just heart. It takes investment (actual cash), which is admittedly not flowing freely for many brands right now. But if you’re wondering if you can afford to be customer-centric, the answer is: You can’t afford not to. Think of authenticity as your most important KPI — and start passing that mic.
To learn more about Dynamic Storytelling™, see our holistic strategy deck and accompanying articles on simplified storytelling and a flexible media approach.
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