The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) recently produced a playbook that contains more than 35 case studies of putting listening to work, written by Steve Rappaport, the Advertising Research Foundation’s Knowledge Solutions Director.
The playbook is about listening to customer conversations and seeks to answer four questions that ARF members and many industry folks are asking:
- what is listening?
- how is it used?
- how is it done?
- where is it going?
Thanks to Lynne Johnson, who I met when she was the community manager at Fast Company and editor of FastCompany.com, I had access to a free early review copy [disclosure] of the playbook.
Let's put the strategy part to rest, shall we? If you have a business strategy, you need to align your marketing and communications to it. That includes research. There are no second guesses on this point. Listening needs to be integrated with the other marketing research activities and data you have.
What makes success
A review of successful listening cases points to several conclusions. Listening-lead research:
- demonstrates that it is appropriate for companies of all sizes, B2B and B2C brands alike
- spans the spectrum of marketing objectives, from discovering new customers to customer loyalty
- contributes brand strategy and tactics, and is beneficial for tough, challenging problems
- helps assess competitor risk
- enables companies to deal with public issues that influence their companies, brands and customers as well as manage their reputation
- plays an important role in customer care
- adds richness to traditional “asking” research and understanding marketing effectiveness
ARF identified several challenges that were common to less successful brand listening efforts. Specifically:
- company policies sometimes get in the way of servicing customers
- by listening selectively, some brands missed important conversations that pointed to problems they otherwise did not identify
- failing to involve core customer groups and asking the wrong questions
- responding to issues with outdated playbooks that may have been best practice a decade ago, but need to be overhauled for the social media era
- listening to detect concerns and address them is not enough
- brands also need to continue listening to learn if their solutions are working
- listening needs to maintain a civil tone and avoid public arguments
Listening-inspired marketing science
Outcome prediction can be derived two listening angles: search-based and conversation based sentiment and influence. One of the researchers key learning points is that raw buzz numbers, like the number of posts, are insufficient in themselves in predicting outcome, like sales.
Instead, predicting is best rooted in using more advanced listening analytics, especially those incorporating some measure of influence. The author lists a case study for predicting sales and well as one predicting market share.
You know that if your marketing communications spend is ineffective, or inferior to that of your competitors, your will experience a downward trend in influence and thus market share. Except for until this moment, much of the information was anecdotal.
This report starts to shed some light into how you can leverage listening tools to get more answers for your brand, in conjunction with other research and data.
The report also mentions the emerging practice of listening-media research.
To take advantage of what they learn by listening, companies need to reorganize. Because listening brings customers’ voices into the brand, businesses need to equip themselves with relationships and structures that help share those voices and insights, shape plans and respond in ways that benefit people and the brands.
Customers are in charge, and companies need to start learning fast. That means you need to integrate ongoing listening with the rest of your market research.
Are you still using 2003 terminology to define the vision and value strategy for market research?
That was the stimulus-response model, the balanced-scorecard mindset. Words like accountability, relevant, differentiated, science, measurement, models, knowledge, calibrated, valid, R4 ( right information, right place, right time, right form).
A value proposition centered on what the organization wanted.
What are the new keywords? Human, synthesis, science, sharing via social media, learning, listening, storytelling, risk taker, strategy (where to play, where to win). Change away from that old value prop will continue at an accelerated pace.
The disrupters to your business will not be your current competitors but technology enablers, upstart businesses and, ultimately, the consumers who decide to take advantage of them.
Today marketers must study the change-makers (people) on their terms, not through a lens of the brands we want to sell them.
Research must not only transform itself, it must transform the organization it serves to becoming a fast learner that puts the human at the center of marketing thinking. With real time, this means more emphasis on listening for the unexpected, which requires humility.
Get putting listening to work, and pour through the data to start getting serious about your listening program and its role in customer insight.