We need to ask the right questions and really listen to the answers – Keli Mitchell

Marketers need to rethink how they engage with customers, says Keli Mitchell

Keli Mitchell, Joint Managing Director of Frame Agency and Chair of The Marketing Society Fellowship.

A friend sent me this text recently:

“How are you feeling? Not doing, but FEELING?”

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It’s was a nuance which changed my response entirely

McDonald's paper straws

Rather than messaging back a quick “I’m doing okay, good days and bad days, y’know, like everyone else”, I spent the rest of the evening mulling it over.

I later sent a three-paragraph response, which resulted in a more meaningful, engaged and sincere exchange.

She asked a different type of question because she was genuinely interested in the answer.

She then listened. It felt good.

At its core, listening is the ability to accurately receive, interpret and give attention to sound or action.

It’s a vitally important ingredient for building healthy relationships, both personally and professionally.

It’s also important when building a brand – so important in fact, that Dell appointed a ‘Chief Listening Officer’ ten years ago.

As marketers we’re always banging on about the importance of listening.

We spend time and money on focus groups, we employ the skills of mystery shoppers, we encourage our customers to leave reviews and fill in feedback forms.

Occasionally, we ask them to push a big green button if they’re happy, a big red one if they’re not.

Some of us have entire departments dedicated to ‘Social Listening’ (which is really just a professional way to excuse online stalking).

We do this because we believe it to be fundamental in helping us deliver better products, craft better messages and find better customers.

When we listen, we learn something new, which is the lifeblood of our industry.

But here’s the thing… are we really listening?

Can we hear what our customers are actually saying (and what they’re not saying)?

Do we understand what they want and how they’re feeling?

And assuming we’re all properly tuned in, how are we reacting, responding and reshaping our products, services and messages based on our learnings?

For a long time in the creative industries, we’ve celebrated the power of disruption.

“Let’s disrupt the marketplace!’

“Let’s shake things up!”

“Let’s interrupt the conversation!”

Given we now live in a world where disruption is a daily event, we must find better, more meaningful ways to engage with our customers.

No longer can we make assumptions on where they are, what they need or what they’re thinking… because things have changed.

They’re in different places now, both physically and emotionally. We all are.

Our job is to make things that matter, things which solve a problem or answer a direct need.

This requires a two-way conversation and some brands are better at that than others.

Take Elon Musk. When a customer tweeted a suggestion on how to improve his Tesla steering wheel, Mr Musk replied (publicly and within thirty minutes), promising to make it part of the next software update.

Or McDonald’s, who responded to a customer-led campaign calling for change on their use of plastic straws (1.8 million each day; used for a few seconds and then thrown away, probably ending up in our oceans, probably being eaten by sea life and then probably reappearing in our filet-o-fish…yep, just think about THAT for a few seconds), by switching to paper straws in every one of their UK restaurants.

We must get to know our customers by trying to understand what really matters to them – now, more than ever.

Let us all refocus our efforts on finding that stuff out, and perhaps less time on ‘new normal’ emails from CEOs and adding to the noise simply because we can shoot it on an iPhone in our kitchens.

(Covid advertising burnout is real, people).

What are we learning from TV campaigns where brands talk at us, reminding us they’ve ‘been with us through thick and thin’ (@Nissan, really? have you? and if so, what did you learn about us?).

Let’s take this time to be brave, take a step back and turn down the noise so we can ask the right questions and then really listen to the answers.

Keli Mitchell, Joint Managing Director of Frame Agency and Chair of The Marketing Society Fellowship.

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