ListeningIcon (2)In just a couple hundred words on his blog, Seth Godin has summed up a great deal (if not everything) that can go wrong when marketers listen.

Marketing is very much a two-way affair – disagreement is part and parcel of the system. And the four big causes of disagreement with other people he lays out are both pertinent and immediately helpful to marketers dealing with prospects.

A marketing problem

Taking yourself as a bringer of enlightenment can be a mistake. What Godin terms the ‘easiest way to disagree’ can show in the (common and lazy) assumption that your message or your content isn’t getting through to the audience because they haven’t properly read it.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing your content is so good it can’t fail. Always get second, even third, opinions and look frankly at how it is being put across. Maybe an e-book you took months to write and design isn’t getting nearly as much readership as you planned. Maybe that eye-grabbing infographic isn’t grabbing as many eyes as you figured it would.

So is it the content, or the medium? Would a video clip, perhaps, serve to make your point in a better way? Never forget that the audience is a lot of unique snowflakes. Folks may take to, or not take to, your work for wildly different reasons. Thinking they’ll get it if only they can get it is nothing but circular logic, and will blind you to what’s really wrong.

A political problem

Another mistake is thinking of the audience as the enemy. The way a man having a hard time digging holes starts to think the soil is trying to frustrate him. Marketers encounter this all the time when branding is concerned.

Brand wars tend to be the stickiest of marketing efforts. When all that reputation and image and long-entrenched perceptions goes up on stage, it’s all too simple to chalk failures up to ‘brand loyalty’. Many head for the first logical conclusion – that the prospect is too comfortable with their chosen brand to consider switching.

Godin ascribes this to politics. We shouldn’t assume hostility where there may be none – no matter what the landscape or brandscape looks like. Facing what looks like emotion-based resistance? The usual countermeasure, a factual approach, may not always be your best bet. Get into the whys of their choice first.

It could be personal experiences, something in a competitor’s strengths that fits their bill just right, or something else, but once you have an idea why the prospect is not supporting you, you’ll know how to change to a more persuasive tack. Whether the root of the opposition is branding, something closer to home (hint: the messenger, not the message), or simple stubbornness (hey, we’re all busy people), take a step back and find key points to target in your messaging.

A filtering problem

Another problem Godin touches on sounds the simplest, but can be the hardest to realize: hearing the wrong stuff. The line between knowing what the audience wants and knowing what we think they want can be blurred, and often.

Listening to personas is key, but so is making sure you’re not filtering what you hear! Customer feedback is one of the best sources of material for improvement. You may understand the crowd, but do you understand the environment? It’s an easy way to misinterpret prospects’ concerns – having an inaccurate, or inadequate, grasp of the context in which they are raised.

Perhaps you see a growing demand for content that covers a certain subject or can be consumed in a certain form. Don’t simply do it. Again, think on why, and what this means in the bigger picture – it could be indicative of a shift in the market, or in customer outlook, that brings its own set of dos and do-nots. The ability to relate to concerns situationally is taxing, but potentially very rewarding.

A big marketing problem

Lastly, Godin’s ‘hardest way to disagree’ ties in neatly (and ironically) with what lies at the core of marketing: influencing behaviors. What made this necessary in the first place is the simple truth that people don’t always see things our way.

People’s world views are shaped out of their experiences and the information they are exposed to. As marketers, we have a hand in the latter half of that. Putting ourselves in prospects’ shoes to understand the effect our content and messaging is having on them is one of the first things we learn. But that’s not all. What’s important is that we relearn.

As Godin puts it, we’re likely to get the results we aim for when we tackle the problem head-on and work on telling stories that really strike chords with people, instead of listening without hearing and giving up on those that ‘don’t get it’.

You must have disagreed with customers before – how? And how did it turn out? Share your stories below.

Share this postShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone