Why listening & having real conversations is the new asking

“Who am I to decide what direction my brand should go”, should be the philosophy of every Brand Manager. Maybe we put it to the extreme, but in a way there’s a truth in it. The power of the customer is undeniable! The ‘doom’ of your brand is only one mouse-click away. If a customer has a bad experience and he decides to share this on the net, it’s no longer a one-to-one conversation, it’s a one-to-the world conversation. So we better listen to our customers when taking decisions as a Brand Manager or Product Manager. As Steven Van Belleghem mentions during his Conversation Workshops: “In every boardroom there should be a consumer”.

Is there a perfect time to listen? Actually there is: all the time! While before we used to ask questions to our consumers when we experienced a problem, today we should start listening to our consumers before there is a problem, even before there is a product (and ideally there’ll never be a problem if you always follow the listening-rule). Let’s be proactive instead of reactive! The good thing is that consumers are really eager to have a dialogue with brands, they want to be heard: 53% is willing to co-create products and services with brands (InSites Consulting, MCDC Report, 2009).
If you were wondering if the listening pays off, you should talk with the marketers of Ben & Jerry’s. We organized a community of 3 months for them in which brand fans were given the opportunity to become future shapers of the brand. During those 3 months we really got to know the B&J fan and we got input for the new B&J Marketing plan, which were the 2 main goals of the community. But we got more than what we asked for! Consumers were definitely not holding back during the community, they spontaneously shared their wishes and frustrations, which resulted in unexpected insights. Some things no Brand Manager was aware of and only the consumer could make clear! (De Ruyck, Schillewaert, Van Kesteren, Ludwig – How fans became future shapers of ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry’s). This case is presented at ESOMAR Qualitative Conference in Barcelona (Nov 2010), the paper will be shared on our website soon!
Do you think that you know your consumer and you don’t need to listen to them? Unfortunately the results of our Meet the Joneses-study 2009 prove otherwise: 2 out of 3 marketers claim they know their consumers, when in fact only 33% is connected to their consumer (let’s hope the results are better for the study of 2010… Results will follow soon).
So let’s close the gap and start to listen, observe, facilitate & join… They are waiting for us!

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