The true beauty of an impressionist painting cannot be fully appreciated unless one steps away from the painting so that the correct perspective can reveal the genius of the art. Today, more than ever, marketers are feverishly trying to create campaigns and events that drive brand awareness and product differentiation with fewer resources. With more balls up in the air and no time to catch one’s breath, much can be lost in the quickly evolving art of marketing, particularly in regard to one’s brand.
Unless a company has only recently established its brand, the likelihood is that the brand strategy was decided upon at inception and most of the focus has been placed on reinforcing that brand ever since. Much like viewing a Monet from a foot away, marketers are too close to their brands, products, and markets with very little time or incentive to step back and see the real picture. Such a practice, if maintained over a significant period of time, can mean stagnation and even failure.
Why is such a brand perspective so dangerous?
As a brand expert and theorist Ricardo Guimaraes concludes, your brand is not what you want it to be, it is what your customers want it to be. If you are not listening to your customers and your markets, you may very well be selling the wrong concepts to the wrong people, while potential customers who know better are left to their own devices. When this happens, it is the brand that loses.
So a brand manager must step back and forget everything he or she believes about their brand and assume nothing. Most marketers will believe the next step is to conduct a survey or focus group in order to ask questions and solicit answers. This is not a bad idea, but it is an old and stale idea.
Modern marketers should be listening to the chatter surrounding their band’s category, solicit ideas, and help to spur the discussion along. In the past, this was extremely difficult to do seeing such chatter was localized and often private. Today, the internet opens up a near infinite opportunity to listen and engage in the marketplace in almost real time.
How is listening and engagement best achieved?
First, salespeople are the most heavily motivated employees on the front lines with an ear on the ground, affording them keen insights. They are not just the best conduit to relevant and expert content creation, they are also heavily motivated to tap markets previously ignored. Listen to them. Encourage them to investigate. Reward them for insights, not just facts.
Second, find online communities that are relevant to one’s brand and investigate. Figure out the answers to key questions such as, what is the contest of discussions surrounding relevant products and services? What adjectives are being used to describe them? What are the demographics of the people offering their opinions? How wide spread and diverse are the messages being communicated? How often are similar comments being discussed and how can common sentiments be monetized?
It may not be wise to participate immediately and certainly not wise to take a defensive posture on any negative feedback one discovers about their brand, it is best to simply observe at first. Once a marketer feels comfortable with their knowledge of the discussions and communities being conducted throughout the Web, engagement for the purposes of gaining insights is necessary.
Third, if an online community is not already in place, it may be desirable to create one. If a company sells products or services some people love and enjoy, this may be an option. If a company does not sell products that people have an emotional attachment, listening may need to be done in another way.
One word of caution that is important when a company starts its own community, such a task is a huge investment in time, energy, and money. It is not for every business. The insights to be gained could drive a brand to the front of its market, but it must be understood from the outset that this is a soft sell approach. People must want to join the community and marketing to them must be subtle. Solve a problem or bridge a gap in the social scene, make it fun, and tap the altruistic desires of people. Only then can a marketer earn the trust of consumers in order to gain their perspective and learn from their collective genius.
Whatever way one listens to the people who are talking about their brands and the category they reside, stepping back from the grindstone routinely and taking a fresh perspective is necessary. Although today’s workday is engulfed in producing more with fewer resources, the unknown threat and missed opportunities are the greatest danger. Step back, relax, and listen.