Are brands good listeners ?

Feb 23, 2011 | Communications & media, Corporate culture, Social Media

Conventional brands are typically not good listeners. So its no surprise that social media engagement and real-time social media brand monitoring are extremely confronting concepts to some Australian brands.

It challenges what was, until the advent of social media, a predictable,closed loop process.

It used to be simple – marketers had relatively tight control of the process and the process worked well. The content, distribution and target of the brand message was determined by the marketing department and dutifully pushed towards the target consumers. Customers dutifully believed what they were told and did what was expected – that was the theory anyway.

Those that didn’t buy the pitch or had their opinion changed by a poor brand experience had little choice but to contact the brand directly or to go quietly into the night and switch products. Unsolicited views expressed directly to the brand were often excluded from formal appraisal. At worst, the comments of individual customers were viewed as the uninvited ranting of an extreme minority.

Market research faithfully asked the brand recall and value perception questions determined by the client and delivered the answers in numerically legitimate reports – generally into the custody of the same people who would be judged on their findings.

The problem is that for some time now it has failed to accurately reflect the reality of the changing place of the consumer.

With the emergence of web 2.0 and social media brand monitoring services, the voice of the consumer has developed its own channels for self-expression. It uses those channels to discuss the validity of your brand claims and the quality of your product. Customers are now filtering out unsupported assertions and comparing marketing rhetoric with their own experience of the brand. When it comes to brand claims, saying it no longer makes it so.

Inconsistencies travel quickly.

Social media allows individuals to express their conclusions about your brand and distribute them with extraordinary velocity and breadth. Peer opinion and referral now competes legitimately with brand-speak and often carries a higher level of trust.

This is a disturbing development for the traditional marketing process and one that involves a major shift. It necessitates a change in the weight that brands give consumer opinion. It changes the position of consumer from the passive recipient of a series of stilted linear communications to being at the centre of an ongoing cycle.

However, many brands remain in denial. Others are uncertain how, why or even if they should build the consumer back into the picture. What is certain however is that the place of the customer has changed and that this empowered consumer is now an uncomfortable reality. It is equally certain that brands who continue to ignore them do so at their peril.

Brands need to adjust their thinking to accomodate new ways to listen to their customers and understand the importance of the new voice of the consumer. Above all, brands need to start listening to the conversation surrounding their brand and become familiar with the voice of this new customer.