By Tom Collins
[Update: from MarketingProfs and Toby Bloomberg (Diva Marketing), at the end of this post]
My newest Twitter-friend, Diane Hessan, @CommunispaceCEO, tweet-linked to a post today by Julie Wittes Schlack on the Online Media Daily Commentary blog entitled, When Obama Listens, People Talk. Julie's setup for her point is to describe the wonderful "Mom" technique of trapping your kids in the back seat for a long trip and listening when they actually start talking. (Way better than waterboarding, since the conversation is more or less voluntary.) Julie explains it much better:
They'd share what was going on in their lives and heads. I'd reciprocate, ask the occasional question, and listen hard to their words and what lay behind them. In the quiet calm of these trips, we'd sometimes learn something we hadn't known before, and always, unfailingly strengthen the bonds between us.
Learn something we hadn't known before. (Hold on to that one.)
Always, unfailingly strengthen the bonds between us.
Julie goes on note a poll rating President Obama's highest strength as "listens to different views." Against that, she contrasts "in a year in which 95% of marketing dollars were still spent on talking at customers, what a galvanized American public valued most was a leader whose strength lies in listening."
I'm also reading and studying Rohit Bhargava's book, Personality Not Included. In keeping with Rohit's advice on "nonobvious" ways to read his book, I've been bouncing around a bit and find his list of techniques for bringing personality into marketing fascinating. Several seem relevant to the points I think Julie is making about the lessons our new President can teach businesses: Curiosity Marketing; Karmic Marketing; Participation Marketing; Fallibility Marketing; Insider Marketing; Incidental Marketing.
Across these techniques and Julie's point about listening runs a critical characteristic: unpredictability. Julie starts with the reminder that the most valuable things to come out of her road trip conversations was learning things they hadn't known before. Rohit points out in several places that the high value rewards of his techniques are often difficult to measure by traditional linear thinking.
By their nature, techniques that enable seizing opportunities from a mistake ... that are "karmic" or "incidental" ... that help you learn something you didn't know before ... cannot be planned ahead in any detail. They cannot be assigned a metric, counted, or even counted-on, in advance. That doesn't mean the value isn't real, or won't happen.
If what you get is that you and your customers learn something new about each other and strengthen the bonds between you, your investment will have paid off handsomely. While sailing for the Orient, you may stumble upon the New World instead.
Update: Feb. 23, 2009
In a world where consumers are in control, where social media provides unprecedented velocity to the spread of messages like the reaction to the Motrin campaign, a marketer must commit to continuous learning. In turn, “learning” comes from hearing the unexpected.
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I think this is the research profession’s moment in time if it has the courage and vision to transform and to drive a culture change at the enterprise it serves. The new central concepts will be learning and bringing the human to life.
Go read the rest of Toby's interview to find out why social media marketing research should be added to you quantitative and qualitative research toolbox — and often ahead of the others.