We can find
examples of telling
over listening in the
of “educating the
product, Wal-Mart continues to
pressure a marketplace that has
already indicated its objections.
Do we need (re)educating, or
just a better bulb? The problems
with the current product are
well-documented; the pathway
to consumer acceptance has
been lit from within. It would be
nice (and ultimately more effective) if they worked on the bulb,
not on changing the meaning of
the bulb. As we know, the bulb
has to really want to change.
PR people are masters at making telling sound like listening.
Sound bites that supposedly
come from CEOs typically feature
hollow customer-centric phrases
that serve to validate any business decision (a new product,
a new feature, a change in a
previous way of doing business,
the removal of a feature, etc.).
“Our customers tell us that food
packaging is extremely important to them and can determine
what they buy,” and “We’ve done
research, and research shows
us that our customers like . . .
movies.” Maybe these companies
are listening to their customers
and maybe they aren’t; they’re so
busy telling us how hard they are
listening that it’s difficult to sort
out what’s real.
The retro chic of AMC’s “Mad
Men” has reminded us in a
rather quaint way of the role of
advertising to persuade (some
may say “manipulate”). And it’s
in advertising that we see the
biggest disconnect between the
story that is being told by the
producer and the story that is
being told by the consumer. It’s
in their interest not to listen.
Oil companies care about the
environment, and McDonald’s
loves to see us smile? Do we still
believe that Target is a champion
for good design when we go into
a store and see huddled masses
yearning to shop cheaply?
These businesses tell a good
story (we call that “innovative”
advertising), but they fail to
deliver the promised experience. We measure advertising
by the attention it can grab, but
who measures coherence? The
Cluetrain folks told us this was
supposed to be a conversation,
but it’s hard to consider it a dialog if it’s one-way.
Listening can bring value to
all parts of the organization and
the product development process. Indeed, to reach the stage
of conversation, we need to better utilize the listening tools we
have at our disposal, even as we
find more effective and impactful ways to tell.
used when companies
realize that the
public isn’t doing
what they want them
to be doing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Steve is the
founder of Portigal Consulting, a boutique
agency that helps companies discover
and act on new insights about themselves
and their customers. He is an accomplished instructor and public speaker,
and an avid photographer who curates a
Museum of Foreign Grocery Products in
his home. Steve blogs regularly for All This
ChittahChattah, at www.portigal.com/blog.
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March + April 2008