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The Listening Marketer

filed in Brand Story, Marketing

When I was young, Maeve Binchy was one of my favourite writers. She had this knack of creating characters who came alive. You somehow felt the people who owned the shops and arrived late for mass were real, and you knew them. I learned later from listening to interviews with Binchy that they were—at least their conversations were real. Binchy told stories of riding buses every day just to listen to snippets of conversation. On one if these bus journeys she overheard a young woman telling her friend she was going shopping for a silver wedding anniversary card for her parents. The friend marvelled that at the longevity of her parent’s marriage. ‘They’re miserable as sin together,’ she replied. ‘The worse the marriage, the bigger the card.’ That conversation went on to inspire Binchy’s successful book, Silver Wedding. Hearing the author’s story reminded me of the hundreds of missed opportunities we have every day to succeed by paying attention to our customers. It also reminded me again to wonder why so many marketing books have a megaphone on the cover.

The sales assistant in the running shoe store works hard to convince his customer about comfort, quality and price. The customer doesn’t pay attention. When he finally chooses a pair of shoes, his rationale tumbles out. ‘I like these because you can’t get them back home in Manilla,’ he says. Your customers are no different from the guy in the shoe store. They want to be seen.

When you become a listening marketer you don’t have to guess what your customer wants, you already know. The listening marketer understands what’s motivating his customers to choose and what language will encourage them to buy. What the listening marketer does best of all is make and sell things people want because he’s been unselfish in the pursuit of doing work that’s meaningful to the people he cares about serving. If you’re not listening, you’re not marketing. You don’t need a megaphone to matter.

Image by Jeffrey Smith.

Where Does Your Story Start?

filed in Brand Story, Marketing

The easiest part of telling your story is writing it down. The hardest part is knowing what to say and why it’s important for your audience to hear. You must begin by wondering why someone (not everyone), will care about what you’re creating. That very act of questioning forces you to dig deeper and ask what you’re promising to whom. It invites you to get clear about why you wanted to make that particular promise in the first place.

As marketers, we believe it’s our words that create value. But it’s the intention that informs the decisions guiding those words that delights and thus differentiates. Getting clear on that intention is where your story starts.

Image by David Bleasdale.

Where Do Most Brand Stories Come Unstuck?

filed in Brand Story, Marketing

We spend a lot of time finding the right words—the ones that will differentiate us from our competitors and compel the right people to covet and click. And yet even though we’ve assembled the perfect words customers can still sense a disconnect. It isn’t our words in isolation, but the intention behind them and the values shaping them that makes a story either gel or fall apart.

When you see an advertising campaign that feels inauthentic or witness appalling customer care in action, it’s usually not because the company didn’t find the right words— but that they weren’t clear about their intention.

We can’t expect to speak and act in alignment with our values if we haven’t agreed on what those values are, why they matter and how they will manifest in the day-to-day operations of our business.

Most brand stories come unstuck in the doing, not in the telling.

Image by Chris Ford.

The Value Of Fixing The Root Of The Problem

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

The first step to fixing any problem is to acknowledge there is one.

If you find yourself starting every email with ‘sorry’, question why you’re constantly doing that.

If the software doesn’t work the first time, every time, dig deeper before you need to use it again.

If your projects always run over budget look for patterns that reveal the holes in your estimates.

If deadlines consistently allude you be honest about what you need to do to change that.

The simplest way to create exponential value is to make promises you intend to keep and then to keep them. You know from experience hardly anyone does this. Promises are often hastily made and casually broken. Find a way to be the exception and not the rule.

Image by Tobias Toft.

How To Stay True To Your Brand Story

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

You can spot the best restaurant on Melbourne’s Bourke Street a mile away. It’s the one with fresh flowers on the tables outside and the gleaming windows. If you’re there early enough, you’ll see a professional window cleaner meticulously washing and polishing the glass every other morning, long before the first groggy coffee order is placed at 7.

Story-driven brands pass every decision and subsequent action through a filter. Their story is lived, not just told. Being story-driven is less about following brand guidelines and more about choosing to act in alignment. We’ve recently witnessed how a company’s purpose and values manifest in the actions of its employees when a passenger was dragged from a United Airlines flight to accommodate members of staff. United’s customer commitment (the company doesn’t seem to have a mission statement) says:

“We are committed to providing a level of service to our customers that makes us a leader in the airline industry. We understand that to do this, we need to have a product we are proud of and employees who like coming to work every day.”

When a business strives to be ‘the industry leader’ the bottom line tends to be its first priority. The staff were acting in alignment, as was the CEO when he issued this apology that puts the airline’s interests before customers:

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”
– Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines

He later released a second apology, promising to review policies and procedures—which in every organisation are created to align with the company’s purpose, vision and values. Like Mr Munoz and United, we all need to start there.

How you apologise is a choice. The expression you wear as you greet the customer is a choice. Where you source your ingredients is a choice. What you include or omit from your terms and conditions is a choice. Investment in design. Location. Customer care and spotless windows.
All choices we’re free to make—not because we have to, but because we want to.

Questioning your choices before you act helps you to stay true to your story consistently.

4 Alignment Questions For Story-Driven Brands

Does this represent who and what we stand for?
Does this sound like us?
Does this look like us?
Does this feel like us?

Rather than feeling overwhelmed about getting it wrong consider these decisions as deliberately placed waymarkers on the road to creating the impact you want to make. It doesn’t matter whether you’re one of the world’s biggest airlines or a one man band. In the end, it’s easier to tell and live a story that’s true.

Image by Michelle Robinson.

Unlock the magic in your story now.

Get the free 20 Questions to ask before launching your Idea Workbook when you sign up for updates.