Brands Are Built By Listening

Paul FriederichsenSeptember 6, 20173 min

Sometimes inspiration for brand strategy comes from unlikely places. In this case, it comes from an interior designer writing for Interiors + Sources magazine. In his article “Listen More, Talk Less,” Tom Marquardt advises his fellow architect and designer readers to resist the temptation of automatically resorting to “the latest big idea” when solving a client’s problem. Instead, he advises you should listen. Tom writes: “Great design stems from creative problem solving that occurs during the process of carrying out a project. However, it only happens after we listen to and truly connect with our clients.”

He adds: “Speak to our clients, not at them. We ultimately are the people who design the space, create new solutions, and meet client needs yet to be imagined. And it is our responsibility to continuously push forward to develop innovative ideas and foundational strategies for advancing the workplace.”

Now substitute the word “workplace” with the word “brand” as in “develop innovative ideas and foundational strategies for advancing the brand,” and you get the idea.

As brand marketers, we are, in fact (not just metaphorically), the designers and builders of brands–whether they are for our clients (as an agency) or for our company (as a CMO, VP of Marketing or Brand Manager). And our first and most important job is to be a good listener.

But as with interior design, which is driven by an insatiable appetite for what’s new and what’s hot, so too is marketing. We all subscribe to the trades, follow the thought leaders, and belong to as many professional groups as time allows – all in a quest to stay on top of an ever-accelerating flywheel of innovation in media, production, social strategy, artificial intelligence, etc. And, for all that effort, there is a temptation to take that newfound enlightenment out for a spin—perhaps at the brand’s expense.

We can’t forget that technology is only as valuable to us as its ability to solve the problem by the most effective and efficient means possible. In an age of advancements a question has emerged, are our best marketing tools — our senses — being dulled?

The answers, according to Marquardt, lie in the “client’s experiences … their workflow, truths, needs, and desires.” If you’re familiar with Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” you “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” As brand marketers, this is imperative. The success or failure of your brand depends on:

  • Your understanding of the issues confronting your client or your company.
  • Your understanding of the desires and needs of your customer base, whether B2B or B2C.
  • Your understanding of the competitive landscape, with all of its potential for good or bad for your brand.
  • Your understanding of management’s goals and aspirations for your brand.

None of that is possible without listening first, asking for clarity second, and then, and only then, making recommendations, third. You simply cannot create a brand with empathy for its customer by any other means.

As a leader in your agency or marketing department, are you putting as much emphasis on instilling the simple skill of listening as you are on the latest technology? Or in Marquardt’s words “to develop innovative ideas and foundational strategies.” There’s no secret to the winning formula.

All you have to do is let them tell you.

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