Consumers today are hearing-impaired in a metaphorical sense. It is no longer easy to hear anything above all the noise that bombards people. They are expected to take in multiple conversations through multiple channels (often concurrently) and hear what we have to say. If someone cannot hear, we often respond by turning up the volume. We give them more of what they cannot process. In essence, we amplify the problem. As marketers, we tend to shout and we expect that consumers will listen to us on our terms.
After experiencing "hearing loss" you quickly come to realize that hearing and listening are two very different things:
1. Hearing is an auditory process. Listening involves multiple senses. The spoken word is simply a gateway into a more meaningful experience. When we truly listen, we look for expressions and gestures to lend context and meaning to what we hear. Ultimately, we reconcile intentions with actions. The old expression, "actions speak louder than words" is profoundly true.
2. Listening takes effort: We may passively hear, but we actively listen. Listening takes extra effort, and we expect to be rewarded for such effort: either inform me, touch my heart, spark my passion, acknowledge my words, and/or show me that you care. Otherwise, I'll become frustrated that you put me through such effort when you really had nothing valuable to say. And ... I'll tune you out!
3. Conversations require empathy. We are all accountable for our conversations, and we must do what it takes to be heard. Unfortunately, marketers often mistake "doing what it takes" with chasing media consumption and intercepting consumers with brand messaging at every turn. The marketing term "surround sound" mistakenly assumes that consumers want to hear you at every juncture. Rather, it's time we asked. Maybe, it's our turn to listen.
What if, as marketers, we changed our brand conversations to account for such hearing loss? What if we applied the three lessons described above to our approach to being heard?
1. All of a sudden, a brand's behavior will become more powerful than its words. We will strike the term "share of voice" from our marketing vernacular. We will opt for creating and measuring brand actions and interactions, instead.
2. We will acknowledge the effort that consumers make to engage with brands, and we will continuously reward them for their efforts by providing valuable and contextually relevant brand experiences that meet their needs and desires as opposed to our own.
3. And, finally, we will approach marketing with greater empathy. We will openly acknowledge that being a loyal consumer isn't easy. We won't stalk them. We won't shout at them. We won't compound their hearing loss; rather, we will make the necessary accommodations to ensure that they can hear us on their terms.