We’ve always been fascinated by the phenomenon of popularity. What causes customers to flock to one brand while remaining coldly indifferent to another—even when the offerings of the companies in question are similar?
Years of consumer research have revealed that the single most important factor that separated the good companies from the great companies—Adidas from the Nike, Kawasakis from Harley-Davidson, HP from Apple—is the ability to listen to what the customer has to say.
That is the starting point.
Dominant organizations, we’ve learned, are those that can discern meaning from the information given. They’re doing more than listening. They’re hearing, and they’re choosing their direction from what they hear.
How, exactly, does that work?
Effective Listening Takes Effort
Effective listening is not simply an intuitive process. There’s no automatic structure inside our minds that allows us to understand each other deeply, effortlessly, and effectively. We have to work at understanding.
Luckily for us, there have been generations of great thinkers, philosophers, and researchers who have delved deeply into the nuances of human nature. You’ve heard of a lot of these people; Maslow, Jung, and Campbell are familiar names for any student of the psyche or mind.
It’s by taking an integrative approach to customer analysis, drawing upon and combining these insights that we equip ourselves to listen to our customers.
Here’s what that looks like from our perspective:
Step 1: Understand the Subconscious Mind
The first step in listening to the customer is understanding that the vast majority of human experience, communication, and thought takes place on a level below our conscious awareness. This means that even though we may not be aware we’re doing this, we’re continually taking note of the environment around us, how people interact within that environment, and the role we play as an individual.
This is information that has a profound role in guiding consumer behavior. Begin by realizing truly effective communication means being able to listen on multiple levels, to what is said and what is left unsaid.
Step 2: Harness Humanistic Drivers
As human beings, we come with certain needs and compulsions hard-wired into our minds. We call these needs and compulsions humanistic drivers. These drives act as motivators to ensure not only human survival, but a high quality survival, rich with enjoyable, fulfilling experiences. These drivers are generally viewed in a hierarchal structure, with the most universal needs at the bottom, and more refined needs at higher levels. We begin with basic survival needs and level up to aesthetic and transcendence needs.
To listen to your customer, you need to understand what humanistic drivers are at play in their lives when they engage with your brand. It’s only by satisfying these needs that you’ll attract and retain more customers.
Step 3: Access Archetypal Images
A single image is worth a thousand words for a simple reason: the subconscious mind does not bother with language. Symbols, pictures, and iconography speak directly to your customer’s mind, bypassing and transcending all other forms of communication to take on the leading role in influencing your customer.
Listening to the customer means understanding which archetypal images resonate most and are most relevant to your customer base.
Step 4: Check Cultural Narratives
We live in a world made of stories. Every day, our customers are exposed to stories that tell them everything they need to know about who they are, who their friends and neighbors are, and what they need to accomplish in the course of their lives if they are to be happy, fulfilled people.
These stories vary wildly depending on the culture and socio-economic niches our customers occupy. If we have a story called “Good Mom,” for example, the single Hispanic Mom in Houston is hearing a different version than the Wealthy Mom in Westchester.
Listening to your customers means identifying the cultural narratives most relevant to your customer base. That enables you to craft messaging they’re predisposed to hear.
Step 5: Aggregate Your Insights and Align Your Organization
Preparing ourselves to listen deeply and intently to our customers puts us in a position where we can learn an awful lot about them. Aggregating all of the insights gathered—a process we call Brand Modeling—allows an organization to project, with a high degree of certainty, how customers will respond to changes in marketing or operations before those changes are made.
Bringing organizational performance into alignment with customer expectation is the essential step in achieving market dominance.
The better we know our customers, the more equipped we are to listen to what they have to say. The better we listen, the easier it is to serve our customers wants and needs efficiently and effectively—often before our customers know what they want or need! That’s what dominant organizations do to win. It’s the secret of putting customers first.