By Adam Fraser.
I think effective, active listening is one of the most underrated and undervalued skill sets in the business world. Effective leadership starts with truly and actively listening (to your employees, your partners, your customers etc).
Sadly, it also seems to be one of the least practiced skill sets. Yes, we all know the saying about being given two ears and one mouth. But let’s be honest – most people don’t apply this ratio to their listening and talking. Yep – people love to talk. Listening – meh…not so much.
Many of us may be familiar with an “annoying uncle” type of figure in our families. The one you see once a year or so at family gatherings – that jumps into every conversation, expert on all topics, doesn’t listen to any responses and keeps blathering away no matter what you say…
Brands seem to have caught this bug.
Since the advent of social media we have all regularly heard the mantra to “join the conversation”. And many brands have taken this too far.
Let’s go back a step and talk “real time marketing”. We all enjoyed and admired the creativity of Oreo’s “Dunk in the Dark” Superbowl tweet. The power had failed. The Oreo team swooped. A humorous and timely tweet about the Oreo brand was sent out. 15,000 people re-tweeted. 20,000 people liked it on Facebook. And the rest is history. It was added to the “marketing hall of fame” and dubbed the ultimate example of brilliantly executed real-time marketing.
I don’t think there has been a social media or digital marketing conference since this event that hasn’t referenced Oreo and “Dunk in the Dark”. No doubt it was highly successful, innovative and well timed – a great piece of marketing. But it has led to something of a “movement” where all brands are desperately trying to be real-time, relevant and funny. To “crack” real time marketing. And hence joining conversations they have no right to be a part of.
From the Oscars to the Golden Globes, Royal Babies to Miley Cyrus, brands have been trying to jump in and join a conversation that they actually aren’t invited to. This can come across at best as over-trying and at worst downright annoying. Neither is great for brand equity.
Do we really want to hear what Nissan thought of the news of another Royal Baby? Or that well know pizza chain Pizza Express thought the baby should be called Pizza? Really? Yes, WE may have been talking about this but are brands a necessary part of this particular conversation?
The Oscars are now another event where brands desperately try to ‘ride the hashtag’ and piggy-back on the conversations taking place and seek increased brand awareness and brand equity.
Brands need to remember the primary reason we are on social media. Clue is the word social. Its primarily to connect to people we care about. It’s rare to talk to brands. While we are there we may use the platform to communicate with brands but it’s when we want to and on our terms. Brands are generally at best a guest in our conversations but often seem to morph into an unwelcome intruder. Do you want a “relationship” with your toothpaste, underwear or laundry powder brand where you can discuss the latest social zeitgeist? Didn’t think so. Do you want a channel where – when you need to – you can ask questions or have problems solved about a product? Yes absolutely.
To continue the family analogy, like children, brands should “speak when they are spoken to”. Or like a favourite Grandpa, tell us stories that warm our hearts when we ask. But not be the annoying uncle who jumps into every…single….conversation.
Yes, sometimes brands can still pull off a clever piece of ‘real time marketing’ and build some brand equity. Something that entertains or brings a smile is, of course, worth something if shared widely. I would suggest Kit Kat managed this when #bendgate was an issue for the new iPhone6 (with some paid amplification this generated 23,000 retweets). But I would also suggest the downside of getting it wrong and looking out of place, or simply wasting a lot of time which could be devoted to more important business objectives, would outweigh the benefits of once in a blue moon pulling off that clever, viral tweet.
The debate continues amongst marketers as to whether real-time marketing justifies the effort. I would think a brand’s time is better spent investing in people and processes which allow it to listen to its customers, answer their questions when they arise and generally provide an exceptional customer service experience. Or generating content which is truly useful and helpful to its users. If you can’t add interesting or useful information genuinely relevant to the topic, I would err on silence.
In a similar vein, I hope you enjoy this laugh out loud 5-minute video from comedian John Oliver on brands and Twitter :).