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Internet marketers must listen before they speak

As marketers, we spend a lot of time thinking about our message, as well we should. Our job is to tell prospective customers how we can help them, so we focus on what we say. The Internet has turned the tables on marketers, however. Time was that marketing messages were conceived by extremely creative people to get attention for products, but now, listening to what customers say and do are just as important as creativity. Old-time marketers have always listened to a few customers in focus groups, so you can think of the Internet is the biggest focus group of all time.

iFIND focus group

Image by François @ Edito.qc.ca via Flickr

All Internet marketing is more successful when you listen before you speak. And if you listen before you speak again. You must listen to what your customers say and you must watch what they do. Only by seeing what works and what doesn’t do you have a chance of persuading them to believe your marketing message.

Take social media as an example. A proven social media practitioner would advise you that before you engage in social media that you should first listen to the conversation that is already out there about your products and your industry. Failing to do so is like walking into a cocktail party where you don’t know anyone, not listening to what is going on, and just starting to talk to no one in particular.

Working with a firm that employs listening technology as part of its modus operandi will get your social media marketing off on the right foot. [Full disclosure: I serve as Chief Strategist for just such a firm, Converseon.] Merely going at this like an ad agency with a clever person who comes up with ideas in a vacuum just won’t achieve the same success, in my experience.

But it’s not just social media. With search, you must wait for the searcher to initiate–so you are listening first. With banner ads, you can test them to see which ones work better than others. With e-mail, you can test response with small mailing lists before sending the winning version to the main list.

With all forms of Internet marketing, listening to what customers say and watching what they do are the key methods for fine-tuning your message until it resonates with your audience.

This might sound like a lot of work. It is.

Instead of just thinking up your message and delivering it, you are constantly tweaking and changing what you say based on the customer response. And it is time-consuming, honestly. It undoubtedly is less work to come up with just one message and deliver it, than it is to come up with dozens of messages, constantly tinkering to get your final one.

But you’re not trying to minimize the amount of work to come up with a message. You’re trying to maximize response. And there’s no way that your first message will be as good as your 50th. So, even though it seems like coming up with 50 messages is more work than coming up with one (because it is), it ends up being easier to get results this way. So, if you can guarantee getting good results one way, but not the other, which one is less work in the long run?

Ask yourself: If you aren’t listening to your customers to fine-tune your messaging, just what are you listening to?

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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