Listen first – ask later

Listen first – ask later

As market researchers, we spend a lifetime asking questions.

To attain insight, it is in our DNA to ask questions in order to elicit the answers that we seek. The skill has always been in asking the right questions, in the right way, to the right people. Only then can we analyse the answers and uncover insight.

However being expert in asking the right questions is no longer sufficient to gain competitive advantage. Because of the escalation in use of social media – we can now actively listen to what respondents are saying, before we ask them anything!

Recently, I hosted a webinar for the Young Presidents Organisation, on “How listening can provide business advantage.” I was privileged to be joined by Steve Rappaport, author of “Listen First” the only book written to date, about utilising listening to create business advantage from social media conversations.

He makes some very interesting observations.

Firstly, when one thinks of listening in the context of social media, one tends to think of Social Media Monitoring or Web Listening. However there are at least five different types of listening approaches out there:

  • Search, Real-time Search, Alerts
  • Full service market research
  • Social media monitoring/web listening
  • Text Analytics for social media research
  • Private online communities

Using these listening approaches is not a passive process. Organisations need to clearly define what it is they are monitoring, and then capture, interpret and act upon the data they receive.

Utilising a range of the listening approaches outlined above is likely to provide the best results. We believe one of the most cost effective ways to really achieve competitive advantage through listening is a combination of:

  • Deep Web Listening based on a taxonomy for higher accuracy including sentiment at the attribute level
  • Creating Private Online Communities (POCs)

Creating a taxonomy helps define and classify the conversation types you wish to monitor. Then you can dig deeper, uncovering attitudes and sentiment toward specific features of brands and services.

Listening first not only allows us to better understand customers’ issues, but also to leverage their desire to engage – these online posters can provide a rich source for sample recruitment.

A POC can be created by recruiting 100-500 people to participate in a closed community which is owned and run on behalf of the client. We can then interact with them by using online focus groups, bulletin boards, video and photo diaries, video clip evaluation tools – the list is ever-growing as new technology becomes available.

Also, we can connect web listening and POCs by taking comments posted on the web and using them as stimulus to engage in two-way dialogue with the members of our community.

There are many rewards to this type of approach. Through an organized and systematic listening programme, Steve Rappaport suggests that businesses can achieve competitive advantage in a number of areas:

  • Understand mindsets
  • Discover new customers
  • New product development
  • Shape and sharpen messaging
  • Improve existing products
  • Increase Sales
  • Rebrand or reposition
  • Address public issues
  • Manage reputation
  • Provide customer care
  • Increase loyalty and customer value

This approach may sound very straight forward – and it is! But it needs to be implemented with a specific skill set to make it work well. The researcher of the digital age needs to be a polymath:

  • Software specialist – to understand how software platforms can trawl the web for information with greater accuracy and higher quality
  • Online community manager – hosting the POC effectively to extract information, and keep members engaged
  • Market Researcher – have an analytical mind-set to interrogate the data and identify insights
  • Business Consultant – applying insights to business issues, how they can improve business performance.

We believe “listening” has become the new “asking”. A listen-first approach to intelligence gathering, combined with research and consultancy know-how ensures you get the most useful and relevant information to help solve business issues.

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