By Gerard Tannan.
In a marketing world that spins faster and faster, we dizzily mistake haste and immediacy for progress. When speed of thought is outpaced by urgency of publication, and everyone’s a publisher, then it’s easy to assume that we’re all communicating better. And even easier to assume that with all of these remarkably expressive tools at our disposal, there’s never been a better time to be a marketer.
But pity the poor customer out in the marketplace, trying to distinguish between the urgent and the important, looking for the information required to make the right choice. As more and more messages are sent and received, liked and shared, we feel endlessly connected, part of a crazed hybrid game of pass the parcel and musical chairs. Other players whirl past, their features blurred, whilst messages are half-opened and half-read, their intention surmised rather than understood.
There’s no doubting that the customer is better served by the marketer who has moved from the soapbox pronouncements of much of traditional marketing to a more conversational approach. Two-way conversation is much better than one-way spiel, but when interactive turns hyperactive then everyone struggles to communicate. When we review the progress in marketing communications throughout these past few decades, it seems we’ve moved from the tyranny of mass market monopoly to mob rule with the flick of a few switches.
In this fast and furious new world of communications, it’s tempting to judge the democracy of the new media to mean that everyone gets to have their say, and its informality to mean a new kind of honesty. But experience suggests that when everyone gets to have their say and says the first thing that comes into their heads, not everything gets heard and not everything that’s said is true.
For the marketer then, it can seem that all has changed, and changed utterly. But the marketer who listens closely to customers knows that some things haven’t changed at all. Great relationships between people, between buyers and sellers, neighbours and friends, those who govern and those who vote them will continue to underpin all real progress. This is the way of our world, and the people who live in it.
Since forever, the great marketplaces of the world have brought buyers and sellers together so that each can have their say, then strike a bargain. In such a marketplace, the customer gets to say what they need, and the shopkeeper gets to tell them how they can provide it. Great marketplaces are built when the transactions taking place across the shop counter are underpinned by a mutual regard and understanding between buyers and sellers. This respect is in turn based on a frank and open exchange of views where both buyer and seller are heard.
Many more modern marketplaces are simply a babel of noise, where neither buyer or seller has a real say, and neither is truly heard. The wise marketer must not mistake chatter for conversation, but must instead ask what it is that the customer needs to hear in order to make their choice, and then express it in a way that can be heard.
This will lead the marketer to consider both what they say and how they say it more carefully. Sometimes, the best way to be heard may surprise the marketer. For example, at times, that can mean saying nothing at all. We hear certain things best in companiable silence. At other times, actions speak louder than words. Only rarely is chattering really heard. It’s only in listening carefully to what customer are saying that the wise marketer knows the difference, and can choose if and when and how to speak in a way that both buyer and seller is heard.