The art of listening

Fiona Lund, MD of Brouha Marketing, discusses why, when it comes to effective communications, you should remember that we have two ears and one mouth.

I’ve always loved the adage that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason, and remembering this is the foundation of any effective communication strategy.

Listening is a skill that enables businesses to be aware of what markets are talking about, understand what customers really want, and find out how they think your brand squares up. For many, listening requires commitment, which is sometimes hard to find in our busy day-to-day lives, and putting more effort, time and money into planning and preparing the things we want to say, can seem the easy option.

However, in today’s integrated world, we have so many ways to listen to our customers and stakeholders: from google analytics, keyword analysis, social media engagement, customer surveys, to good old fashioned compliments and complaints, honest conversations and face-to-face meetings.

In 2020, communicators will need to return to these basics to make the biggest impact. Against so much noise, we will put in the time and deploy tools to ask stakeholders what they think and care about. We will listen to their answers so we can give context to the stories we want to tell, not just rush to communicate and pollute channels with content for the sake of content. And it’s this context that will form successful campaigns that are relevant and resonate.

Effective PR and storytelling have always been based on that fact that as humans we’re linear and analogue and, generally speaking, we act on experience, emotion and engagement, not just logic and data. Customers don’t want to just buy from you; they want to connect with you, and they want you to understand them.

Telling people truthfully what you do and why you’re different is important. But so is how you tell them. I use this example a lot, but at the start of their brand journey, Apple gave a textbook example of claiming these fundamentals. Through asking and listening to businesses, the brand learned that a stuffy and formal approach was the last thing customers wanted to identify with. So, Apple took this on board and the tone, visuals and language of their promotions were casual, friendly and likeable. Mr Microsoft in contrast was grey, irritable and even a touch nerdy. Apple’s subsequent monumentally successful launch needs no further explanation.

Closer to home, I was recently invited to be a contributing author to the Chartered Institute of PR’s 2020 Promoting Property: Insight, Experience and Best Practice book published by Routledge and available on Amazon. The title of my Chapter was PR for Local Authorities as Developers: from functional to aspirational, and focuses on the changing landscape of social and affordable housing and the implications for PR and communications.

The core thrust is based on the two very different contexts from which private and public sector have operated within: the aim of the public sector is to serve a whole population in the most efficient way possible, while private sector enterprises are primarily established with growth and profit motives. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the language used by each sector to communicate is also different. For local authorities, the tone has traditionally been more legalistic and administrative, while in the private retail housing market, it’s direct marketing, call-to-action focused, and always aspirational. Changing to strike the right tone with their new markets continues to be a huge challenge for the public sector as they have to listen to stakeholders with a new mindset, adjust their narrative, and strike a new tone.

Understanding the markets we operate in is so important for running effective campaigns that generate respect and results. And the best way for communications and PR professionals to create and develop campaigns with the right message to the right audience, is to use your two ears and one mouth; the whole process starts with listening.