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It’s the time of year when my family decorates the house with a lot of orange and black. I’m just into it for the candy, myself, but I play along, in my own way. I read Poe. I watch a Hitchcock or two. In that spirit, I want to introduce a new term to the Biznology lexicon: Brandsplaining–a horrible specter for marketers, CMOs, and everyone in between.

Brandsplaining is like mansplaining, but for brands. As a man, I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me on how to avoid this practice. But, after 31 years of marriage, I have learned a few things. Mainly, empathetic listening cuts right through mansplaining. If I listen to her needs, opinions, or stories before I contribute my own perspective, I am far less apt to mansplain anything.

Brand marketers create unique messages that differentiate their products from the competition. That’s what they do best. But when you start with what is unique about your product, you almost always end up brandspaining. You are augmenting the brand story in ways that emphasize your product’s strengths, while saying nothing about its weaknesses. Most importantly, you are not listening with empathy before you craft these messages.

Here are some strategic questions you can ask before you craft messages to avoid brandsplaining:

  • Will the target audience find and connect with the message on the media you use to convey it?
  • If so, will the message resonate with the target audience?
  • Will it compel them to action?

Here is a partial list of tactical questions you can ask the team to avoid brandsplaining:

  • What are clients looking for?
  • How do they phrase their queries?
  • Does the message use the words the audience uses to describe the product category?
  • What are clients, prospects, and influencers saying in social media about the product category, and your company’s place in it?
  • How are they interacting with your website on topics related to your product category?

There are many channels of customer data streams you can listen to. And the data can be noisy. So you need some AI and smart people to cleanse it, filter it, and turn it into insights. But with the availability of more or less open source data, tools, and techniques, it’s irresponsible to ignore all this data on customers and prospective customers in your marketing messages.

What of traditional brand marketing?

There are times and a places where traditional brand marketing works well. When I watch TV, I’m often mesmerized by the sleek lines of the luxury sedan as it traverses roads with stunning views. But in digital, if you presented that ad to a user as an autoplay, they would most often click to close the ad before playing, and often bounce out of disgust.

Why does this ad work on TV and not in digital? Because TV audiences are passive and captive: They are willing to accept the best entertainment they can get, and all the ads that come with that. On the web, users are active and not captive. They seek answers and are impatient to find the best ones.

It’s interesting to note that both web and TV feature a healthy dose of entertainment. But that’s where the symmetry ends. Consider how news is delivered on the two media. TV News provides a curated list of stories. The curators have many biases, which are reflected in both what they cover and how they cover it. On the web and in social, the user is the curator. Though TV users are willing to accept curated information, on the web, users are not. If you’re an online news provider, before they accept your messages, you have to demonstrate that you are worthy of getting into their news streams.

How do you demonstrate to your target audiences that you are worthy of their time and attention? You have to become a credible source of information and stories about how people use your products. This credibility, or authority, is never given. It’s always earned. In addition to great story telling, it is earned by giving voice to the influencers within your company who can become champions for your brands. And it is earned by providing the answers to your clients’ and prospects’ questions when they need them, in plain language and without spin.

As difficult as it is to earn a good brand reputation online, it is easy to ruin it. As Warren Buffet said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” The surest way to ruin your brand reputation in digital is by brandsplaining. Like mansplaining, brandsplaining always starts with failing to listen to the audience. Listening to customer viewpoints in their own words, and feeding those insights back to the marketer is the best way to avoid brandsplaining.