Too often when we communicate, we focus on what we want to get out of the conversation instead of who we’re talking to. This is especially true for brands. You read a lot about “owning the conversation,” which is supposed to mean that your brand comes up the most often when people are talking about a certain industry or topic…but really just means that you’re approaching communication like a jerk.

I mean, raise your hand if you want to listen to a person or a brand whose goal is to “own” the conversation like a bratty toddler. No thanks.

To be a great communicator, you have to focus less on your goals and more on your audience’s needs. What’s their life like? What do they care about? When you approach communication like a real conversation, one where you listen just as much as you talk, people pay attention.

A fine example: fashion brands on Instagram. Most of these feeds are product shot, product shot, product shot. Us, us, us.

Gap Instagram photo

Image: Gap via Instagram

Prada Instagram photo

Image: Prada via Instagram

Forever 21 Instagram photo

Image: Forever21 via Instagram

Now look at Zappos. Instead of talking at its followers, Zappos is having a real conversation with them, with back and forth and listening and all that good stuff. How? If you post a selfie with the hashtag #nextootd (ootd = “outfit of the day”), a Zappos stylist will make personalized shopping recommendations for you based on your style.

Zappos #nextootd personal selfie styling on Instagram

Image: Zappos via Instagram

What makes this campaign extra brilliant is that it’s based on existing behavior. The hashtag #ootd already has been used 23 million times, so Zappos isn’t starting a new conversation. It’s joining an existing one, listening to what other people have to say, and contributing something of real value.

It can be tempting to be all about getting your talking points out there, and it’s not wrong to tell people about how your brand can make their lives better. But the right way to do that is by having a conversation. Share what you offer when the time’s right—which is after you’ve taken the time to listen.