Take a moment and observe what’s happening around the Internet. What do you see and hear? Blog posts, videos, webinars, GIFs abound.

Perhaps all that content leaves you feeling overwhelmed and lost, but in order to be an effective marketer in 2014, you must hone your listening skills. Keen listening skills will help you can separate what’s most interesting and valuable for your target audiences from the rest of white noise.

That sounds great, but how to do that? Listen to your customers.

Your customers are top-notch content generators. They know what they want, so instead of guessing what they’re hankering for, why not ask them? 

“What do you think?”

Asking customers for suggestions shows that you respect them, and, thus, this engagement gives you more than just a list of topics for future content or ways to improve your products. You’re building rapport with your customers, too. 

Just how do you ask customers for suggestions? Below are a couple of suggestions:

  • Ask follow-up questions when someone comments – either in-person or online – on your products or brand.
  • Talk to your staff about what they hear from customers, and work with them to become targeted listeners.
  • Read third-party reviews about your business in addition to what people say on your social media pages.
  • Ask a customer to be a guest blogger, especially if they’ve established a large online presence of their own.
  • Facilitate listening among your customers. For example, establish an online group via Google+ or LinkedIn for current costumers to share how they use your products with other current customers as well as potential customers.

Thank you.

No one has ever been offended by these two words, and using them tells customers you’re listening. So use them a lot.

Say “thank you” for:

  • Every sale.
  • Content submissions or suggestions.
  • Referrals.
  • Testimonials.
  • Ongoing loyalty.

You can say “thank you” with words, but rewards are always nice, too. Consider these:

  • “Insider” perks, such as discounts and new product testing.
  • Personal “shout-outs” in your social media posts and on your website.
  • Personalized content they can use and enjoy.

If you’re a B2B marketer, look for ways to thank customers by referencing their products or services, especially if their product/service has a functional or aesthetic relationship with yours.

This isn’t strictly an online exercise.

Just because we live in an increasingly digital world doesn’t mean we can forget our listening skills when it comes to in-person interactions. Chatting about the weather is uninspired, unproductive and highly impersonal, so spend your Face Time (whether Apple-sponsored or otherwise) asking how your company or products could add more value to your consumers.

You don’t have to be nosy to elicit information about customers and their wants and needs. Talk to them in your store, on the phone and around town.

Customers who feel appreciated and listened to are more likely to stick around. Those who don’t will just click on down the road or Internet. You can be a better listener when people like and trust you enough to be open about their thoughts, so make an effort to personalize your brand as well as your content delivery.