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It’s easy to get excited about the ability to communicate. That’s why many marketers – or whoever is tasked with handling interactions with customers and prospects – tend to focus on the ‘talking’ part of the job. We hear a lot about campaigns, new channels and technologies that enable conversations to take place in new and innovative ways.

That’s all well and good. But this recent interview with Jennifer Sanz, CMO at Frito-Lay, serves as a reminder that in many ways great marketing starts with listening:

“To be successful, you have to have a listen-first mentality with consumers. You need to consistently listen and give them what they’re looking for, give them what excites them. You can’t force them to do anything.”

At Swrve, we talk a lot about the importance of relevant, helpful, timely communication. The kind of interactions that don’t attempt to force customers to do something, but rather help them in the moment with the jobs they want to do. And we agree that doing this effectively certainly does start with listening.

Ears Brain, AKA Analytics

Marketing is like ears and a mouth. Perhaps with a brain thrown in there somewhere, but let’s not get carried away. Most of us engage the mouth an awful lot but aren’t necessarily so good with the ears. In a few hundred words I want to rectify that.

What impression do we have of a dinner companion who talks all the time and never seems to listen? Or one who cannot seem to figure out that their date isn’t particularly interested in the latest football news and isn’t in the market for a two hour monologue on the subject. Well, to put it simply, we’d have a pretty poor impression. And a second date might not be on the cards.

Too many marketers are the same. And worse – there’s no excuse. In conversation we should, in an ideal world, be processing everything we know about our partner or audience almost without thinking. That knowledge in turn dictates what we say, when we say it, and how we say it. And most of us manage to do that, which is what makes conversation such fun and why we enjoy spending time with our friends in a way that we don’t enjoy talking to sales people on the phone.

Similarly, in digital marketing, we are lucky enough to have huge amounts of data relating to customer behavior, our own business, and the environment in which both find themselves at any specific moment in time. We need to learn how to use it, and how to use it effectively.

How To Use Data

The first step (and too many organizations haven’t got here yet) is to care. When the marginal cost of sending a push notification or email is effectively zero, that’s an awful temptation to send lots of campaigns to lots of people. But that’s the road to irritation rather than enlightenment. Begin by pledging to read and respond to digital body language, and then you’re in a position to move forward.

That process in turn means actually connecting up our ears and that brain we mentioned a while back. And that means analytics. It’s no surprise that analytics takes up a significant chunk of the interview I linked to above, because we can’t deliver ‘listen-first marketing’ if we don’t place the collection and understanding of data at the heart of our marketing efforts.

For that to happen we have to ensure we close the loop between the collection of data and the delivery of interactions and campaigns. In other words, the old model of collecting and analyzing data in one place, before sharing it with communication tools in another, isn’t really good enough anymore. We need the same teams to work within the same platforms both collecting, analyzing and acting on data. The always on, rapidly changing environment that we associate with mobile demands nothing less.

We also need to use data from every source – shared in real-time. And we need to be ready to experiment. Data can give great insight and help make communications more relevant than ever before. It can also tells us which of two (or three, or four) approaches is most effective out in the field. The real-time data provided by A/B testing of app experience, push notifications, in-app messages – anything, essentially – drives further insight and optimization.

That insight means greater relevance and greater effectiveness (and more money). So if you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution for 2018, how about this one: “start listening”.