Understanding our audience through listening

stethoscope and laptop

Photo: Jfcherry (CC)

A challenge for us as marketers is knowing our audience: what motivates them, what scares them, why they need our products and services. We might look at sales data or common customer complaints. We could do a quick survey or study industry trends.

What we should do is listen better.

Listening can be a scary step. We surrender control to an unknown other. We stop promoting, our go-to habit. We probably won’t like what we hear.

We must practice our listening skills, online and offline, if we want to become better marketers and storytellers. A New York doctor offers an example.

Danielle Ofri understands that patients could ramble if left to answer open-ended questions about their symptoms and concerns. Still, she decides to allow them to speak uninterrupted while she both listens and times their responses.

Ofri dreads hearing from one woman suffering chronic pain (“Like any doctor honest enough to admit it, I dread patients with chronic pain”), but proceeds as before. The result:

At the end of the visit, which didn’t run overtime by too much, she said something I’d read about but never heard a patient say: ‘Just talking about all this has actually made me feel better.’ I wanted to jump up and sing an aria (which, luckily for all parties involved, I refrained from doing), but I was in the process of realizing something else: Just talking it all out had made me feel better, too.

We could all share examples where we listened more carefully and discovered a new strength, plus moments where we felt like we had been heard by someone else. We become better at it by starting today, listening closely to what others have to say.

As a Valentine’s bonus, watch the animated film “Listening Is an Act of Love” from StoryCorps.

Video: “Listening Is an Act of Love” from StoryCorps, a compendium
of personal adventures in listening over a lifetime

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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y'all Connect. See his full bio.