Listen Up: The Innovative Power of Shutting Up

By Roberto Ramos, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Communications at the Doneger Group
May 3rd, 2017

It seems that with the rise of both the creative economy and social media everyone has something to say. Most of us want to get some attention from those we love, like and respect. The only problem, is that as we share more, we listen less and lose our ability to nurture true connectivity. This reduces our power of influence both on the personal and professional level. This lack of connection is one of the main reasons why many a consumer industry is hurting. The first step in regaining some of this connection is simple: just shut up and listen.

The true, disruptive unicorns of tomorrow will be businesses anchored in listening.

Rise of the Listening Economy

Credit: Amazon Echo

Some of the biggest breakthroughs in business have come from the simple act of observing the consumer more empathetically and listening to their woes. "Returning videos to a physical store and paying late fees is dumb," said everyone to a timely Netflix. "I don't want to own a car but love the flexibility and freedom it provides, on my terms," posited urban millennials everywhere to Uber and Lyft.

More thoughtful listening is consistent with a broader consumer mindset around slowing down to take it all in and be more present. We see this in the rise of activities such as transcendental meditation, yoga, adult coloring books and listening to podcasts.

Credit: Still Processing, New York Times Podcast

Listening and its pursuit of better understanding consumers is also driving some of the most exciting developments in business. Where retail is known for being pushy, conversational commerce, fueled by technology, seeks to reach the balance between the high tech and the high touch, tapping into data that can drive a personal understanding of the consumer, delivering personalized products and experiences. Leaders in this space are voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Amazon's new Echo home system which is delivering voice enabled seamless shopping. Artificial intelligence will play a key role in this space, turning platforms such as messaging apps into more intuitive branding and customer service interfaces.

Credit: Apple Genius Bar

Another development is the re-emergence of next gen/old school customer service with a focus on human expertise and conversations. Think of the appeal of speaking to a friendly, knowledgeable Apple smart genius or one of those witty, spectacled Warby Parker sales reps who can walk you through your eyewear needs and then recommend a good book.

For brands, here are some tips to tap into the power of listening:

Credit: Heinz

  • Find ways of putting the consumer at the center of what you do
  • While big data is key, try to focus on the power of micro insights to get granular peeks into the pressure and love points of your consumer
  • Look for ways of building engagement into your research models, old surveys will no longer do the trick, make sure you are getting passionate responses and feedback
  • Think of ways in which your branding and marketing can spark conversations, invite your consumer to solve some of your own creative riddles
  • Look for ways of making your tonality and stories more accessible, wit and brevity can be very powerful in today's stream-filled lives

And for you, the innovation-seeker:

  • Without getting into trouble, find ways of eavesdropping into consumer conversations, both out in the real world (stores, etc.) and online. Push yourself to put yourself in their shoes: where are they coming from?
  • Find ways to listen to different perspectives, read articles and listen to podcasts from voices outside your immediate interest level
  • Try to control your instinct to provide all the right answers, listen-in during brainstorms and problem solving sessions before jumping in
  • Become a better friend and colleague by providing feedback. This forces you to be more present in what the other person is saying as well as smarter and more relevant in your advice
  • Learn a different language—it's a humbling and culturally enriching experience, and it forces you to fine-tune your listening skills
  • Read more, and read more deeply. Get into character mode, especially through novels, to understand the hidden motivations of characters. This will help you practice empathy, key for better consumer-driven understanding and innovations

While being quiet might seem like a difficult task in this era when we are titillated to share, comment and like, its benefits are powerful both at the personal and professional level. For the future rests in those who can connect. With that in mind, I'll just shut up now.