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Listen to your customers.

Most marketers know they should be tuning in into their consumers' thoughts about their brands and offerings. But not all listening is created equal. That's why it is important to understand the difference between casual and focused listening.

Casual listening means tuning into the noise. For example, you can tap into what customers are saying on social media and public forums. Focused listening is a lot more purposeful; it's asking for input on a specific topic and then listening with a focus on the input you get.

Both type of listening are helpful for brands - the trick is to knowing what type of listening to do and when.

Here are 4 things marketers and researchers should consider when deciding between the two:

  1. Purpose

When deciding whether you should casually listen to conversations about your brand or ask people for input, considering your business or research goals is an important step.

If you're simply trying to get a sense of what people think of your brand or of a product or service, social listening will give a sense of people's sentiments and issues you should look out for. But if you want to understand more specifically why people feel the way they do, then running a survey or discussion around that topic makes more sense.

  1. Platform

Some platforms naturally encourage free-flowing discussions between people. On public forums and chat rooms, users naturally start conversations about anything they have in mind. So in these platforms, it makes sense to do casual listening.

Although insight communities can enable members to start their own conversations about anything under the sun, we find that clients use them more often for focused listening.

Focused discussions on specific topics in an insight community could include: following up on learning from surveys, writing a letter to the CEO, co-creation sessions to brainstorm solutions to challenges, sharing stories about unmet needs, giving product and service and feedback, and sending members out for live in-situation assignments.

  1. Information need

Clients also use casual listening as a starting point for broad consumer listening and then use their community to test out themes and ideas they have heard in the broader space. Among its many uses, an insight community can be a good sounding board to validate trends or issues you see when monitoring conversations about your brand.

To create a very engaging community environment, most clients choose to run about 75% of their activities and projects as surveys versus discussions or other qualitative engagements. This allows them to get hard numbers while also understanding the "why" as needed.

  1. Resources

Managing a free-for-all discussion is time consuming. You need a community manager who can motivate people to participate. But not only that: to ensure that people aren't posting inappropriate content, your content manager needs to be checking frequently.

More importantly, discussions with no set topic typically don't engage more than a handful of members. These members are usually already engaged and happily participating without the new discussions in the first place.

Rather than having an ongoing free for all where members can talk about whatever they like from back to school challenges with their kids, what their pets had for breakfast, and their new favorite hats, a better alternative is to give people in your insight communities opportunities to share feedback with you in a focused forum or survey. Doing so allows you to hear answers to questions that didn't get asked without dealing with the low signal-to-noise ratio of a complete free for all.

In the age of the customer, listening is an important step in maintaining your brand's competitive edge. Doing a mix of casual and focused listening will help you get a more complete picture of your customers' experiences, needs and future wants.

What are your thoughts on casual versus focused listening?

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Ellie Hutton

Ellie is passionate about our customers' experience, shining a spotlight on the success of our customers, and bringing the voice of the customer to our business. She’s been with Vision Critical since 2006, in research, marketing, sales enablement, customer success and CX teams. Ellie has over 20 years of experience in research and marketing, partnering with companies across many verticals to build brands, develop products, retain customers, evaluate communications, develop strategy, and facilitate change.
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