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Did you know total digital media ad spending in the US is expected to reach more than $42.5 billion in the US this year? That's an increase of almost 14.6 percent, easily outpacing overall growth in marketing spend. With that much money going into digital advertising, are companies broadcasting too much and forgetting about their customers?

Marketers constantly talk about the virtue of listening to consumers, especially on online platforms such as social media. But these digital advertising stats make me wonder if brands are getting the right balance between promotions and engaging their customers. Although advertising plays an important role in building brand awareness, successful brands know they can't afford to ignore the other four Ps of the marketing mix (product, price, place, people) if they want to sustain competitive advantage.

My hunch is that despite the buzz about 'listening', the hype remains just that - hype.

Before spending thousands on your next promotion campaign, pause and listen to your customers by doing the following:

  1. Get a sense of their future expectations
    The concept of listening shouldn't be just about finding out what happened in the past. For many brands, a key question is the following: What do consumers think of your brand now and do they intend to buy from you in the future?

    Marketing mix models typically ignore brand as a variable. But without an idea about where you stand against other global brands, the model fails to consider the current and future expectations of the customer.

  2. Look at both short-term and long-term brand indicators
    Lagging or short-term indicators provide an incomplete picture. To predict the right marketing focus - brand building, revitalization, or short-term cash flow maximization - CMOs need to use a mix of short-term and long-term brand indicators.
    Do you rely on brand awareness to measure how consumers perceive your brand? Transactional data and brand awareness are good short-term brand indicators, but CMOs can gain greater insight if real time perception data is added to the mix - for instance, by analyzing Facebook brand affinity with your brand.
  3. Know where your brand stands
    An indirect but effective way of listening to consumers is by looking at other brands, including those outside your own industry. Which brands do consumers favor? And which brands have the most promising future?

    More importantly, what are these brands doing to earn the love of consumers? Your future competitors may not be the same as the ones with whom you currently compete, so take the opportunity to learn from emerging brands.

  4. Measure consumer relationship more frequently
    Listening means constantly monitoring your customer relationships in a non-intrusive fashion. Through their insight communities or social media participation, companies can now quickly get a sense of what consumers are thinking about. Technology allows for constant course correction, so use it to your advantage and measure your relationship with consumers in real time.

In the age of the customer, you can prove you are listening by addressing negative customer experiences, and by involving your customers in the co-creation of your future offerings. The pace of change and innovation challenges companies, but many brands successfully address this issue by involving their customers. The more open you are to communicating with consumers, the better you can tangibly address challenges and opportunities.

Instead of constantly pushing sales messages out, get a pulse of your consumers by engaging your insight community, meeting them in person, or talking with them on social media. Listening lets you see which of the 5 marketing Ps isn't working - a necessary step in determining if your next expensive promotion campaign will really yield the ROI you're looking for in the long-term.

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