Listening Strategies

This week’s reading of the Groundswell focuses on how companies can utilize the groundswell for research. More specifically, it’s about listening to what consumers have to say and how that can impact the company both negatively and positively. The book offers two different strategies for listening: setting up a private community and brand monitoring.

Of the two, I feel the setup of private communities is the most useful. The book makes a great point that traditional marketing research tools, such as surveys and focus groups, don’t give any insight. They may be good for mapping trends and answering questions, but these tools do not tell companies anything about what consumers really think and how they feel about a particular product or company. For instance, surveys may tell a company how much of something consumers are buying, but not why they are buying it. It does not reveal underlying factors, which may sway consumers to choose one product over another.

By setting up a private community, a forum within your own company, it brings together people with a common interest or concern. A company member may initiate the forum, but the consumers are the ones that will talk amongst each other. How they talk and what they talk about will depend on the company/product, but in the end, it becomes a more natural focus group. Today, with many people using the Internet for information, it makes sense that they may stumble onto a forum and perhaps even participate. Whether they are spectators or critics, there will be chatter, which will then produce unforeseen revelations a company can work with.

And while a company has to seek out participants in a traditional focus group, I find there is a higher chance that those who join private communities come of their own volition and willfully participate. To me the private community, if executed successfully, holds a lot of potential for companies to benefit from, save money, be efficient, and connect to their publics.

The idea of brand monitoring is also a good tactic, but I don’t think it gives as much insight as private communities. I see brand monitoring as just an extension of survey and focus group techniques with the addition of analyzing emotional sentiment. It’s only great for seeing trends, picking up any PR crises and minimizing the effects, and understanding how a buzz about a product is shifting. Brand monitoring is a good start, but it can’t offer anything under the surface.

Regardless of which strategy is more useful and which one companies will use, listening in general makes way for both finding out the root of a problem and stimulating inspiration for marketing changes. That is a fact that cannot be ignored.

I now leave you with my final thought on this chapter. When all is said and done of listening and marketing, where does the public relations officer fall into this groundswell method? How do you decipher between the public relations officer (who wants to maintain mutually beneficial relations between client and their publics) and the marketing researcher (who wants to generate sales)? I hope to have this question answered over the course of the semester.


One response

  1. I don’t recall GS (our book) being disparaging of traditional marketing tools like surveys and focus groups? Moreover, as you suggest, research can be conducted online, i.e. with private communities, etc., and similar kinds of data, like that from an offline focus group, can be collected. However, I would agree that you could say online discussion groups allow researchers to extend boundaries of offline groups (i.e. no logistical constraints; conversation can extend beyond a typical 90-minute focus group window) which provide an advantage.

    Let’s talk about your last point in class again: PR versus marketing… and also we should discuss the pros and cons of qualitative versus quantitative research, a topic that you’re kind of skirting around here.

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