Why Aren’t My Customers Listening?

For years Gary Vaynerchuk has said “Marketers ruin everything”. As a marketer, I always cringe when I hear that. I take it so personally. But then I hear him explain;

“…what we know is if you followed a brand, or as you use Facebook, as many of you do, or Twitter, we see a lot of crap, right? People just pushing out advertising, that’s not what works. I call those right hooks, and I would say that 99% of you and most of the clients that I have before I work with them, are in the business of right hook, right hook, right hook, right hook. Because, my friends, all of us have been in the right hook business for the last 80 years. Now, I am going to get up, I got excited. Listen, we’ve been in the right hook business for the last 80 years, radio and television, and print, and billboards, and email marketing, and banner ads, it’s pushing. You get somebody for a second, or two, or three and you gotta tell them your story and convert them. Social is more like email marketing, but email marketing, we didn’t realize that we made that push too. Right? Email marketing was amazing and still has value, but its not as good as it used to be ’cause marketers ruin everything. Its what we do. So, we push too much.”

You know what? He’s right. A large percentage of us in the marketing field tend to push too much. Before I continue, I’d like for us to define some terms. I think we all can agree that marketing is defined as a set of actions and tactics needed to both promote and sell a product or service. In order to do this, there is one main ingredient that is required. Communication.

The foundation of any marketing activity is communication. If that is true, then we need to agree that the goal of any marketing activity is to effectively convey (communicate) the value of our product or service. And it doesn’t stop there. Once we engage that person, we must convince them (communicate) to move toward a purchase. Easy right?

Technology has afforded us incredible power. We can talk louder and reach more broadly than ever before. However, the days of broadcast marketing are vanishing. Technology must now be seen as a set of precision instruments. Not only can it help us fine tune our message, give us a clearer picture of our audience and connect with them in more relevant way. In order to leverage these precision tools, we must first focus on one thing. Good old fashioned, communication.

The Fundamentals of Communication:

Consider the last time you met someone. What is the first thing you remember? Their name? What they were wearing? What was the cadence of the conversation? How quickly did you assess their personality, their interests and passions? We often gather all of this information rapidly and process it to inform how we engage that person in the future. However, when the information we have is provided in the form of survey results and gathered from different people and places, we must find a way to interpret it’s meaning. As we leverage technology to reach our customers, here are some ways we can create a more meaningful connection.


As a business, you need to ensure that you’re not only speaking effectively, but listening effectively. There are a number of different ways to “listen” to your audience. Our systems are gathering terabytes of audience data everyday. But is the data telling you a story about them? Is it sharing their goals, dreams and aspirations? What do they truly value? Gathering website hits and email opens does not indicate intent. Brian Madden of Hearst Digital Media said it best;

“Having one specific KPI (key performance indicator) like page views or time spent doesn’t make a lot of sense. It ignores the content entirely.” (source)

Listening means gathering more meaningful information. It means understanding what content means the most to your audience. Viewing what content they share on social and what content they are consuming. When we gain better insight, our interactions become more relevant. Here are three ways your business can do a better job of listening:

  • Understand what metrics mean most to your business and sales process: If you owned a bike shop, you’d define metrics like in-store visits, online conversion metrics, add-on purchases and more.
  • Design your digital experience to capture information most relevant to those metrics: You could offer an online experience to assist in-store visitors in gathering the most relevant information about models, comparison pricing, etc.
  • Consider progressive profiling your audience to learn more about them: After the in-store visit, send information about local meetups and gather more detail about their interests over time.


This is truly the brass ring of marketing automation. When you understand someone, your communication conveys it. But marketers beware. Data does not mean understanding. Just because you have someone’s age, geographic location and email address, does not mean that you understand their need, buying habits and interests. Don’t miss this step. And while it might be tempting to outsource this activity,

“…marketers must work closely with data scientists, marketing researchers, and digital analysts to question assumptions, formulate hypotheses, and fine-tune the math. Companies also need to cultivate ‘translators,’ individuals who both understand the analytics and speak the language of business.” (source)

Your organization’s ability to truly understand it’s data is paramount when communicating and extending value to your audience. Hearing is not listening. Hearing is the function of your ears. Listening requires cognition. When we make meaning of the information that is shared, we will understand. Here are three ways you can show your audience you’re listening.

  • Segment your audience into strategic groups: Imagine you have a group of friends that love camping. You’ll set up an email list specifically for that group to share details of your trip.
  • Develop campaigns that speak directly to your audience needs: If one of those friends loves fly-fishing, you’ll send them links to specific products or information related to that interest (lures, rods, best locations, etc.).
  • Design follow on communications that add value: What if one of those fly-fishing locations has incredible weather on the horizon? This is information that goes beyond sole purpose of a single trip, but brings value based on their interest.


As marketers we spend way too much time trying to gain our audience’s attention and not enough time trying to understand their current reality. Listening and understanding should be a prerequisite to timing. Is attention important? Absolutely. But timing and value are critical partners to grabbing and holding our audience’s attention. Whether it’s a conversation, presentation, or even a joke, timing is critical.

Basic automation rule: if the content you want to send does not add value or relate to the lifecycle stage your audience is in, do not send it.

When you communicate with your prospects, whether online or in person, please consider the lifecycle stage they’re in. They may not yet be aware of the need that your product or service can meet. If you’re trying to convert your prospects too early in the lifecycle, you’ll be irrelevant. Here are three ways to engage your audience at just the right time.

  • Define the lifecycle stages of your purchase process: Maybe your business offers a cleaning service. What are the stages in your purchase lifecycle? When do local businesses need cleaning services the most?
  • Be sure these lifecycle stages are in your automation solution: Track the most basic stages and add as needed. This will assist you in directing specific types of services to those in relevant stages.
  • Design your campaigns to provide relevant content & value at each lifecycle stage: Your spring cleaning campaign will have a higher return when it’s launched to the right audience in the right stage.

Communication fundamentals are critical when designing and deploying your marketing automation solution. If you want to develop meaningful customer relationships, they’re key. When we understand who we’re talking to and when we’re talking, the value we share becomes immediately relevant. Which core communication element does your business excel in? Which could use improvement? Add your comments below. We’re listening.

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