If active audience listening isn’t on your to-do list, it should be

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck July 2, 2019
Listen up - active audience listening can boost marketing campaigns.

Bartek Ambrozik

“Are we listening, or waiting to speak?” That’s a question posed in the research report “Optimize Content Marketing Performance Through Active Audience Listening” by Robert Rose for the Content Marketing Institute and Vennli.

It’s an interesting question because as Rose points out, it’s a common approach many of us use to communicate in our daily lives. Someone is talking to us, and instead of really listening and understanding what they are saying, we’re thinking about how we want to respond. If we are doing the same thing in our marketing strategies, then how effective are we?

We’re “waiting to content” rather than listening to (or observing) what’s really happening with the audience we’re trying to serve.

Delivering the right content at the right time

In their research, Rose indicated that despite the technology available and the pressure to deliver the right content at the right time, marketers are struggling.

To understand why this is true, they wanted to understand how content professionals are determining what content to create and where and how to deliver it. Are the processes they have in place affecting their ability to create the right content?

What their research showed them was that:

Content professionals know what they want to say, but often lack insight on what their audiences want to hear, and are struggling with where and how to prioritize content as a result.

Three questions the study asked to understand where the problems lay:

  1. The challenges content professional face when thinking about the customer
  2. Confidence levels while planning new content
  3. The typical approach to creating content

The answers received were telling. First, content professionals indicated prioritizing audiences and knowing what is most important to an audience as their top two challenges.

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At the same time, they are very confident in identifying key themes and messages to emphasize, selecting the right topics, and identifying the right promotion channels and calls to action.

Rose points out that those two findings don’t make sense, because they are essentially at odds with each other until you learn how content professionals approach creating content:

We found the answer in another question: When we asked about the typical approach taken by content creators in their organization, almost half (48%) said the creators are “project-focused” (i.e., they create content in response to internal requests).

This finding suggests that many businesses today are simply waiting impatiently to speak. They know what they want to say (because their content teams are primarily responding to internal requests to do exactly that). But they’re often unclear on what audiences actually want to hear—or which audiences should be prioritized.

Enter the idea of ‘active audience listening’

The concept of active listening may be new to marketing but it’s not new:

Active listening (as the name suggests) is when you actively and fully concentrate on what is being said, rather than just passively hearing the words. Communication theory breaks what is being said into two elements – the content and the context. Content is the what – the data, the facts, the information etc. Context refers to everything else that is going on when somebody speaks with you – the relationship, the background, the situation, the emotions etc.  - https://www.targettraining.eu/active-listening-develop-making-little-noises/

So how can you apply this to your marketing strategy?

Yet rather than simply pushing out content in a format that matches the request of internal business managers (or that they think audiences will interact with), marketers can use intelligent tools to surface audience needs … in other words, gather insights about what really matters to the audience—before taking any further steps. They can use these insights to optimize and evolve content before anyone in the audience even raises a hand to identify themselves.

Rose outlines four key principles to build into your content strategy that will help you get better at delivering the right content.

  1. Focus - stop talking and just listen: Examine content consumption by audiences to understand what/how/where they are consuming content assets and use that data to develop insights that you help you determine what content to create and optimize.
  2. Emphasis - understand the speaker’s point of view - Create strategies and journey maps that look at a customer’s state of mind and their content preferences. This is the context referred to in the active listening definition described above.
  3. Patience and waiting for nonverbal communication - This is the research you need to do to help anticipate needs so you can take your customer to the next step, even before they know they need to take it.
  4. Remembering - Building memory - Communicate your learnings and insights to ensure everyone understands across the company. By doing this, you can change how they think about communicating with customers, and the content requests they put forth.

The role of content intelligence technology

You can’t do all this without technology, and there is a new set of marketing tools called “content intelligence solutions” that want to help you better understand how your content is performing. They typically use some form of AI, analytics, and lots of data:

Content intelligence is the systems and software that transforms data into actionable insights for content strategy and tactics. Content intelligence gives you the full context of an individual piece of content—and the body of content it sits within, to make better decisions about anything pertaining to the content in question. - from Fix Your Mediocre Marketing with Content Intelligence

There are more than a few solutions out there to look at including Vennli, Curata, Atomic Reach, Ceralytics, Concurred, and plenty of other solutions that provide some of the intelligence you need to understand your audience’s content needs better. This is an area I’ll spend some time digging into for an upcoming article.

My take

Two more statistics that the CMI report points. The top two challenges related to strategic content management:

  • communication between teams
  • enough staff skilled in content strategy

What do these two things tell us? They tell us that technology is an enabler, but if there aren’t content strategists that can use the technology and understand how to develop the actionable insights needed, and if these insights aren’t communicated in a way that changes how other teams approach their content needs, then it’s impossible to achieve the goals of better content for our customer experiences.

For as much budget as we put into technology, we should be putting an equal or greater amount into skilling our resources with the appropriate knowledge and tactics needed to perform active audience listening and effectively change their strategies.