Written by Canon Wing

I teach entrepreneurs and organizations the proven action steps to stand out within their market, improve the perceived value of their business, and better connect with their audience through naming, branding, storytelling, and communication platforms.

March 1, 2021

Connecting Brands with Customers in 2021 with Canon Wing

Did you know that every penny a company brings in is the direct result of listening? 

Magical things happen when a brand makes their community feel heard. People feel cared for, they feel important, they feel their connection to the brand grow stronger… And they even begin to fall in love! Now in 2021, more than ever before, your ideal individuals need to know that your brand is listening. They need to know you care, and a brand can’t show customers how much it cares by talking, and it especially can’t show how much it cares by selling. If you want your brand to become an Inspiration to Millions in this new world, your brand must master the art of listening.

Today I’m going to give you The Three Masterskills of Brand Listening, so your brand can go bravely into 2021 to Come Out of Nowhere and become an Inspiration to Millions.

Did you know that about 75% of consumers believe that brands prioritize profits over customer relationships? When I hear a whopping statistic like that, what I see is an opportunity for your brand to do better. Listening has never been more vital for a brand’s survival than it is right now, in today’s fast-paced digital marketplace, especially when so many people across the globe suddenly found themselves relying on making internet purchases in 2020, in ways unlike they’ve ever needed to do before.

Being heard is important, not just to some people, but to ALL people. Which means, being heard is not just important to some customers, but to ALL customers.

The digital marketplace has been radically ramped up, and so now is the time for radical listening. One very well-known brand has taken up the torch and has been exhibiting a form of radical listening that may surprise you…

I’m talking about Instagram, one of the most populated social media platforms on the planet. For the past year, Instagram has been gradually rolling out a huge change in the way users interact with each other: They are removing likes. No more shall users be able to see the total number of likes and views other posts are receiving. It will still be an option to like the post, and the account holders will be able to see how many likes their posts receive, but the information will no longer be outward facing to the general public. 

The dramatic change to the site is a decision made by Instagram as a result of radically listening to the overwhelming majority of their platform users: Everyone who isn’t Insta-famous.

The idea of removing likes is to take some of the pressure off Instagram’s community to only post pictures that are going to get a lot of likes. And to eliminate feelings of shame or embarrassment if a post doesn’t get noticed as much as the next guys. Instagram wants to boost morale, and encourage their community to engage on the platform free from the anxiety of whether or not they should delete their pic because the lack of likes makes them feel bad. One study in particular found that Instagram has become the most detrimental social media platform for the mental health of young people. Likes are often viewed as a sign of popularity, causing many young users to suffer from lowered self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and body image issues. Whoa. 

The goal the brand hopes to achieve is a shift in focus back to the positive aspects of Instagram, such as the opportunity for unique self-expression, and building a sense of community. It’s a huge change for the company that they didn’t necessarily have to make. People have known for a long time that aspects of social media platforms can have negative effects on mental health, but as one of the CEOs of Instagram boldly declared, “We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being and health.”

Many many people are going to experience this change as an act of love. Regardless of whether or not the change sticks, here is what Instagram is telegraphing to their users: We hear you, and we care about you. And that message alone, is worth Brand Loyalty. 

Whatever business you are in, Brand Loyalty is your business plan. 

Now with this outstanding example of a major brand demonstrating the kind of listening that is really going to resonate with consumers in 2021, let’s dive into the The Three Masterskills of Brand Listening.

Number One: Ask Even When You Know the Answer

All the top notch, rockstar brands are constantly asking their customers, “What does our brand mean to you?” “How does our brand make you feel?” “What value do you get from using our brand?”…

If your brand is merely skimming the surface for the keywords in what your ideal customers are saying, you’re missing the heart, the deeper truth, the gold that lies in what they’re really trying to tell you.

If, without asking them, you assume you already know, even the tiniest detail about what your ideal customers want, need, or secretly desire, you are guaranteed to miss something that could have brought you closer to your ideal brand community.

Have you ever felt the frustration of trying to express yourself to someone who thinks they already know what you’re going to say?

Many people listen in this way; a sort of half listening/ half planning how they are going to respond. When a brand listens in this manner, people get frustrated, and then they get bored.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it “There is a difference between truly listening and waiting for your turn to talk.”

Listening only to know how you want to respond is a defensive way of listening, and the last thing you want is to position your brand in opposition to your Ideal Individuals. You want to telegraph to them that your brand is always on their side, and there with them through thick and thin. You want to stay connected.

When you ask, and keep asking, and then truly listen, and then listen some more, you’re guaranteed to gain something that will draw you closer to your ideal brand community…Everytime.

This is the nuance in listening:

There’s always a deeper truth hidden just below the surface.

There’s always more to learn.

It’s your brand’s responsibility to keep listening until your ideal customers feel safe enough to reveal their inner sanctum of hidden truth.

As Mark Twain said “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would have rather talked.”

Provide your ideal customers with endless opportunities to reveal more to you about who they are, and who they wish to become; provide your brand with endless opportunities to win Brand Loyalty.

Number 2: Assume Everyone Has Something to Teach You

You’ve asked the questions, and now the listening begins.

It’s time to lean in like your life depends on it, because the life of your brand does depend on it.

Masterful Brand listening requires intent; the intent to not only hear what is being said, but also to understand why it’s being said. It’s a learning process. A gathering of valuable information, both positive and negative; for both prove equally valuable to the brand that can truly listen.

Treat every customer like they know something you don’t, because they do: They know what THEY think, and that is ALWAYS valuable insight for your brand.

Number 3: The Magic of Yes, And.

This final Masterskill is probably my favorite, because it is so powerful that it seems like magic. “Yes, And” is a principle used in improvisational comedy. If you’ve ever seen something improvised that you could have sworn must have been scripted, then you’ve witnessed The Magic of Yes, And.

The principal of Yes, And is literally to keep the relationship alive and interesting. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you go out on stage and you start to pretend like you are brushing your teeth. Your scene partner walks onstage, sees what you’re doing and says—“Are you painting the garage again?” And you think What the heck, that’s not where this scene is supposed to go! So you say “No. What are you talking about, we’re in the bathroom and I’m brushing my teeth.” Now the only option the two of you have, is to be opposing sides arguing over what’s what. It’ll go okay for a second, but the options are severely limited and the scene will die off quick.

Now let’s say you’re brushing your teeth and in walks your partner. They take one look at you and say, “Are you painting the garage again?” And you say, “ Yes, but this time I only drank about half the leftover paint.” And then your partner says “Great that means there will be some left over to enjoy with dinner.” And now your partner is right there in your corner, you’re both on the same page, and the audience can get swept away in this weird alternative universe where drinking paint is perfectly normal, and there is no limitation to where this scene can go. 

The possibilities stay blown wide open and the opportunity for nuanced relationships are continually fostered by The Magic of Yes, And. Yes, And is a masterskill for building Brand Loyalty, that will work much in the same way as in improv, to keep the relationship with your customers positive, and ongoing.

When responding to the information provided by your customers (regardless of what you expected, wanted, hoped for, or even agreed with), Yes, And will keep the relationship alive. Yes, And will keep the conversation going.

Whatever opinion, impression, or experience your customer shares, the answer is Yes! That is their truth. Yes! You hear them. Yes! You acknowledge what they are saying is valuable. Then the And provides contribution and further agreement. And! We appreciate your feedback because it helps us. And! This is how our brand is going to support you going forward. And! This is why we want you as a part of our community.

Now that you have the The Three Masterskills of Brand Listening, go through each of them. For Number One: Ask Even When You Know the Answer, make a list of questions that you think you know the answer to, choose one and bring it to your brand community. When you get the answers, employ Number 2: and Assume Everyone Has Something to Teach You by listening intently for the emotional, and nuanced reasons that lie beneath the surface of their answer. And then make them feel heard and supported by your brand in 2021 by responding with Number 3: The Magic of Yes, And

Thank you for joining me today! Treat these articles as a masterclass for becoming an Inspiration to Millions with Branding. And as always the way to becoming an Inspiration to Millions starts with our motto: Love What You Do and Love How You Do It.