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The Secret to Becoming a Better Communicator

I’m sure we can all recall stories from when we were younger when our parents tried to get us to listen. I can still remember the days my dad would try to talk to me while I was focused on something, whether it was a great movie—like one of my favorite childhood obsessions, Jurassic Park—or one of my favorite books. He would have to repeat my name several times before he could get my attention.

“Laura, Laura, LAURA HOPE,” he would eventually scream, before I would finally look up and say, “Oh, are you talking to me?”

One of my dad’s favorite nicknames for me was Space-case, because of how often I would zone out into my own little world, especially when he was trying to talk to me. I was always focused on what I was thinking or doing, never focused on what he was saying.

He was right. I was a terrible listener.

Many adults—and great marketers in particular—start out as great listeners (and learners, as the two are often related). And then, once we’ve been in the profession for some years, we start making assumptions. We begin believing what we think is right without listening first to what consumers are saying or really paying attention to what they are doing.

We start making the wrong assumptions when we choose not to listen.

We get ahead of ourselves as experienced marketers. Whether it’s with the pitch letters we write to media, the keywords we target or the designs we create, we sometimes think we know what our audiences want, need and hope for, but in all actuality, we know nothing about it. All we really know is what our own preferences are in that moment. This is lazy, and it's often why we make hasty and wrong decisions.

It’s critical we take the time to absorb what those around us are doing and saying and give them our complete, undivided and undisrupted attention. The sad part is, many of us have forgotten what that even means.

To be great marketers, we must master the art of listening every day. And that means applying our innate listening skills while simultaneously applying the innovative technology and tools out there to help enhance our intuitive listening abilities.

Tap into Your Intuitive Listening Skills

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or hold regular focus group meetings to understand what consumers want and think. Just ask your friends! Talk to the people in your lives, listen to your peers on social media, hang out with your family members during holidays and really soak up everything they do and say.

They aren’t marketers? They don’t do what you do (or even understand what you do)? Even better. Those are the conversations that will reveal the rawest insights about people and consumers.

"I remind myself every day: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening." - Larry King

Ask Questions 

Stop asking questions only to wait for the moment it’s your turn to speak. Most people ask questions because they think they know the answers and want to share their own insights and knowledge. Stop it. That’s when you stop learning.

You don’t know it all. And unless you truly stop to listen to the answers to your questions, you’ll never grow. You’ll never become better. And most importantly, you’ll never find the “right” answers.

Don’t just listen when you ask questions. Know what kind of questions to ask. Unless you ask the right ones, you won’t find the right solutions and answers, either.

"To ask the 'right' question is far more important than to receive the answer. The solution of a problem lies in the understanding of the problem; the answer is not outside of the problem, it is in the problem." - Jiddu Krishnamurti

Be Open Minded

You can’t grow if you don’t have an open mind, and you often hinder your chance to become better and achieve more in not having one. This goes hand in hand with thinking you have all the answers. You only hurt yourself with a closed mind and heart, and closed-mindedness only begets mediocrity.

Remember to have an open mind when you ask questions and listen to others. Part of being a great marketer is being empathetic. And part of being empathetic is the ability to understand where someone else is coming from, even though you may not be able to relate (i.e. cognitive empathy). Don’t worry. If you feel you lack in the empathy department, you can learn more about empathy as a skill here.

“Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard, and listened to, their story.” - Anonymous

Apply Technology and Listening Tools

Technology is your friend, especially if you’re a digital marketer. There are several ways you can compile and draw meaningful insights from both qualitative and quantitative tools that help you understand your consumers better. For social media alone, there are hundreds. One of our favorites at Nebo is Radian6, which allows you to track, monitor and react to comments, questions and concerns consumers have as they happen.

Other ways to qualitatively and quantitatively understand your audiences include leveraging surveys, user testing and, of course, Google. Below are a few other great tools our team uses to help us listen to our clients’ audiences. Feel free to add some of your favorites in the comments section as well. We’d love to hear from you!

1. Google Analytics: The Mecca of consumer insights, Google Analytics, is a given to add to your repertoire of listening tools.

2. Google Alerts: Google let’s you set up automated email alerts about news covering any topic of your choice. Alerts go straight to your inbox any time your topic or subject is covered in the news or online in general. You can set up weekly alerts on a subject or get notified as soon as something’s posted. It’s up to you. This helps you understand what your consumers are talking about and when. At Nebo, our PR team makes it a habit to include our clients and any relevant keywords surrounding their brands as alerts so we’re updated in real time about any news surrounding them and their industries. It’s a simple but great tool.

3. Google Databoard for Research Insights: This is another pretty awesome tool built by none other than Google. Databoard aggregates all of Google’s research studies and insights into one digestible place and makes it easy for you to share with others and create your own custom infographics for that data. It not only helps you listen to what your consumers are saying, but it also combines qualitative with quantitative insights to provide you with a range of stats and information relevant to you and your business. Some of those insights include digital impact on in-store shopping, a search function for brands’ meta, a feature to better understand consumers’ local search behaviors, YouTube Insights and much more. Like I said, it’s pretty awesome.

4. Buzzsumo: You don’t have to be a content marketer to love Buzzsumo, a tool that helps marketers analyze what content performs best for any topic or brand. You can search and find top content for a keyword or domain, find key influencers, set up content alerts, create reports on the data you compile and more. If you want to listen and better understand what content is working well in an industry and who the influencers are, Buzzsumo is the tool for you.

5. Keywordtool.io: This tool is a great alternative to tools like Google Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest. It enables you to find what consumers are searching for in Google. This, for obvious reasons, helps you understand what people need, want and are interested in consuming, from products to themes to ideas. So if you’re marketing for a brand or just want to learn more about what consumers are interested in, Keywordtool.io helps you uncover thousands of longtail keywords related to any topic of your choice.

6. Spyfu: Another useful keyword tool, Spyfu helps marketers understand what keywords their competitors are bidding on and what the most competitive keywords are in their industry. By helping you discover what some of your competitors’ most profitable keywords and ads are for paid and organic search, Spyfu offers you fresh insights that you can use to your advantage in your own campaigns. Although I’m still new to this tool, I can see how it can be extremely helpful to leverage for some competitive listening.

7. Crazy Egg: This is a great user experience tool that allows you to see how users engage with your website. If you want to visualize what users are thinking and feeling as they navigate your site and explore it in real time, this is a perfect tool to help you do that. The coolest thing about Crazy Egg is it uses heat maps to detect the areas on your site that users click on and go to most. It takes listening to a whole new level.

8. Ethn.io: This user testing tool allows you to recruit the best possible user research participants directly from your website or via your social channels. By allowing you to screen your own interviewees, you can listen for the appropriate responses from particular individuals to make sure you’re conducting applicable and relevant qualitative research for whatever campaign you’re working on. It really does make your life a whole lot easier if you’re often in the weeds with research and insights for your company.

With All of That Said…

I’m sure we can all do a better job of listening – while at work or simply during conversations with our friends and family. Not only does listening make you a better professional, but it also makes you a better person. So let’s all try to make an effort to be better listeners. Not just the next time you have a meeting, but every single day.

“Communicating isn’t the ability to speak eloquently or fluidly or even intellectually. It’s the ability to listen and commitment to listening to another’s point of view.” – Anonymous

Written by Laura Rabushka on July 23, 2015

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Michael Birch says:

Spyfu is a nice tool but it's too limited for my taste. It's good when your focus is on UK and US but I work on projects from all over the world, so how do I use it for a client who's focusing on Canada or Australia. These are most wanted countries in ecommerce. SERPstat, for instance, has all major countries + others like Lithuania, Kazakhstan and many more. Will SpyFu adress this issue?

Written by
Laura Rabushka