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What Listening Says About Your Brand

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When searching the Internet, it's awfully nice that Google anticipates what you're asking and completes your thought.


When serving on a technology panel, it's not so nice that Google Chairman Eric Schmidt anticipates what you're saying and completes your thought.

Such was the unfortunate experience of Megan Smith, former Google employee, now the U.S. chief technology officer, at the South by Southwest Conference. Smith, Schmidt and writer Walter Isaacson comprised a panel focused on innovation. An unforeseen dimension of the discussion, however, involved Schmidt and Isaacson consistently cutting off their colleague, thwarting Smith's attempts to finish some sentences.

Thankfully, audience member and Google Diversity Manager Judith Williams called out Schmidt and Isaacson for their bad behavior. Since the event, many pundits have rightly painted what transpired as an issue of gender equality. And in addition to that important point, another fundamental flaw can be named -- a failure to listen.

Related: What's Your Company's 'Voice'? Here's How to Figure It Out.

In an age of communication proliferation, organizations can listen to their stakeholders more effectively than ever. But has the capacity for everyone to concurrently post and tweet impacted our ability to listen, not just in the digital realm but also in the old school way -- with our ears?

With so much talking, perhaps listening is becoming a lost art -- unfortunate for many reasons, including the positive impact that genuine listening has on a brand, whether that brand is an organization or an individual. Here are three important things that listening says about your brand:

1. It's not all about you.

There are brands that talk at us all the time, telling us what they think we must know about them -- what they're doing at this moment; what they'll have on sale for the next two hours. Individuals and institutions that listen show that they're more interested in what's on our minds.

Such an "other" orientation is first exhibited by not talking incessantly. Listening brands allow ample space for us to express our thoughts, whether that involves talking with them or someone else. They also ask us heartfelt questions, not to mine more data from us, but because they're genuinely interested. Their listening shows that their brand truly cares.

Related: Mastering Your Brand's Story

2. You don't have all the answers.

No one likes a know-it-all. Not surprising, people who believe they're omniscient often dominate discussions. What's the point in them asking for information when all knowledge resides in-house?

Of course, no individual or organization has a corner on wisdom, and by listening we openly acknowledge our limitations and recognize that others also have important things to say. True, people shun brands that exhibit incompetence, but they're drawn to brands that are genuine and credible -- two characteristics that listening clearly conveys.

3. You want to get better.

People and organizations that really want to improve are usually like sponges -- they're so excited to learn that they eagerly soak up whatever useful information flows within reach. One of the best ways to absorb enriching and actionable information is to listen.

Yes, people want to engage with brands that are already strong, but they also want to know where those brands are headed, i.e., are they on an upward or downward path? Listening demonstrates a desire to do things better, which is comforting and confirming to a brand's consumers.

In an environment of incessant interaction, there's irony to the idea that brands might benefit by talking less and listening more. Similarly, people might actually appreciate something seldom associated with a strong brand -- humility.

Related: It's Not You, It's Your Story: Why Branding Matters

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