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4 Ways Companies Are Listening to Consumers & Authentically Steering the Conversation

Posted By: SGK July 21, 2014

For thousands of years, commerce depended on dialog. But somewhere along the way, perhaps with the rise of industrialization and mass communication, brands lost that direct connection with customers. Bruce Levinson, VP of Client Engagement at SGK, believes it's time to reestablish the dialog and shares how innovative brands are devising brilliant new ways to make the connection. Here are four examples:

1. Let customers have their say
Customers now have the ability to share their brand experiences online and smart brands are tuning in to consumer discussions on community forums, social media and even through product feedback bravely solicited right on their own websites. Sportswear brands Patagonia, Nike, and Athleta, are all encouraging users to post reviews directly to product pages. After all, shoppers look for online reviews wherever they can find them, so why not use that fact to drive them to your site? Hosting reviews of your own products can also help manage customer expectations. 

2. Build connections over shared concerns
Recently Coke partnered with Saatchi & Saatchi to engage with consumers over a shared concern – unwelcome audience noise at the movies. The team set up a green screen in the lobby of a theater and captured images of moviegoers talking on cellphones, crunching popcorn and noisily slurping from Coke-branded cups. In a back room, these scenes were digitally edited into the background of a hokey love scene. Minutes later, moviegoers were surprised to see themselves onscreen, gawking at the lovers while slurping their Cokes. The message: “Please keep quiet during the movie. It’s not the same with you in it.” It fits brilliantly with Coke’s image as a brand that celebrates community and makes shared experiences better.

3. Find opportunities to collaborate
Airbnb has taken video in an even more interactive direction, turning customers into brand advocates in the process. This open marketplace for listing and booking accommodations recently created a short film assembled from six-second clips taken by Vine users around the world, with individual shots directed via tweets to Airbnb’s 160,000 followers. More than 100 Vine submissions were edited into the story of a paper airplane. It’s a film that collaboratively engages Airbnb fans in celebrating Airbnb’s mission: “a story of travel, adventure, and finding your place in the world.” 

4. Be a good listener 
Listening can do more than creating connections between the brand and consumers. It can also help build connections between different people and even different cultures. Coca-Cola installed vending machines in shopping malls located in Lahore, Pakistan and New Delhi, India. Video screens on both sides allow people to see each other, with the invitation to “Make a friend in India” or “Make a friend in Pakistan.” Interactive features have users waving, touching hands through the screen, tracing a peace sign or heart, dancing together, photographing one another, and so on.  The theme is, “A moment of happiness has the power to bring the world closer together,” it powerfully positions Coca-Cola as a brand devoted to bringing people together. 

Opening a dialog has always been an effective way to improve the brand and gain true believers. Today’s smart brands are learning to interact with customers in fresh ways and they’re opening a new world of possibilities we’ve only begun to explore. 

For more examples of how companies are engaging with their customers in innovative ways, download Patterns Issue 1, 2014: Participatory Marketing.