People Don’t Listen! Say What??

The biggest threat to the survival of the human race may not be climate change or nuclear war.

What could instead cause the extinction of our entire species is one simple fact: We are completely uninterested in listening to each other. And this general human problem is a bit of a problem for marketing, too.

Now, of course it’s not always true that we don’t listen. But think about a time when you were talking to someone who only wanted to talk about themselves and was really talking AT you instead of to you. Nobody likes that guy. Don’t be that guy.

Why isn’t anyone listening to me?!

Psychologically, there are many reasons we don’t listen. Hearing is often automatic, but listening is not.

Here’s one example of a situation in which listening is certainly not automatic. You have a problem. You ask two friends for advice. Friend #1 tells you what they think is the exact solution to the problem. Friend #2 shares a story about a time they were having the same problem you were and talks about different steps they took to overcome it. Friend #3, who you didn’t ask, chimes in with their opinion.

Chances are, Friend #2 is the friend who you will be the most receptive to. Of course there are exceptions to this. But there is power in helping people through shared experiences, through referencing third party sources, and through avoiding just telling them what to do.

Because there is so much bad advice out there, we, as intelligent and adaptable beings, develop a filter through which all the advice we receive is strained. Blindly following advice is risky. The advice we most readily accept comes from those closest to us, from the tribes to which we belong. And there are plenty of exceptions to that, too! Maybe we all have an inner “don’t tell me what to do” feeling that comes out whenever our advice filter’s On button is pushed.

Besides our advice filters, there are other reasons people don’t listen. Example: Teenagers and toddlers have something in common. They don’t like to listen to their parents. In this case, the not listening comes from a sense of superiority or a sense of not understanding why the parent is giving the advice that they are giving. And often, it comes from the toddler or teenager thinking that their parent doesn’t really understand their plight.

But marketing doesn’t work if no one listens!

Life stages and situations in which people tend especially to not listen tie into customer behavior and therefore ways in which potential customers can be reached. If someone is having the exact problem a company’s product relates to but does not want to listen for a certain reason, marketers must find a better way to reach them than by simply telling them that their product will help them.

Example: Ted is fed up with dealing with his smoke alarm having false alarms. A company’s smoke alarm is proven to have fewer false alarms. This company should know that humans under stress caused by incessant beeping will probably not listen to the company’s message in their current emotional state.

In any good writing workshop, students are told, “show, don’t tell” And it’s because most people don’t like to be told anything, but shown instead. This simple phrase holds true for more than just writing.

The sentiment of “show, don’t tell” is especially important to remember in marketing strategy. In a world so saturated with advertising, people have become very sensitive to when they’re being “sold” something.

This is why third party endorsements, testimonials, and personal storytelling are more effective ways of marketing than simply telling people a product is useful. When considering human nature in terms of listening, it makes sense that 70% of all job opportunities come from referrals.

So, what can we do?

In general, the “show, don’t tell” concept can become a way of marketing in a couple ways. And before a brand even begins trying to talk to people in a way that they will be more apt to listen to, they need to make sure they are trying to talk to the right people instead of putting forth effort to talk to every single person. Once the right people are identified, there are two main ways to reach them:

1. Lead with a third party reference.

By giving a customer non-brand-specific information about their problem, you are more likely to reach them because they will not immediately filter you out. You, first-off, gain access to their ears and eyes. Secondly, they begin feeling positive sentiments and building trust in your brand.

2. Show testimonials and endorsements.

Instead of claiming that your brand is superior, let other people say it. This has a huge hand in building reputation.

As marketers, we need to find ways to reach people that don’t involve us simply talking at them about ourselves. We don’t want to be that guy. Testimonials and third party references have power. And so does listening to others talk about themselves rather than talking about ourselves.

And if you are reading as a parent, you’re on your own. But maybe you’ll find the chart below helpful.