Building Your Brand’s Future: Part 3 – Active Listening

by Jenny on June 20, 2020 Comments Off on Building Your Brand’s Future: Part 3 – Active Listening

People tend to view change in one of two ways, as an obstacle or as an opportunity. Neither is right or wrong, but the latter is definitely more empowering than the former. Those who are proactive in seeking opportunities during times of change are more likely to grow and evolve, so having a strategic process to guide decision making will aid in navigating unfamiliar territory.

This four-part blog series is meant to provide an overarching framework for brands looking to uncover and act upon the opportunities hidden within uncertainty. Our strategic process is one that builds upon itself along the way, adding value with each step and leveraging the results of one to support the next. So if you haven’t already, I encourage you to start by reading Part 1 – Data Inventory. It’s important to understand how we’ve arrived at this point and the ways in which preceding steps act as a foundation moving forward.

Whether you’re a business or a consumer, it’s natural to have questions and concerns about the future. This is true in general, but even more so now as the world rapidly changes before our eyes. A great benefit of collective change is that we’re all in it together. We share in the day-to-day challenges and we often share the same goals. Herein lies a wonderful opportunity to connect, engage, and support one another in a way that technology has made easier than ever – listening.

It’s important to note, there’s a difference between listening and hearing.

True listening requires a conscious, intentional effort to understand the experience of someone else. By listening, we not only gain insight and wisdom; we offer validation and empathy. People want to have a voice, and when given the opportunity they will clearly share their wants, needs and challenges. When we listen, we learn. When we learn, we can make informed decisions. When we make informed decisions, we yield more desirable outcomes.

The art of listening is simple, but it’s not easy. A strategic approach is required to ensure the timing is right, the channel effective, and the questions being asked are relevant. Leveraging this strategic approach to strengthen customer experiences and accomplish business objectives is what we call active listening.

For the past 35 years, we’ve partnered with brands to connect and engage their customers in meaningful dialogue with the intent of actively listening. We empower these brands to understand and act upon the feedback they receive; thereby strengthening relationships and achieving their bottom-line objectives. Here are a few points of focus:


The Objective
Clearly and concisely define the purpose of collecting feedback to ensure each facet contributes to accomplishing the overall goal and results analysis is actionable rather than observational.

Thousands of surveys are sent out every day, many of which lack a clear purpose. These projects typically yield interesting observations but don’t provide actionable insights. How can they if there’s no clearly defined goal at the onset? Even if there are actionable insights to be found within the feedback data, the analytic process will have no clear direction without a previously defined objective. Furthermore, each team and department will have their own opinion of what’s most important, so data requests will be pulling in all different directions. All the sudden, feedback collection has been completed but there’s no consensus of where to go next. Hindsight reveals that starting with a clear objective would have produced more actionable insights with broader organizational application.


Survey Development
From question wording and structure to survey layout and design, the survey itself deserves as much attention as any other phase of the project.

Too often we see brands overlook the importance of survey development. Before getting into methodology, it’s important to point out that a survey is a branded touchpoint just like any marketing or promotional piece. Customers will open and interact with a survey at higher levels of engagement than most social media posts or newsletters, so why aren’t they afforded the same creative resources?

The look and feel of a survey are much more than cosmetic features because it contributes to overall brand identity and perception. In addition to these consistency attributes, the plain reality is that customers don’t want to be bored with brand content. They want to interact with something fun, creative and unique. Just because surveys have an important functional purpose doesn’t mean aesthetics should be ignored.

As for methodology, there is a delicate science behind effective survey development. Things like double-barreled questions, leading bias and survey fatigue are common factors in diluting response data reliability. Survey flow (i.e. the order in which questions appear) has a significant impact as well. Structural and organizational factors of survey design can hurt response rates and lead to respondent confusion. These pitfalls are completely avoidable and easy to address, so long as the survey development team is experienced and mindful during this process.


Communicating Intent & Following Up
Introducing the purpose of the survey, explaining how the results will be used, and sharing some high-level results upon project completion are key aspects of active listening.

These are defining factors that distinguish active listening from hearing.

Survey respondents are more likely to engage with openness and honesty when they understand the reason they are being asked for feedback, and they’re more likely to participate again in future surveys if they hear from the brand about how their feedback is being used. Surveys are more than a data collection tool; they are brand engagement touchpoints and relationship building opportunities.

We previously defined active listening as the conscious effort to understand someone else’s experience with the intent of taking action based on their feedback. Doing all this behind closed doors eliminates the validation aspect which makes listening so powerful. At some point in time, we’ve all completed a survey and never heard back from the sender. Or we’ve received a survey invitation and didn’t participate because it didn’t seem worth it to us. These bookend experiences define our future behavior, so why are they so often overlooked?

Start a survey by explaining, briefly but in detail, why your brand is conducting the research. Bring respondents into the process and illustrate how vital their input is to the success of your brand. When people understand WHY they’re being asked to participate, they’re more likely to do so. Then, once the survey is closed and results are analyzed, circle back with these respondents to share some key highlights or high-level findings. Better yet, share this with all customers – even those who didn’t respond. Showing how closely you’ve listened and outlining how the input is being applied internally will inspire and motivate future participation.

Imagine you receive a survey invitation saying “we want your feedback” but you don’t know why, and after you complete the survey you never hear anything after the automatic “thank you” reply. Does that feel like a brand cares and is actively listening?


Yes, the point of a survey is to gather feedback and collect data. But it can – and should – be SO much more than that. By putting in the effort to show you’re actively listening to customers, you will receive more meaningful insight, build stronger relationships, and foster a channel of two-way communication that will yield benefits long into the future.

Our next post along this four-part series will cover how all these pieces fit together and provide examples of how brands can apply the insights gained from the previous steps:

PART 1 – Using what you know today to identify what you need to know for tomorrow

PART 2 – Developing a customer insight strategy to support business objectives AND strengthen customer relationships

PART 3 – Engaging customers with the intent of actively listening and authentically responding

PART 4 – Applying customer insights to support current processes (Be Relevant) and forward-thinking action plans (Stay Relevant)



Jenny Dinnen is President of Sales and Marketing at MacKenzie Corporation. Driven to maximize customer's value and exceed expectations, Jenny carries a can-do attitude wherever she goes. She maintains open communication channels with both her clients and her staff to ensure all goals and objectives are being met in an expeditious manner. Jenny is a big-picture thinker who leads MacKenzie in developing strategies for growth while maintaining a focus on the core services that have made the company a success. Basically, when something needs to get done, go see Jenny. Before joining MacKenzie, Jenny worked at HD Supply as a Marketing Manager and Household Auto Finance in their marketing department. Jenny received her undergrad degree in Marketing from the University of Colorado (Boulder) and her MBA from the University of Redlands.

JennyBuilding Your Brand’s Future: Part 3 – Active Listening