Listen, Learn, and Lead: Market Research & Communications Strategy in the Social Media Age

By October 10, 2012Communications, Marketing

John Herrmann

The following is a guest post by our research partner, John Herrmann, Sr. Associate, metro tribal.[i]

“If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.” Tom Peters

“Great communication depends on two simple skills—context, which attunes a leader to the same frequency as his or her audience, and delivery, which allows a leader to phrase messages in a language the audience can understand.” John Maxwell

One of the striking things about this year’s presidential election is how difficult it has been for the challenger, Mitt Romney, to create a compelling and consistent narrative for his campaign. While it may be premature to call the election or fairly judge the candidates’ performances, it is not too early to conclude that Mr. Romney and his team have fared poorly in the social media arena. Despite record-breaking spending on traditional advertising, the Romney campaign has been dragged down by grainy YouTube videos and other viral messaging that relentlessly undermined and diverted attention from the candidate’s careful attempts to brand himself.

Regardless of the election’s outcome or how one feels about it, Romney’s struggles show clearly how hard it is for anyone — regardless of wealth, position, or other advantages — to control their own public identity in our competitive, socially interconnected world. And though most of us don’t operate under the extreme pressure of a Presidential contest, thoughtful business owners, executives, and other leaders should be worried that their organization’s image, reputation, and very viability may hinge on ideas and images that float uncontrolled on the wireless waves of today’s world-wide web. As Tom Peters suggests, if you’re feeling safe in this business climate, then you probably don’t understand it.

So given that it’s increasingly hard to control the information circulating about your brand or company, how can you increase the odds that others’ stories about you will enhance rather than diminish your reputation? First, recognize that it’s more important than ever for leaders to know and really understand the people they are trying to lead, whether employees, customers, voters, donors, or other followers. It’s not enough to know who buys what you’re selling but why they do; what your product or service means in the broader context of their lives and why they prefer it over the alternatives. You need to look at yourself as your customer sees you, and show that what matters to them also matters to you. If you prove to be a loyal servant to your followers’ values and priorities, they will be more likely to stay with you even in the face of conflicting information.

But if you’re having trouble connecting with a particular audience segment, if you have a product that’s underperforming, or if you have employees who don’t seem to get what you need them to do, market research may help you discover where your messages are missing their mark and get you back on track. As trained observers of human behavior, market researchers use a variety of tools and methods to listen to your audience and to learn where you are losing them. By arming you with fresh insights and a deeper understanding of where your crowd is coming from, you should be better prepared to lead them going forward.

[i] metro tribal™ is a division of Sector Intelligence, Inc., a social and market research firm serving leading corporations, trade and professional associations, non-profits, and government agencies for more than a decade. Visit us on the web at or call anytime at (434) 202-5145 for a free, no-risk consultation.