Group Listening by Helen Sullivan

Research can really help guide decision-making. You may have done some formal or informal marketing research for your organization. Easy access to SurveyMonkey and other online surveying tools have made polls a snap, though I feel strongly that without the assist of a bona fide marketing research expert, questions can be poorly worded or worded to invite bias and result in useless or erroneous results (but that’s a post for another day).

Years ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was a client of mine when I worked for the Washington, D.C. advertising/public relations agency Henry J. Kaufman & Associates.Sullivan post graphic

My wonderful FTC client liaison, Nancy Sachs, and I became good friends during a stretch of years when we developed public service announcements to help educate consumers about everything from the FTC’s Funeral Rule to buying used cars. Before each campaign, we did marketing research that included conducting focus groups with eight to 12 people.

These two-hour sessions were carefully moderated by a professional marketing researcher and recorded. Focus group rooms are generally equipped with two-way mirrors so ad agency personnel can watch without becoming a distraction (with full disclosure, of course).

What great entertainment–and so enlightening– to hear people express their feelings on a topic that matters to you or your cause.

Here’s the point: Listening—not just reading results, but really listening–is very valuable when it comes to customers and others you want to reach or serve.

What made me think of this today? I am sitting at gate C in Terminal A at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. I’m at an eatery that features at each station an iPad with menu, a plug to charge my phone, and a credit card swipe. From this vantage point I can see my gate which is only about 40 feet away. There must be at least 60 of these stations in this central gate area and travelers are digging it! I charged my phone, ordered breakfast, watched CNN, swiped my credit card to pay, collected a receipt, and was on my way.

Someone did some really good thinking to develop this system and my guess is some good focus-grouping was part of it.

What would bringing together a group of your community, customers, tenants, patrons, students, faculty, staff, or other stakeholders do for your organization?