“Seek first to understand,…

… then to be understood”, Stephen Covey

This is Habit 5 from the famous book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I want to consider two areas of marketing in which this approach can be applied.
Firstly in marketing communications, this says to me that research and customer understanding must come before defining and broadcasting our message. The important word here is understanding.
I believe there is an old Native American saying something like “You are my friend when you walk in my moccasins” which is very relevant to market research. When we understand customers so well that we can see things through their eyes, we can see what is important to them and predict their responses.
At this point we can shape our messages and chose our media to communicate effectively to them. It is almost inevitable that this deep understanding requires qualitative research techniques (e.g. interviews and focus groups) in addition to quantitative methods (surveys, questionnaires etc.). Quantitative research is very useful, but tends to be observational and is prone to over-emphasising rational elements of the decision making process.
Secondly, when talking to customers, suppliers, colleagues or any other stakeholder, are we really listening, or focussing more on making our point? Sometimes even subconsciously we are filtering what is being said to fit our existing attitudes and beliefs.
How easy is it to listen just enough to decide which one of our existing ‘boxes’ to put them or their views in? How hard is it to avoid judging, guessing what they are going to say or just switching off and mentally drafting our response? That’s when we fail to ‘see the wood for the trees’.
Of course it is usually when we work hard at understanding that we learn something new, spot opportunities and strengthen relationships. It’s hard work, but so very valuable.