Stop communicating and have a conversation

Marketers who are tuned into customer values will steer their companies to rich rewards

Marketing to today’s consumer is a hard business. Audiences are fragmented; people have no time to listen; they’re media savvy and clued up. For anyone who runs a business, that’s one tough customer walking in the door. We live in societies that are more connected than ever before. Customers are empowered to consume, as well as contribute to, information from a wide range of sources.

But my belief is that if marketers really grapple with these changes, they can develop an “internal compass” to steer their communications. Marketers who achieve this will find themselves at the centre of business success – because success will be driven by a deep understanding of consumers and society. We all know that marketing today is less transactional. It has become a conversation, based on an understanding of shared values. At Sky and News Corporation we’re learning what all this means for our customer relationships. At first we saw technology as an opportunity to talk to more consumers in the same old way. That was wrong. It doesn’t mean you get a lot more chances to deliver messages.

Rather, as etiquette queen Miss Manners once suggested, if we stopped communicating to each other, we might be able to have a conversation. Complaints about the attention deficit of modern consumers are, in reality, admissions of something gone badly wrong: a listening deficit on the part of brands. Trouble cutting through might have more to do with brand values that aren’t in tune with those of the modern consumer.

Values-based marketing and consumer dialogue are nothing new, but we’re all guilty of talking about them and still falling into the familiar routines of the 30-second spot, the great poster, etc. There are few campaigns that are driven by real values, creating the opportunity to learn how people think and feel – campaigns that build trust. Part of trust comes from good old-fashioned values like customer service, transparent pricing, or treating customers fairly. These will remain fundamental. But people rightly want more: they expect us to share their concerns and respond to them. If you can consistently show how your values and your compass guide your business then you will stand out and get a powerful response. For example, The Sun’s energy-efficient light bulb giveaway saw 4.5 million bulbs distributed – and the paper sold over 400,000 extra copies.

Yes it’s tough out there, but that’s often when outstanding marketing has real impact. Companies need good marketing people at the top if they are to succeed: people who respect and listen to customers, and create an understanding based on shared values through genuine dialogue; people who have a compass and steer by it, in good weather and in bad. These are the people who understand that there has been no better time to do business better.

James Murdoch is executive chairman and chief executive of News Corporation in Europe and Asia, and non-executive chairman of BSkyB

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