Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GeroMarketing™ Basic #2: Listen Actively.

This is tricky, because unless you’re in a personal selling situation, you’re not actually face-to-face with the customer. That means in order to hear what Baby Boomers are “saying,” you have to rely on research. But can you depend on it? Ageism is so pervasive that you need to have the acute sensitivity of a gerontology counselor to tease out the valid from the invalid, the truth from the prejudice.

Fortunately, each of us has a third ear that allows us to hear in more discerning ways than the other two do. However, the third ear has to be trained to be useful. That’s what active listening is about.

Active listening can be traced back to Carl Rogers’s client-centered therapy. In counseling, its purpose is to listen so attentively that the therapist can reflect back to the speaker what was heard with a high degree of accuracy. It’s a skill well worth developing, because it’s very useful in countless contexts beyond the therapeutic milieu.

In fact, you can use the principles of active listening to help you develop and implement your marketing communications with Baby Boomers. Learning to use your third ear will help you see the facts and figures derived from Boomer research in a new light. It will give you a more sensitive understanding of the concepts behind the numbers, as well as the feelings associated with them. When you make a concerted effort to be aware of your preconceived notions, feelings and opinions, you can hear a more accurate kind of truth which will help you reach Boomers more effectively.

Next time you’re assessing research, be it quantitative or qualitative, review these four concepts from gerontology counseling to help fine-tune your third ear. They’ll help you form conclusions that resonate with Boomers in ways that facts and figure won’t.

o Empathy happens when you penetrate external perspectives and break through to a clearer understanding of the Boomer’s internal frame of reference. As an empathic listener, you’ll understand the Boomer’s thoughts and feelings in a way that paints a more accurate picture than the obvious conclusions you might otherwise draw from the research.

o Acceptance is empathy’s kissin’ cousin. It entails having respect for each Boomer simply for being him or herself. And when it’s unconditional, it’s a powerful relationship builder, because everyone loves to be loved for just being. Acceptance will help you avoid making value judgments about what the Boomer believes. That, in turn, will encourage the Boomer to let his or her defenses down and become more receptive to hearing what you have to say.

o Congruence is about being genuine, open, and candid. As a congruent listener, you know yourself because you’re in touch with your thoughts and feelings. Rather than pretending to be objective, you don’t mask emotions, you communicate with genuine candor. In advertising and marcom, being that real is exceedingly rare. But Boomers are good at sniffing out artificiality and insincerity, so keep it real.

o Concreteness means focusing on specifics rather than generalities. Be precise about facts, figures, anecdotes—anything you use to try to persuade Boomers to consider what you’re selling. That doesn’t mean you can’t take creative flights of fancy. You just have to make sure that ultimately you return to earth and connect with something real that resonates with Boomers. In the end, being vague is unconvincing. Reality is the only place where productive communication can grow.

Learning to listen actively isn’t easy, but it will help smooth out the often bumpy road to the Boomer Buyer Center. Make the effort, and you’ll reap the rewards.

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