Borrowing political techniques to develop new strategies

Whilst reading an article about a political ‘listening tour’ being conducted by America’s top diplomat John Kerry – to gauge views on Syria, Iran and the Israeli-Palestine conflict – I started to think about the similarities it draws within marketing research and strategy.

Like politics, we have changes in the economy and/or social, cultural environment where new challenges and opportunities are created in the market and need sorting. This usually involves managing lots of stakeholder opinions and views from interested parties to agree on a plan for investigative research and identify a solution to move forward.

So if politicians can devise powerful strategies for wealth and world domination, we must be able to learn a few tricks from them and apply this to businesses and brands i.e. could listening tours be the new wave of research?

How a ‘listening tour’ works

  • The meetings are publicised, inviting the public or whoever it is they specifically want to show up (usually it is those with the strongest views, who are passionate about the topic). Actually, this reminds me of a co-creative approach, where emphasis is placed on the evangelists and lovers of a brand or topic. Perhaps this could be a more useful way of getting the right consumers involved in research?
  •  The politician then gets to know the people, listening to their stories and ideas and taking down questions to discuss after the meeting.  In research, we tend to be the ones asking the questions, and lots of them, yet there could be an opportunity to let consumers do the asking. When did we last request consumers to steer the conversation and define what we should talk about?
  •  During this process someone takes notes and photos and a story is posted about what was learned. This short and sharp communication can be highly effective, rather than labouring over long debriefs, we could put clear stories together, quickly sharing a blog post about what we learnt and what this means for our client. Helping them become more aware of the developmental process, aiding meaning and action of the final strategic recommendation – rather than a waiting to see and tell all approach (which can often be too late).

Brands are creating their own form of public policy

Interestingly, McDonald’s has already undertaken a ‘listening tour’ themselves, seeking input from key audiences on how they could best serve communities in the areas of food, people and the environment. In a way, it is as if McDonald’s is forging their own brand policy.  Using a political approach to create cultural leadership.

Perhaps listening tours will become a critical research tool of the future, where we take our clients on guided excursions, allowing for meaningful conversations with consumers, who are then charged with setting the agenda. And as strategists, we learn more by listening, saving our questions for our clients about what type of policy needs to be created to become a brand leader.