Listening is Always a Good Thing?

mcdonalds breakfast all day
mcdonalds breakfast all day
Image courtesy of McDonalds

If you ever had a hankering for an Egg McMuffin or pancakes at midnight — you were just out of luck. McDonalds stopped breakfast at 10:30 so they could switch the grills over to their lunch menu, which raises the question: “Who eats lunch at 10:30?”

Did McDonalds listen?

Last week, faced with massively shrinking profits, McDonalds finally announced they’ll serve breakfast all day in their restaurants. Well, isn’t that nice of them — since we’ve complained for YEARS that cutting off breakfast at 10:30 is just too early — especially for techies who’ve worked into the morning. We don’t even struggle out of bed until around noon.

Of course, that depends on your definition of “breakfast”, which, for McDonalds either includes biscuits or McMuffins (not both) and pancakes, according to Business Insider.

McDonald’s restaurants will serve either McMuffin sandwiches or biscuit sandwiches — not both — depending on local preferences, according to the company.

The restaurants serving McMuffin sandwiches will only serve three kinds: The egg McMuffin, the sausage McMuffin with egg, and the sausage McMuffin.

Those serving biscuit sandwiches will also have three options: The bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, the sausage biscuit with egg, and the sausage biscuit.

Pancakes, sausage burritos, yogurt and oatmeal will also be on the menu.

McGriddles and bagels won’t be available. Hash browns may be available at some restaurants.

Listening to customers matters

Listening to customers matters. Firms that don’t listen find themselves moved out of the consideration set for increasingly large numbers of consumers.

According to The Motley Fool (in a news report based on fact, not some spoof from the world of weird and unusual human behavior):

The move is happening because of public demand. The fast-food chain acknowledged in the press release that it’s the No. 1 request it hears from customers. “In fact, more than 120,000 people tweeted McDonald’s asking for breakfast throughout the day in the past year alone,” it claimed.

As a marketer for the last 35 years, I’ve heard all the arguments from operations, finance, and the C-suite”

We can’t afford to give customers ….

We only have so much capacity, we have to make what we can.

How can you prove customers want XYZ, you only have some comments from your survey? Put some numbers behind that and we’ll talk.

Sure, some folks said XYZ about our product, but we have millions of consumers. Why should we care that we have a few folks mouthing off against our product?

Interestingly, lots of the folks who’ve said that in the past are now wondering what happened to their huge profits and are laying folks off right and left.

Suddenly, firms of all sizes consider making a few concessions to meet demands customers made for years — like McDonald’s breakfast.

Listening versus monitoring

For a group of people who call themselves analysts, it’s surprising there’s no consensus about the difference between listening and monitoring — hence why we have intelligent folks making some of the comments above.

Listening involves gathering and interpreting conversations. In the days before social media, this was expensive, time-consuming, and required special skills to form focus groups capable of shedding insights to optimize market performance.

Now, all you need is a good “ear” to hear conversations on social networks. It’s like being invited into your customers’ living rooms and even having an opportunity to join the conversations.

Monitoring is, according to MarketingProfs, more of a “scrape and dump” approach to social network conversations. Instead of listening to customers and analyzing their comments to provide insights, monitoring (often automated) provides counts of keywords, number of mentions, and, if you’re really lucky, a few associations between your keywords and other words in the conversation.

Benefits of listening

The benefits of listening never materialize if other managers and C-suite members don’t buy into the importance of listening. I remember teaching a class full of management-level folks from Fortune 100 firms and arguing for the importance of listening to customers. One particularly brave student basically said I was the stupidest person alive (and trust me he didn’t couch his sentiments much). Why would anyone care about what a few people said about anything when your market is millions of consumers.

Of course, that comment preceded the crash in 2008 (and let’s call it what it was, not an economic downturn). In the time after this astute manager made his crass statement, his firm lost $millions in revenue and faced a recall that nearly bankrupted the company. His company tried to reason with consumer fears rather than accepting their perception that his company was to blame.

In marketing, perception is all that matters, reality has no place in our discussions.

Period.

If consumers THINK you have a problem; you have a big problem.

Compare the response above with the response from Tylenol during the tampering scandal that rocked the firm in 1982. While knowledgable folks predicted the tampering spelled death to the flagship J&J brand, the brand came back faster and stronger after a quick response to consumer fear. Instead of “fiddling while Rome burned” as was the fashion, Tylenol managers quickly ordered a total recall of all forms of the popular pain reliever.

Before the crisis ended, J&J spent $100 million in the recall and subsequent relaunch of Tylenol, but quick consumer response not only won over consumers, but supported other J&J products and helped launch them in their successful bid in the lucrative pharmaceutical business.

Listening goes beyond responding

Being offered a seat at the dining room table of billions of consumers offers other benefits to brands willing to listen.

Not only is listening a great tool for taking the temperature of consumers, it offers insights into unmet needs that offer stellar opportunities for organizational expansion into new products.

Sure, some consumers might voice their desire for a pair of shoes with a lower heel or a less pointy toe, but they’re also likely to express needs that drive entire new industries.

listening to consumersFor instance, ask any woman about her shoes and your gonna get complaints about her feet hurting — especially if she’s walking a lot or dancing at a club. But who wants to wear ugly shoes, especially out to a club. The solution? Vending machines selling cheap slipper-like shoes available for club-goers to ease their sore tootsies.

This idea based on listening to consumers spawned an entire industry of machines selling comfortable shoes and flip-flops.

Beware of who you’re listening to

Maybe you overlooked the small question mark at the end of my post title.

No, it wasn’t a mistake.

You really have to be careful who you listen to. A recent study found listening on social networks emphasizes a few folks who basically shout at us and marginalize folks like you and me who post occasionally. An important element of these findings is that those shouters are statistically different from the rest of us in terms of demographics and psychographics.

So, what does that mean?

It means you need to be careful when you’re listening. Recognize that just because you “hear” something a lot, doesn’t mean that comment is more important to your brand than comments you “hear” infrequently. That’s especially true when you’re listening to folks who aren’t part of your target audience.

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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of Hausman Marketing Letter, is a full service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media.