Listen up, Marketers! Here’s How to Increase Your ROI.

“In one ear and out the other.” This was a popular saying of my mother’s when I was growing up. I didn’t listen well, especially when my mind was elsewhere, like when I was reading or watching cartoons or playing with the other neighborhood kids. I don’t know how we both survived those years, but we did.

I’m a better listener now. During my teenage years, when I was working in a grocery store, I had to hone in on my listening skills in order to build customer relationships and help them find whatever they needed. This often resulted in customers returning to my store and asking for me directly. Success!

Today, in my current role at a marketing agency, I’ve continued to fine-tune my listening skills. When it comes to smart marketing, the first step is understanding your audience. Customers know pretty darn well what they want in a product, and the insight they provide will help you improve your company’s marketing ROI.

This means that we, as marketers, have to effectively listen to what customers really want.

Arizona Iced Tea, a company that rose to popularity in the 90s and is still relevant today, is a brand that consistently puts this principle to work. Prior to their branding, the founders of Arizona Iced Tea put their boots on the ground and asked kids what they wanted in an iced tea. They stayed away from asking anything specific about their product, so as not to limit the answers. What they discovered was pretty interesting:

  • Their target customer wanted to stand out. Arizona Iced Tea took this insight into account when making packaging decisions. They produced cans instead of bottles, and they made a 24-ounce can instead of the standard 16-ounce. No other tea products at that time came in cans, let alone cans of that size. Arizona was able to stand out on the shelves of any bodega or grocery store.
  • The target customer also wanted to look cool. Arizona ramped up their “cool factor” by creating labels that were bold, bright, and unique. The design aesthetics looked distinct from every other tea on the market.

Taking time to listen to their target audience resulted in hundreds of millions in sales within the first two years for this new brand. And a high level of brand loyalty. That’s some pretty good ROI.

You, too, can listen to your audience. Here are some helpful tips:

4 ways to listen to your audience

Online Surveys

Pro: These help you gather in-depth, verbatim answers from your target audience. People are often more honest when they can answer anonymously.

Con: Not a lot of qualified people are willing to participate in surveys. One suggestion is to include incentives. Many people are willing to fill out surveys for a prize. Another solution we’ve used is to create a small social ad campaign for the survey that targets the participants you want.

Social Analytics

Pro: Click-through rate, website traffic numbers, and engagements are all at your fingertips. This kind of data is valuable and can be plentiful when it comes to audience insight. Your company’s social channels, like Facebook and Twitter, do a great job of analyzing your audience’s preferences and behaviors.

Con: Marketers have to keep in mind that analytics do not tell the whole story. They must be looked at as part of a bigger picture. We use social analytics combined with data we’ve gathered from other research tactics to give us a complete understanding of the target audience.


Pro: This tactic is done with a question posed to a broad group on the internet. It’s a non-committal way of getting a high volume of answers. And it’s flexible. It is also less formal, and it might encourage honest candid answers.

Con: Not everything you get will be relevant. With practice, you will start to identify what’s real and what’s not. It will be easier to sort through the answers. In the meantime, you can also try targeting your question on social media. For example, if you are trying to target teenagers, you can boost your post to that targeted audience.

One-on-One/Focus Group Interviews

Pro: This tactic allows you to dig deeper into people’s answers. Everyone loves being listened to. If they have a chance to tell their story, they will. This type of listening is great for case studies or in-depth research on a new brand. It takes time, but the in-depth conversation can lead to incredible insights.

Con: It can be hard to find a good sampling of participants. Similar to online surveys, you can increase participation with an incentive — like taking them to lunch. Additional tip: schedule your in-person interviews in places that are convenient for the participants you are targeting. If you find that you are having trouble getting your participants together, try video chats, like Zoom, or phone calls. You can also find participants in your own personal network.

Presidential adviser and businessman Bernard Baruch once said, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” While it’s our job as marketers to tell stories through strong creative executions, the telling always starts with listening.