Tappers vs. Listeners: Who’s Who?

Published On July 20, 2009 | By mbalogh | Blog, Uncategorized

Made to Stick , a book by Chip and Dan Heath, brings about concept of tappers and listeners with respect to marketing.  They contend marketers have too much information to adequately convey their message to prospective customers — it’s like an inside joke meant for the world that only we get.  But what if the reverse was true?  What if they are the tappers?  Then we are the ones without all the information and we’re missing the message the world is trying to tell us.

For those of you not familiar with the tappers and listeners concept, here’s an overview loosely as stated in Made to Stick:  In 1990, Elizabeth Newton earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: “tappers” or “listeners.”  Tappers received a list of twenty-five well-known songs, such as “Happy Birthday to You” and “The StarSpangled Banner.”  Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener (by knocking on a table).  The listener’s job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped.   Before the listeners guessed the name of the song, however, Newton asked the tappers to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly.  The tappers predicted the odds were 50 percent.  Over the course of Newton’s experiment, however, listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs correctly.   The tappers actually got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2.  As marketers there are two ways we can look at this:

Way #1 (we are the tappers):

Tappers are us, the marketers.  We have a tune in our head but cannot sing it; we can only tap it out in monotone advertisements.  Listeners are our prospective customers, the targets of our marketing.  They do not have the same information we have, the tune in their head, so, with only our monotone tapping to go by, they have to guess what we’re trying to say.  The tune in our head makes us think we’ve done our job, but the reality is that monotonous tapping is simply driving our customers crazy.  This is what our ego would have us believe; we’ve got too much information for our slow customers to keep up.

Way #2 (we are the listeners):

It’s relatively easy for companies to lay problems with marketing on the customer.  It’s like walking into and interview and answering the question “what’s your biggest fault” with “I’m just too darn smart for all those around me. They just don’t get what I’m trying to say.”  We all do it.  We all think we’re being clear.   We all think what’s in our head is correct and justified.  And we do this until we learn otherwise, then revise our paradigm.

Social media is the otherwise; it’s time to revise.  Social media is about listening to our customers and finding out what they want.   What matters to them? How can we better serve them?  Within traditional marketing customers have a tune in their head and their trying to sing it but they can only tap (if that). Much of the time we’re so busy tapping away trying to be louder than our competitors we can’t even hear them. When/if we can, via letters and other means of feedback, there is no formal protocol to make real change.   Customers only power, their only way to get their message through to us, the only thing we hear, is the sound of them leaving.

That was traditional marketing, this is new media.  New media gives voices to each of our customers.   A real voice; one that we can hear.  And when these voices begin to harmonize the collective volume surpasses even our marketing.   They become a voice that we should be listening to and learning from, not one that we should be blocking out with the incorrect assumption we have all the information we need.  Within new media there is a conversation going on.   It’s already taking place and we are just a guest who is welcome, like everyone else, to participate.  They don’t ask much.  Be relevant, be courteous, and work towards the betterment of the collective participants.  Sounds a lot like a good business model.

New media is not a conduit for the same monotone advertising.  It won’t work, many have tried.  In this world we are not the only tappers.  No one will subscribe to the “all advertising all the time” twitter feed and, if they do, they quickly come to their senses and unsubscribe.   We have to be better than that.   We have to have value.  And, in return for our effort, we gain insight into the collective of our customers and potential customers.  We gain personal information and preferences.  We gain a tune to our tapping because new media gives us the opportunity not to tune out our customers song.

Be a listener, not a tapper.  Listen to the customers, they have a lot to say.  New media users are voluntarily generating increasingly more and better data both about themselves and each other.  They tell us their likes, their dislikes, their opinions and feedback, and who their friends and family are.  One facebook application alone has users creating quizes about themselves to determine how well their friends know them.  They are practically segmenting themselves!   It’s a marketers dream come true.  If only we could stop tapping.

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