This post originally appeared at MENGOnline.  With thanks to the MENG folks for the invitation to submit a Guest Post, we now re-post here.

Name the venue — sales and business development, marcomm, public relations — take your pick.  Often the single greatest impediment to success is the failure to begin at the beginning.

The foundational principle of communication theory is that connection — the kind that precipitates (or even demands) action — is born in the context of shared experiences.  Any marketer can recite the reasons behind the rationale; language, values, fears and aspirations in large part emanate from experience.  They shape the translation and interpretation of message, and hence, predict resulting action.

But the identification of shared experiences requires a brand of research that transcends focus groups.  More to the point, in order to identify common language, values, fears and aspirations, the initial focus of a marketing enterprise should be on listening.  And far too often, this focus represents a shift — away from predetermined messaging.

The challenge lies in what we’ve grown to believe about effective communication.  Mention great communication, and what do we think of?  Likely, the words of stirring orators or poetic writers come to mind.  Award winning advertising is all about the creation and production of the message, and we quote memorable tag lines and hum catchy songs or jingles.

Organizations focus on the creation and delivery of an elevator speech.  Sales teams hone the pitch.  Pubic relations experts (not to mention, politicians) rehearse and recite quotable sound bites.

In fact, so obsessed are we with messaging that the first question when considering Social Media is often, What will we post on our Facebook page?; or, What can we possibly say in 140 characters?

But what might be the result of an approach to connecting that is intent on listening?  How much more rewarding might our communication efforts be if we focused as much on identifying shared hopes and dreams as we do on the creation of a message?

Intentional listening is bigger than focus groups and satisfaction surveys.  It is a process rooted in on-going dialogue, as opposed to monologue.  It has as its objective, the identification of common ground.  It is more about responding than dictating or evangelizing.  And it is based on the knowledge that listening is the path to the creation of the most effective message.

Marketers intent on listening can find themselves engaged in the kind of conversations around which communities are built, concerns are addressed, and the future envisioned.

And for every marketer or organization interested in the long-term, shared aspirations trump fans, followers and even satisfied customers.  Incentive enough to begin with listening.