NOTE: This post on Intentional Listening originally appeared at MENGOnline.  With thanks to the MENG folks for the Guest Shot, 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 experience.  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 predict 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.

The Challenge

Mention great communication and what do we think of?  Likely, the words of stirring orators or poetic writers come to mind.  We tend to think award winning advertising is all about the creation and production of the message — with memorable tag lines and catchy songs or jingles.

Organizations focus on web copy that describes capabilities in tedious detail.  Sales and business development teams hone an elevator pitch focused on what we do.  Pubic relations efforts create, rehearse and recite quotable sound bites.

So focused are we on messaging — often what we do and how we do it — that the first question when considering Social Media is often, What will we post on a Facebook page?; or, What can we possibly say in 140 characters?

If communication is falling short, maybe there is a better place to start.

For Meaningful Connections

Message is, of course, critical.  This is not to slight memorable content or excellent production and delivery.  It is to suggest that the best content emanates from a clear understanding about that which the audience cares most deeply.  Wherever communication isn’t delivering appropriate ROI, we may be slighting the basic principle of quality connection.

What might be the result of an approach that is intent on listening?  How much more rewarding might our communication efforts be if we focused as much on identifying shared concerns, hopes and dreams as we do on the creation of a tag line?  (It should be noted that those messages that resonate are either the byproduct of a masure of intentional listening, or are profoundly lucky.)

Intentional listening is bigger than focus groups and satisfaction surveys.  It is a process rooted in on-going dialogue, as opposed to singular 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 find themselves engaged in the kind of conversations around which communities are built, concerns addressed, and the future envisioned.

And for every marketer or organization interested in long-term ROI, shared aspirations trump fans, followers and even satisfied customers.

Incentive enough to begin with listening?