Are you a good neighbor or a noisemaker?

Do you like waking up to your neighbor leaning out of her kitchen window and banging pots and pans at 2 a.m. for no reason?  How about someone revving up his motorcycle by your door right about, say, 4:16 a.m.? Every single morning? Or how about that Facebook brand that keeps shoving ads in your face when you are sure you have turned them off several times? Or maybe that newsletter you never signed up for spamming your inbox? Or various organizations and businesses practically hanging on your tail, offering their products for you to try? Doesn't it make you see red? Makes your blood boil? Well, imagine yourself in the shoes of your prospects. How would they feel if you did the same to them? Right. You get it. Don't do it. Don't be a desperate noisemaker. Be a nice neighbor, bake cookies for people, weed their gardens, and walk their dogs.

Let's take a look at what's out there. Almost all marketing tools, agencies, and people can be divided in two categories: the ones that help you create more noise, and the ones that help you listen to your customers and understand their needs.

CHOOSE YOUR PATH.

1. Are you a pesky chatterbox?

There are many marketing tools out there that do nothing else but help you shout louder. Already standing on a chair in the middle of the street? Nobody listening to your indignant cries? No worries. These folks will give you a megaphone and put you up on an even higher pedestal, to make your demands echo off the sidewalks and penetrate everyone's ear drums. Here are a few of these noise amplifiers:

Simply Measured. Simply Measured is a service that offers you social media analytics, competitive analysis, benchmarking, monitoring, and research. It's all great, but if you get into the habit of comparing your own yelling to the yelling of others, you will focus on the wrong thing. You have to focus on producing relevant content, not on how you perform next to your competitors on social media.  of course, tools like this can be used for good things, like understanding what people share and care about, but the reality is that most marketers use them to shout louder.

Hootsuite. Hootsuite is a wonderful tool if you're using it for managing your conversations with many followers on Twitter by filing them into different columns and by creating columns for specific key word searches. But if you're using it to automate your posts across Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn, you're shooting yourself in the foot. The auto-scheduling is dead. Dead. You either post everything by hand, or you don't post anything at all.  Imagine automatically playing an audio recording for your neighbor when they come home to invite them to a party, vs. doing this in person...you get the point.

BuzzSumo. This is really interesting if you are mostly interested in copying ideas, content or marketing materials. Not good.

Paper.li. Paper.li is another beast that promises to create something out of nothing. Your own newspaper in minutes! Wow! Of course, anything created in minutes has the quality of a rotten egg. Don't fall prey to this. Hardly anyone reads these. Moreover, any time people see someone use it, it's a turnoff. It tells them you're not bothering to spend your precious time to produce real meaningful content for them.

Fast Followerz. The name alone should make you scratch your head. Fast Followerz? Really? You're still falling for that gimmick? Nothing is ever fast, good, and cheap. It's either fast and good, but then it's not cheap. Or it's fast and cheap, but not good. This is the case of the latter. Just, don't. The time of buying lists is over, be it email lists or follower lists or whatever other lists. You will waste your money and it will backfire, making you lose even more money (and credibility) in the future.

All of the above-mentioned tools are about creating an insufferable racket and automating it. Great. Now you can step off your chair and walk home, and an annoying machine will scream on your behalf, irriating every single person who gets in touch with it. Good luck cultivating loyal customers!

2. Are you a thoughtful listener?

Ahhh. Isn't this better? No yakking in the street? No crying slogans? No standing in the scorching heat or drenching rain? All you have to do is, listen. Simply listen. Think about the last party you went to. For sure there was one individual who quietly observed people. Weren't you intrigued? Didn't you come up to learn more about that person? And how did it make you feel, talking about yourself, and that other mysterious someone smiling and listening? It feels wonderful to be listened to, doesn't it? Well, this is why these marketing tools are so successful.

Twitter. Twitter is absolutely fantastic to listen to people, but it cuts both ways. It's easy to abuse it. However, if you're not after thousands of followers or RTs or Favorites, you will be able to learn more about yourself than you wish. Just search for your company's name or your product's name and see what people are taking about, without Facebook niceties or false pretense. If you suck, people will tag you and trash you to everyone. If you're great, they will hail you. And they talk about what they love or hate with such passion, that by simply listening to them talk about their needs will help you determine market trends more accurately than by reading countless marketing reports. Plus, if you generate great content and start talking to people, asking them for feedback, they will unashamedly give it to you.

HubSpot. I have praised HubSpot in numerous posts on this blog already. They truly understand what inbound marketing is about. It's about listening to your customers, understanding their needs. Day in and day out. And no PPC shortcuts.

Mightycall. This customer contact center for Small Business helps small organizations pick up every phone call, respond to every tweet, message or Facebook post.  A crucial part of listening to your customers.

Optimizely. Optimizely is the tool that will help you A/B test your website pages. It's something you beed to get into the habit of, any time you make a content page, have a second version, a backup. If one doesn't draw attention, try another one. Test, test, test. How else can you determine what your customers find relevant? At first, before you have won their precious attention, they won't tell you. Your job is to listen and to test, until they do.

Seth Godin. Seth Godin is the inbound marketing pioneer. Or permission marketing pioneer. Or just marketing pioneer, period. He recognized the value of listening early on and touted about it in his books and blog posts and numerous appearances and lectures and talks. Read his writing, it's filled with superb insights and ideas.

CrazyEgg or the heat maps by Sumome. These are a great tools to give you feedback on what people like and don't like. This tool provides a heat map of your web content showing where people click.

ReferralSaaSquatch and Ambassador to help your customers shout on your behalf. The good shouting. These are both great tools to help you drive your customer referral program.

Google Analytics. The tool that everyone knows. It's very useful to understand what people care about, what they search for and what content they engage with, but truth to be told, at can be used to amplify your noise as well. 

There are all the listeners. Take a look at them, read them, learn from them.

Your to-do list:

  • Take a look at the tools/services I have mentioned. Are any of the ones you use noisemakers? 
  • Get rid of the noisemaking tools.
  • Listen. Use listening tools. Use what you learn to improve your products, service and content.
  • Congratulate yourself on becoming a great neighbor!