We earn a living connecting with consumers. So it stands to reason we should stay in touch with them. Marketers and their agencies have access to reams of research but to keep a healthy perspective on what the stats are telling us, it seems eminently sensible to run a real-time litmus test, direct with consumers. And that just means talking to those around you – the taxi driver, the shop attendant, the person standing in the queue or sitting next to you on the plane or train.
Chatting with people you don’t know can seem awkward, but a conversation can be far more rewarding than just staring at your mobile device – again. Most people are keen to talk, many are open to sharing quite detailed information about their lives, and in those conversations you may just find little gems of real-time insight that will keep you better connected with your consumers and the people around them.
I’ve been a fan of talking to strangers for years. I’ve met some seriously interesting people and now, thanks to academics at the University of Chicago, I have also discovered it is good for me.
Professor Nicholas Epley and Ph.D. student Juliana Schroeder conducted an experiment with bus and train commuters in the Chicago area.
They asked commuters either to begin a conversation with the person next to them, to keep to themselves and savour the solitude, or just to do whatever they normally do.
The commuters were surveyed afterwards about how much they enjoyed the ride.
The conversationalists reported feeling most positive, while those who kept to themselves had the most negative experience.
The conversationalist group also reported that the longer the conversation, the more enjoyable the journey.
Then Epley and Schroder conducted a second study in which they asked commuters to imagine how they would feel taking part in the first experiment.
Most said they would feel weird talking to a stranger on public transport.
So it seems that while we initially think talking to a stranger will be uncomfortable, science (well one study at least) suggests it may be more rewarding than we imagine.
As marketers, we can probably learn a lot just by talking to people outside our normal circles. Look at the fascinating personal stories on the Humans of New York Facebook page for example.
Of course, it is always wise to be respectful. If the person next to me on the plane pops the ear buds in, I take it on notice that they probably don’t want to chat.
So be an active student of society. Give it a go. After all, there’s a lot more to our audiences than what they reveal in focus groups or surveys. And according to Epley and Schroder you’ll feel more positive for the experience. Win win, if you ask me.
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