Your constituents and would-be supporters have a rich vein of content ideas, campaign slogans and potential imagery for marketers and they’re running free focus groups for you every day. Are you even listening, bro?

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

Your team is starting creative development on a new campaign. They get together, turn off their devices and then spend upwards of two hours writing post-its or doodling on a whiteboard in an attempt to develop some “blue-sky thinking.”

Here’s my problem: If marketers really wanted out-of-the-box ideas, they should ask someone without umpteen years of campaign development experience and training. The only ideas you’re going to get from a team of trained professionals in that environment is the same ideas they would have come up with anyway, but undeveloped and dangerously under-researched.

In addition, this process sets teams on a path of secretive, insular idea development that shuts out input from other parts of the organization and the communities who will be most affected by the campaign. By choosing to develop in secret, we are closing our ears to what is probably the richest source of creative ideas: comments, reviews and other feedback from our own communities. But there are alternatives.

Listen to What Your Champions are Saying

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a social media manager with some social listening experience. If not, you can start with some searches for key terms that relate to the campaign you’re working on.

For example, if your campaign is about…

  • The organization or its programs: Look for references to it by name and links to its website, and mentions of its programs and work.
  • A key issue affecting the community: Look for mentions of the issue, relevant hashtags, key players and turns of phrase.

Collect those turns of phrase, hashtags, and the things your supporters say about you and feed them into the creative process for more timely, thoughtful campaigns. Even the things your detractors say about you can be useful because they give you something for your campaign to respond to.

Great Campaigns Show You’re Listening to Your Community

The Bay Area’s train system BART is running a campaign right now that uses a turn of phrase that has organically sprung up when people talk about the service. When locals mention visiting locations in other parts of the Bay Area, they will often ask if it is “BARTable,” or accessible on the region’s scant train lines. Those who live there know that transport outside of the train system can be difficult, so they make their decisions based on the convenience of this network and how close their destination is to a station. BART marketing has picked up on this and is running a campaign in partnership with tourism agencies pointing out the area’s attractions that are BARTable.


Train system BART incorporated the “BARTable” turn of phrase into its marketing. Image:

Sometimes, Companies are Forced to Listen

A few years ago, Australia’s prestigious national airline Qantas was besieged on all fronts. Still reeling from a recession-related drop in customers and subsequent stock price hit, the airline launched a disastrous social media campaign called #QantasLuxury. The ill-conceived and badly managed campaign not only alienated their core customers, who did not consider the majority of their travel to be “a luxury,” but also gave a national platform for the labor unions who were in an active dispute with the airline over poor treatment and wages. For a while, it seemed like Qantas couldn’t do anything right. Then, the old girl surprised us.

Finally listening to its customers and recognizing that there was a disconnect between the corporate brand and how travelers felt about Qantas, the so-called Flying Kangaroo co-opted five real travelers to produce a humdinger of an ad that yanks on your heartstrings and conflates your feelings of homecoming with the brand identity. Songwriter Randy Newman’s Feels Like Home – already a tearjerker – is slowed down, re-recorded in an Australian accent and set over scenes that will be familiar to any traveler. It is a strong but not ham-fisted reference to the Still Call Australia Home campaign, which ran on TV and in theaters from 1997 to 2004 (an astonishing run for a single campaign) that anyone from the antipodes can sing in full at a moment’s notice.

Do not underestimate the pull of the homecoming pastiche for the weary expat. I, for one, am now crying like a baby having watched that video and even though I have no plans to visit my home country this year, I just looked up flights. And where did I look first? Qantas.

It goes to show: There is great power in the ideas already out there about your organization and its work. Sometimes, the hardest part is to listen.

Through careful communications development, strong media relationships, proactive messaging and thought leadership, Lyndal Cairns helps small businesses find their voice and build communities that support and champion their mission. Find out more.