13-to-1: Talking to Listening

With a little back-of-the-envelope math, companies spend somewhere in the neighborhood of 13x more on advertising than they do on market research. If we broadly defined market research as “listening” and advertising as “talking” we could say companies spend 13x more talking than they do listening.

On one hand, maybe this makes sense. By “talking” companies are trying to sell consumers their products and services, whereas by “listening” they are trying to understand consumers. Ultimately, companies won’t make a lot of money if they only understand consumers and never actually sell them anything. On the other hand, the wide discrepancy of investment begs an interesting question:

  • If companies spent more of their time and energy “listening,” could their “talking” be more productive? 
  • Could “listening” build to something greater in the same way that advertising helps build a company’s brand? 
  • Can “out-listening” your competition be a competitive advantage?