Listening: An Essential Attribute of Successful Marketers

This week I am kicking off a marketing engagement with a client who is new to my agency. It is always exciting to start a new assignment and get to know a new client. I am onsite all week and I am here to listen and learn. My week is all about asking good questions and listening to responses. Here’s what that looks like:

Monday Afternoon

  • Interview with the Marketing Director
  • Interview with the VP of HR
  • Interview with the COO
  • Interview with the CNO
  • Interview with the CEO


  • Interview with a service line director
  • Interview with Director of Physician Relations
  • Two interviews with community leaders at local non-profits
  • Employee focus group (rank and file hospital employees)


  • Employee focus group (a wide variety of employees)
  • Two interviews with service line leaders
  • Patient & Family Advisory Council focus group
  • Department Heads focus group
  • Employee focus group (a wide variety)
  • Board of Trustees focus group


  • Employee focus group (a wide variety of employees)
  • Marketing team group interview
  • Interview with the CFO
  • Focus group with community members
  • Focus group with hospital directors
  • Focus group with outpatient facility employees

Friday Morning

  • Debrief and wrap-up


This represents 25 to 30 hours of listening – taking lots of notes. It is part of an immersion process that I believe is foundational to any marketing assignment. Not only do I get to gather insights from various audiences, but I give these brand constituents an opportunity to be heard. Their leadership, by bringing me in and by approving the research plan, has declared that it is important to them to hear from these individuals. That is huge! And the people who are involved in these interviews and focus groups now know that they have been heard and that their feedback will impact the deliverables that grow out of this process. I always tell my clients that the immersion process is also a consensus building process.

Meanwhile, I have the best job on earth. I meet so many incredible people while going through this process. And I get to unearth opportunities that weren’t previously under consideration. Sure, I go back to my hotel exhausted each night, but it is the good kind of exhaustion. This is absolutely one of the best parts of my job. It is also the best investment a healthcare organization could make in its marketing.

The research/immersion plan will vary depending on the objectives of the assignment. Sometimes it involves a mix of quantitative and qualitative research. It just depends. Sometimes it involves a heavier mix of consumer research versus interviews and focus groups with employees of the health system. But in the end, we always tap into insights that help us identify opportunities and lead to relevant marketing solutions (strategies and tactics).

I would add that you should never underestimate the importance of the internal audience. These people should be your best marketers. I always want to know what stories they tell about the organization. I guarantee you that they are telling stories. You need to make sure that they are equipped to tell the right stories. Can they quickly list a few areas where your hospital excels (most cannot)? Do they have a sense for where the organization is going? It is so important to tap into their perceptions and to let them know that their input is valued.

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