The customer is always right. If you’ve ever worked in customer service, you’re probably sick of hearing those words.

In the marcomms space, we don’t say them enough. It’s the customer and the thought leaders who influence them, who are the ultimate arbiters of everything we do.

If they don’t like it, they’ll stop listening and the influencers will stop talking about us. If that happens, your clients are going to go elsewhere quickly.

How do we avoid this problem? By knowing our audience better than they know themselves. To do this, dedicating serious time and money to research is vital. The key here is to move beyond researching mass groups and distilling them down to a persona. This is still important, but is only the first stage of a two-step process.

Ready for stage 2? Great, now it’s time to learn about individuals. Know who your key influencers and key prospects are and learn everything you can about them.

What do they read, what topics are they passionate about, who influences them? All vital questions which we already ask about large groups. Ask these same questions of your target individuals, though maybe stop at where they live - that’s creepy!

In our latest Digital Trends Report, we make no qualms about saying this is the year where the audience will dictate how we act. And they will make these decisions as individuals, not as one homogenous mass.

That makes listening tools more important than ever. It’s no good just knowing the volume of discussion around a particular topic.

When we start by looking at results of search terms, we’re arming ourselves with a crutch. We’re saying that we know best what people are talking about.

We don’t. The individuals who make up communities know best. Track what they’re talking about and let these discussions guide your strategy.

Let me give you an example. At Hotwire, we’ve built a bespoke social analytics tool – Listening Post. It allows us to map shared connections and then analyze the conversations taking place amongst these communities. We’ve used the data gleaned from it to help clients grow their digital presence, through compelling content, smart SEO and knowledge based influencer relations.

Changing tack like this isn’t easy, our instincts tell us to look for the big figures and work out from there. Those companies which can overcome these instincts and focus on what motivates individuals are the ones that are going to thrive in 2015. Fail to do so and you’ll be left behind.

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Brendon Craigie is Group CEO at Hotwire PR