Listen! Your marketing efforts depend on it

Data and analytics are all the rage in marketing, but Kim Garst says all the numbers will get you nowhere if you don't listen to and interact with your customers.

"Data alone doesn't bring you new customers, engagement does," Garst said at a presentation Thursday at the American Marketing Association of Tampa Bay luncheon at the Crowne Plaza Tampa-Westshore.

Garst, ranked by Forbes among the top 50 social media power influencers in 2012, says listening to what customers are saying on social media helps you create better content and a relationship with them. Between 66 and 90 percent of people create their own personal journey in choosing the content that influences them, she said.

"As marketers, we have to be cognizant of that," said Garst, CEO of Boom! Social and host of the online "Ignite Your Business Show."

Marketers should create relationships with customers online in the same way you might if you met someone for the first time in person. Use icebreakers and make yourself matter to them even if it's not directly related to your business or product, she said. Listening to customers provides the social intelligence to market in a smarter way, even if they're saying something negative, Garst said.

"If someone says something bad about you on social media, that's an opportunity to shine," she said.

Customers will be surprised and often delighted when you respond to their concern in a transparent way, Garst said. Sometimes that person's negative experience can be addressed in a way that turns them into an advocate for your brand, she said. Often, after interacting with someone through social media, Garst will circle back a few days later to see if the issue is resolved. People appreciate the attention.

"When you engage with people," she said, "you stand out because you listened."