It was one of the strangest, yet best watched years in Saturday Night Live’s history. Season 42, which just ended, was the most watched season they’ve had since the early 90’s. Why?

Some people would say it was due to the national efforts of the election and a somewhat overly sensationalist Whitehouse. Certainly, that has made for some comedic fodder. Between the impersonations of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Sean Spicer, Kelly Anne Conway, and Vladimir Putin, you have seen an amazing season already.

But then there’s the magic portrayal of these real life people. Comedy has always had it’s own interpretation of national events, so what I’m about to write isn’t a big surprise. SNL’s success this year hinges almost solely on listening.


I’m sure many readers would resonate with a small confession. There were times this year when watching the political arena unfold, that I would start wondering what SNL is going to do with what I just witnessed.

Listening (and interpreting) gave Melissa McCarty and Alec Baldwin all the material they could have needed. Like I wrote previously, listening feeds comedy, especially when comedians rely on impersonations to drive their material. Some of the details pulled out by the cast of SNL seemed uncanny in their ability to mimic their subject.

Comedy relies on that special ability to listen. but it doesn’t end with listening. A great sketch caricatures what is heard in a way that makes sense. When Sean Spicer is portrayed as a desperate, irritable employee, just trying to do his job, that’s one thing. But when McCarty points out the tension of that struggle through comedy, it’s just magic.

This is the court jester from the days of knights and kings, who would say the hard things that couldn’t be said, through comedy, to help the kingdom interpret the times.

Brand Listening for business

Your business can learn a thing or two from SNL’s season 42. If your company listened with the same intensity to your target audience, you would absolutely see a difference in your engagement this year. Here’s what you can do:

  • Find what your segment struggles with
  • Help them interpret it
  • Present hard truths in creative, sometimes funny ways
  • Gather a crowd through commiseration

Easy enough? Let me break all that down for you.

brand listening for segmentation

Segmenting your audience is just finding where they are different. In the 2016 Election, it wasn’t hard. Very few other presidential races, if any, were more polarizing.

When developing your target audience, pay attention to what they agree on and what they disagree on. Do you sell ice cream? What do the majority of your customers like? Chocolate or something else? Those are the choices, right?! Computers? Mac or PC. You get the point.

Segmenting your audience helps them find clarity. Segmenting helps you position your brand. It makes a statement. We stand for this, your brand declares. But then it asks, “Do you stand with us?”

Brand listening for Interpretation

Listening also helps your brand find ways to interpret the struggles of your audience. Knowing where your audience struggles is priceless. It gives you the biggest clue to a value proposition you can ask for.

Well known brand Patagonia started its humble beginnings with the problem of clunky, heavy climbing gear. Yvonne Chouinard started making his own gear to solve his frustration with the current selection. He wasn’t alone in his struggle, so soon he was selling his new gear to others.

Patagonia Brand Listening

Later, after Chouinard had founded Patagonia, he realized another problem. The pitons (stakes) he created for climbers was better than previous versions, but it was also destroying the places he loved to climb. He listened to fellow climbers and heard them saying the same things. So he came up with a new interpretation of the climbing gear that didn’t wreck cliff faces.

You don’t have to be that much of an inventor though. Knowing the pain point of designers (how much to charge) The Futur developed a video and ideology that helped guide thousands (around 277,000) of designers feel confident about their pricing.

Sometimes, even often, interpreting a client’s struggle is worth more than an actual product.

Brand Listening as Presentation

I love the thought that all problems are just challenges waiting to be solved. That is the heart of brand listening as presentation. This is the mental flip it takes to help people re-interpret something.

For a brand, this is one of the biggest game changers you can make. How do you solve the plodding boredom of running? How about a specialized armband so that you can listen to your iPod? Or social running in a club? Or a specialized race that uses a theme to unite people into something synergistic like cancer awareness?

Race for the Cure Brand Listening

How many people “ran” for cancer awareness last year because they lost a loved one to the disease?

Why would you run for cancer anyway? This hits that feeling of loss and the loneliness felt through it. When you lose someone close to you, you feel like no one else could understand your feelings at the time. And there’s some truth in that. Nobody shared all of those special moments you had with someone. Losing someone to cancer also brings with it a sense of powerlessness. You couldn’t prevent it.

The cancer run is a brilliant presentation of the problem of cancer. The people left behind feel alone and powerless. A run brings those people together. You can see it in the eyes of the runners. They aren’t just running to get somewhere fast. They are working through their feelings with each step. And they are surrounded by others doing the same thing. They are not alone.

Your business can use brand listening to unite your target audience around their biggest struggle.

Brand Listening for Commiseration

What gather’s a crowd? Free coffee?! Maybe. What if it’s free crappy coffee? In some corporate work environments, sure. That’s the power of commiseration. Even a bad product can gather a crowd if it’s presented in the right environment.

This flips the marketing script. Advertising tries to convert non-buyers into buyers. It looks for people who don’t buy and tries to change them. Brand listening looks for people who already want your service, and then it just makes an offer.

If you knew a decade ago that people would be dying to connect with other people over the internet through a set portal, would that have been helpful? Facebook is the product of brand listening. But it’s also a very directed effort in positioning and presentation. It gathers 1.28 billion people every day. There is even a majority of people who would rather check Facebook than have sex.

Facebook Brand Listening

When you can beat a primal desire like sex, you’ve won the branding lottery.


Listening is more important than almost anything you can do for your brand. It gives you information on the struggles of your audience. Your positioning and presentation depend on your skill at listening. But if you really want your brand to soar, listening to re-interpret the needs of your audience is priceless.