Nearly a decade ago, research published by the American Psychological Association asserted that creativity at work is largely a result of taking other people’s perspectives into account when addressing challenges.
Adam Grant, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, referred to it as “perspective-taking” back in 2011, but contemporary marketers generally call it empathy. At its core, empathy is the ability to share the emotions of others — to feel what other people feel and to care about what they care about.
Marketing’s Secret Sauce
It sounds simple enough, but in today’s world, where human interactions often take place via some technological medium, empathy can be difficult to achieve. Yet for marketers to be successful, it’s absolutely essential.
Technology isn’t the only obstacle. Modern consumers have developed a notable distrust of brands. According to a recent report from Edelman, only 34% of consumers actually trust the brands they buy from. Moreover, years of exposure to traditional advertising have made them wary of what marketers like to call “brand messaging.” There’s a reason why brands try to establish their credibility by any means possible, including celebrity endorsements.
But these trust and credibility challenges are things that marketers must overcome, and that starts with a change of perspective. Daryl Person, product and marketing creative director at Hallmark Business Connections, a customer engagement solutions provider, believes that in order to understand what customers are thinking and feeling, marketers must change the way they think about customers. “If the humans who represent the brand act like humans and friends, then that’s how customers will see you,” Person says. “They’ll defend you when you have hard times, celebrate when you accomplish something, and thank you for being a good brand.”
Of course, a brand isn’t actually a person, and it’s not always practical or possible to develop genuine personal relationships with all of your customers. Fortunately, however, brands have data, and that can be a good substitute for knowledge gained through personal interactions. Regardless of how big your company is or whom you’re trying to reach, there are three ways you can utilize customer data to achieve greater empathy in marketing.
1. Map out the motivators.
Empathy mapping is a technique that some of the world’s top organizations use to better understand customer needs and desires. To put it into practice, first use available data to create a customer persona, representing your ideal target. Then, develop questions you can answer as a team to help you see customers in a new light. “What does our customer feel, and why?” “When does he or she feel that way?” “What do customers see or hear when they’re interacting with our brand?”
The goal of this exercise is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes so you’re making marketing decisions based on empathy rather than assumptions. Linda Emma, a digital marketing strategist and college educator, believes this shift is crucial if you want to make connections in the modern world. She notes that “human life is rife with examples of cognitive dissonance that make little sense if you think purchase decisions follow the 19th-century buyer funnel of attention-interest-desire-action. They don’t.”
2. Address emotional triggers with content.
Once you’ve figured out the challenges and obstacles your customers face, you can use content to help them overcome those hurdles. For instance, JetBlue’s Flight Etiquette videos use humor to address common issues every airline passenger has to deal with, humanizing the brand by showing that JetBlue understands air travel isn’t always great.
But don’t put your content out there and forget about it. A truly effective content marketing strategy is iterative, and it’s built around customer feedback. Use survey tools to ask audiences whether your content is actually helpful to them and whether it’s impacting their purchasing decisions.
3. Treat your customer as the hero.
Too many marketers assume marketing is all about the brand. In reality, it’s all about the customer. Your marketing should tell a story, and in that story, your customer is the hero.
The same narrative elements that make for great novels and screenplays also make for great marketing. At the center of all great stories, there’s conflict — a challenge to overcome or an obstacle that must be surmounted. In your brand story, your customers are the heroes, and you’re simply a guide, showing them how they can get where they want to go (with the help of your product or service, of course).
The best brand marketing succeeds by making customers the focal point and the brand secondary. This can only be achieved when you have a marketing strategy that’s anchored by empathy rather than assumptions. Too many brands make marketing about themselves; as a result, no one pays attention. If you can avoid this, your voice just might be able to rise above the noise of an increasingly loud and chaotic world.