Empathy - The Marketers' Secret Weapon

“Thanksgiving dinner's sad and thankless.
Christmas dinner's dark and blue.
When you stop and try to see it
From the turkey's point of view.”

Shel Silverstein always had a way of succinctly and wittily capturing larger concepts in easily accessible and engaging verse.

These opening lines to "Point of View" are essentially all about empathy – that capacity possessed by the human race that many regard as one of the most important characteristics of our species and society.

Interestingly, it’s also one of the characteristics that defines outstanding marketers from the merely mediocre and “safe."

The ability to empathize underpins great advertising and marketing. It's the willingness to not merely think out of the box, but to act out of it, too. All in order to resonate with consumers.

At a time when audiences have well and truly fragmented; when the number of devices available has multiplied and the functionality they offer continues to evolve with new propositions, the only thing that remains constant is
the consumer.

Consumers -- or people as we are sometimes known -- remain fundamentally unchanged in the face of what may seem to many huge changes. We still love stories; the arc of a successful and engaging narrative is just as
compelling as it always was. It’s also fundamentally the same arc as it always was.

Similarly, we are still motivated and de-motivated by the same things. And our need to communicate, be reassured, reinforced and recognized is not new, either.

Certainly, the Web and all it has wrought has provided new ways to pursue our core behaviors. In that respect, there is much to learn and understand about exactly where, when and how consumers interact with their media of choice,
which communications media they opt for when reaching out to family and friends, how they shop etc.

As more of this behavior is interwoven with digital media and the data feeds they provide, more marketers are able to turn to an increasing range of data sources as they seek to stand out from the competing crowd.

But data alone will not deliver competitive advantage.

That only comes when reliable data is used to drive insights which are then leveraged by a combination of creativity, a willingness to risk doing something different and –- crucially –- the ability to empathize with the target consumer.
Who, nine times out of 10, will be nothing like the people marketing to them.

Not only will they often earn less and be less engaged with media and their work (yes, media and marketing folk are pretty unrepresentative), they’ll also have a whole different set of attitudes and contextual drivers for their behavior, which are complex and often illogical and contradictory. But that’s what being human is.

If empathy is the capacity to be aware of, sensitive to and understanding of another’s feelings and attitudes,  then it is surely the golden thread that should run through all marketing campaigns -- alongside the data-derived insights. And yet, much of modern marketing thinking (and certainly its language) would seem to be the antithesis of empathetic thinking.

Marketing in all it’s forms is obviously a science -– but it is also an art. Communications alchemy if you will. And the Art of Empathy is part of the alchemical mix that will deliver competitive advantage to those that are able to apply it.

Over the last couple of weeks, my old friend Matt Straz has written a couple of excellent pieces on the importance of thinking like an engineer. Show me someone who can think like an empathetic engineer and I’ll show them a job --
perhaps as an empathy engineer.



1 comment about "Empathy - The Marketers' Secret Weapon".
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  1. Steve Goldner from DivorceForce, June 27, 2012 at 8:55 a.m.

    Totally agree that empathy is imperative. In a similar vain suggest reading - "The Most Important Word for Marketing" at .

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