By now, you’ve probably seen your fill of new year predictions, each furthering the buzz on AI and machine learning, voice, IoT, wearables, payments, the blockchain and cryptocurrencies … . The list goes on. While each of these trending technologies is compelling in its own right, the reality is they’ll have zero positive impact on the bottom line if a more pressing concern isn’t addressed: customer empathy.
Empathy is hardly a new concept for marketers but, in recent years, the urgency around innovation has resulted in a slow and steady drift away from this core value. Hungry to build connections in new environments—be they computers, mobile devices, wearables, virtual realities, and so on—marketers have been so quick to embrace new opportunities that the most central questions too often get kicked aside. Questions like: Are we serving our audience? Are we delivering value? Should we even be here right now?
You can see the long-term effects in poor performance rates, advertising’s bad rap and increasingly marketing-resistant consumers. Brands, feeling the pressure to meet campaign goals, are too often doubling down on bull-in-a-china-shop tactics (like poorly timed interstitials and unwelcome video) or setting prematurely high expectations for The Next Big Thing. And so, the cycle of inefficiency and frustration continues.
It’s painful to watch so much energy (and budget) expended on marketing misfires, particularly when there is a better—and simpler—solution. Today, the best way to really stand out—to build a real relationship with a consumer—is to demonstrate an understanding of that consumer, their needs and pain points. To that end, here are some questions to consider as you plan for a more empathetic—and successful—new year in marketing.
1. What drives your data?
These days, it’s rare to find a marketer that doesn’t have a “data-driven” strategy, but that alone doesn’t guarantee success. You need to consider what is driving data. Typically, it’s been targeting efficiency; the ability to hone in on more precisely qualifying demographics and online behavior has been a game changer for marketers. But, as it became easier to find the “optimal” consumer, the consumer experience evolved in a way that posed a different challenge.
To time and craft messaging appropriately to the always-on, always-accessible consumer, you also need context into their current experience. Are they commuting? Are they at a bar? Unwinding? In a rush? Without insight into the consumer’s current mindset—and an understanding of the corresponding receptivity—you miss a critical opportunity to demonstrate a higher level of empathy.
2. How strong is your creative?
Is your creative good? Really, really good? Because, if not, you’ve lost the game before it even begins. To deliver meaningful and positive experiences for your audience—if you want to deliver on empathy—then you must make sure that the time your audience has generously allocated to visually or physically engage with an impression is time well spent. This doesn’t mean you need to create a fully immersive 4D experience with smell-o-vision. Sometimes a solid tagline is the most efficient and effective way to connect with your audience.
3. Is your transparency see-through?
The internet is an increasingly tangled web and, with much dubious information, perplexing algorithms and undisclosed influencer relationships, consumers are constantly challenged to sort through truth and fiction. This makes it more difficult to foster trust between brands and consumers, which is why transparency is so essential to empathy. By being upfront with consumers about pricing, product design, marketing strategy, data collection, and so on, you can relieve some of the strain and suspicion that undermines trust.
It may be tempting to reach for the loudest megaphone or the biggest billboard—especially when your competitors are investing in their own high-pitched noise and hoodwinked marketing—but the cost of competing in an arena of extreme, disruptive and questionable marketing is significant when consumers start to notice they’ve been left out of the equation.
No amount of innovation—the smartest home, most clever voice or the fastest-learning machines—can offer a sustainable advantage if a marketer’s efforts are not centered on the consumer’s needs. If you want to shake things up this year, in a positive way, then you ought to prioritize empathy into your marketing mix.