Commentary

Marketers Should Never Favor Data Over Empathy

In today’s world of seemingly endless data, artificial intelligence, and real-time decision-making, companies and brands have abundant opportunities to profile consumers and use the bits and bytes of their identities to facilitate communication. But we shouldn’t rely solely on data and technology to develop the relationships we want to foster with individuals.

Instead, we should see technology and data analytics as enhancements of marketing techniques, rather than as replacements. Taking an empathetic view of consumers’ needs and communicating with them in a way that proves we recognize them as individuals is equally important in creating effective customer engagement. It’s not just about value; it’s about values.

If an organization stands for something that people can relate to and can engage with emotionally, customers will support the brand more passionately. The goal of incorporating empathy is simple: to humanize our organizations. When a basic human understanding exists between brand and individual, they are better able to connect and to establish mutual trust.

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For instance, beauty brand Sephora has a purpose beyond simply turning a profit through the sale of cosmetics and other beauty products. The company is on a mission to make beauty universal and inclusive of all people, regardless of identity, by inspiring confidence and fostering fearlessness in its customers.

Why? The brand understands that people facing major life transitions will act more boldly if they look and feel their best. Sephora has created a dynamic program that utilizes not just data, but also emotion to connect with individuals and support their personal definitions of beauty. In my eyes, that’s the secret to successful and lasting marketing: empathizing, or tapping into emotions via real understanding.

That said, I won’t undercut the value of data or imply that we should disregard its value. Transactional, behavioral, demographic, and other types of data all play a hand in shaping brands views’ of their consumers and vice versa. But we should remember that all data is determined by the consumers’ needs, wants, hopes, and desires, which are heavily influenced by their attitudes and beliefs. If we can understand those underlying elements, we can expand the empathetic and emotional aspects of our messages, which will guarantee that those messages ultimately resonate.

Not every product or service is a good fit for every person, but if an organization clearly stands for something and vocalizes that purpose, suddenly that brand becomes human. It’s critical to provide information beyond discounts, sales figures, and product features. You need to establish a connection, and that’s via empathy. Understand why a customer is in the market for your product or service. What emotions drive people when they’re shopping for their first car or for a new computer to help with an exciting new career? If you can make that connection, you can make the sale.

I have no doubt that the continuous stream of data, incorporation of AI, and reality of real-time decision-making have changed how marketers approach consumer communication. While this wealth of data undoubtedly leads to stronger marketing efforts, operating on data alone is a mistake. The strongest effort combines the precision of data analytics and the empathy of listening, expanding the conversation from mere value to values.

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