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Christine Fruechte

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Put Your Brand in Their Shoes

Posted: 09/25/2013 12:49 pm

Empathy-driven marketing builds relationships and experiences that matter

The only constant in today's world is change: There are new devices, new platforms, new channels, new social media conventions invented every day. Old ones become obsolete. New communities join the conversation. As soon as marketers think they have it all figured out, the sands shift again. And they're trying to figure it out in the midst of a 24/7 culture of communication. Marketing is no longer about whether people are online or offline, it's about whether they're awake or asleep.

In this noisy, roiling sea of technological change, it's easy to get lost. But, there is one life raft marketers should grab onto: empathy.

Empathy -- the capacity to understand and share someone else's feelings -- is a skill we all share, and it needs to be at the center of marketing efforts today. We can keep ourselves up at night chasing down the latest changes in technology (yes, we do still need to devote plenty of effort to that), but in the end, we're still working to build brand relationships that are relevant. And if we're doing it right, we're listening to them.

Using empathy to drive marketing means putting ourselves into the shoes of the person using your product -- and walking a mile or two. What's important to them? What worries them? What hurdles do they face? What language do they use? How do we enrich their lives?

When empathy, rather than channel-centric thinking, drives marketing, we can engage authentically with people to create utility or provide entertainment, while building the strong connections modern brands need to survive and thrive.

We are no longer operating in a world with a sequential path to purchase. Brands are part of a complex ecosystem of interactions and expertise, one in which the consumer is no longer just a consumer. People are influenced by multiple sources (friends, peer reviews, so-called experts, your competitor, etc.). They also examine and ultimately buy a brand's purpose, share its stories, and co-create its meaning. We need empathy to engage in this process with them.

But what about data, the influential and overabundant resource of consumer detail that presumably predicts the future? We need data and analytics to gather insight and adapt and optimize. But at the core of it all, we still need empathy and intuition to interpret and create. Think of it: Google, despite its collection of endless data, still builds its products around people and what they do.

Empathy-driven marketing considers the task, not the channel.

The excitement and hoopla around new technology today prompts some marketers to build plans for various channels just because they think they should be there.

Instead of, "What can our brand do on Twitter?" we should ask, "What does Sarah need to do?" (Sarah probably needs to finish her presentation, get dinner on the table and help her children with homework.) She has more on her mind than your Twitter account. Reach her where she is throughout her day (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, wherever) and provide value, the very things she cares about. The more value a brand provides, the more people will adopt it into their lives.

When we start with asking, " What do people need?" and use empathy to answer it, the solution most often comes in the form of content. Distribution -- the channel -- is secondary.

Empathy-driven marketing builds real relationships.

Relationships are never one-sided. People quickly dump that friend who only talks about herself, and they'll do the same with a self-centered brand. People today are more eager than ever to connect with brands in the same way they connect with their friends.

Empathy-driven marketing allows brands to be more human than ever and to build stronger relationships with people -- relationships that are mutually valuable. They can do this through active listening and participation in the social space, following the norms already established by the people there, to engage not only brand enthusiasts, but also untapped consumers.

Empathy-driven marketing creates experiences that last, online and off.

People remember and share experiences -- how we made them feel -- not just logos or marketing tag lines. Empathy-driven marketing creates better, more memorable experiences that carry over into the offline world. Marketing that starts with the technology or the social media channel tends to stop there.

Our multi-channeled world can feel chaotic and the temptation to reach for shiny objects is strong. Anybody who tells you they've got it all figured out is either lying or behind the times.

In contrast to that complexity lies a beautiful and reassuring simplicity: empathetic brands build enduring relationships with people.

 
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