"When companies allow a deep emotional understanding of people's needs to inspire them — and transform their work, their teams, and even their organization at large — they unlock the creative capacity for innovation." IDEO, "Empathy on the Edge"
Empathy, or putting yourself in another's shoes to more deeply understand how they experience the world, is an incredibly important, powerful tool in marketing. Increasingly, customers want to connect with the brands they use, and while there are more ways than ever to get in front of customers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to build trust. By taking the time to understand your customers on a deeper level — what motivates them, what frustrates them, what are their greatest grievances and annoyances, you can create an experience and craft messaging that truly resonates with them. Nothing happens in a vacuum — understanding the context in which consumers interact with your brand can help spark creativity and innovation and ultimately drive better results. You cannot create an effective solution without knowing what your customers value and having a comprehensive understanding of the problem.
Here are some ways to utilize empathy in your marketing efforts:
Seek out customer complaints
The importance of seeking out and addressing customer complaints is two-fold. First, it gives you the opportunity to further connect with your customers — emotional validation is a powerful tool and showing you are taking the time to understand the problems your customers are facing can go a long way. Second, it provides important insight into the shortfalls of your product or service, as well as the experience of your customer and can allow you to improve upon them.
Be a resource
Another way to utilize and demonstrate empathy in your marketing efforts is to be useful! Understand what it is your customers want to know and provide clarity. Address questions and concerns as needed. Inform customers of ingredients or the process of sourcing or creating your product. Create user guides or videos. Educating customers and acting as a resource for them will help establish brand trust and allow customers to feel informed and empowered in their buying decisions.
Use target personas
Most understand the importance of knowing your target audience, or the general demographics and psychographics of the group you are marketing to. Target personas take this a step further and encourage brands to focus more deeply on the needs and pain points of customers at every step in their buying journey. A target persona is a fictitious character created based on quantitative and qualitative analysis to represent your target audience. It imagines what their career might be, what their goals are, what their interests and priorities are. When they are shopping for your product, what might the context be and how can you make their lives better? Are they in a rush on their way to their next meeting or pulling another all-nighter studying for an exam? How highly do they prioritize sustainability? Do they put in a lot of research before buying or go for the cheapest, quickest available option? Context is key.
Create an empathy culture from within
As with most things, it is very difficult to project empathy externally in your interactions with consumers if you are not practicing it internally. Company culture matters and sets the tone for how customers will encounter your brand. An honest, open, empathetic work environment will more likely translate to honest, open, empathetic content, advertising, and conversations with customers.
While tools like surveys and focus groups are helpful in understanding your customers, they are not always enough. Often, people will say one thing and do another. Empathy-based marketing is about understanding the wants and needs of your customers maybe even befor they do. Buying decisions can often be highly emotional, rather than rational. By validating your customers' experience, focusing on informing rather than selling, and authentically appealing to the emotional side of consumer behavior, companies can make better marketing decisions that lead to increased customer satisfaction, competitive advantage and a higher ROI.