Ad Age called ’empathy’ marketing’s latest buzzword. But empathy is far more than a buzzword. Used correctly, it can drive deeper connections and more meaningful relationships with your customers. And through these relationships, it can drive bottom line results for your business.
But what exactly is ’empathy’? Too often it is defined the wrong way. You might think that you are practicing empathy by imagining how you would feel in someone else’s shoes. However, this approach is self-centered and assumes that others feel, think, and behave as you do. This is not empathy. True empathy is realizing that you can’t understand someone else by seeing them through your own colored lenses. Instead, you must find ways to understand them by removing your own lenses and trying on theirs.
So what does this have to do with marketing? Empathy for your customers is how you learn what your customers want, how you design the best products and services to fit their needs, and how you create lasting relationships. Without empathetic marketing, you will build the wrong products, market them to the wrong people, and ultimately fail.
Marketers often make the mistake of self-centered empathy, leading to a myopic, one-size-fits-all view of customers. The first step to being a great marketer is to realize that you are not always your customer. The next step is to take the time to really learn about your customers.
Before getting into the tactical elements of empathetic marketing, you must first make sure you are in the right mindset. The right mindset will enable you to do a better job of truly understanding your customer. To do this:
Assume you know nothing: Remove all preconceived notions you might have about customers. Make your brain as much of a blank slate as possible, allowing you to see things for what they are instead of framing them based on personal experience.
Get curious: Get excited about learning everything about your customers. Make sure to keep your learning broad enough so that you don’t limit insights. Sometimes great learnings come from things you might not think are relevant at first.
Why, why, why? Get deeper insights by trying to find out the ‘why’ behind what customers think, feel, want, and do. Sometimes what customers show us on the surface might not represent deeper feelings — so try to go a few layers deep.
Don’t interpret…yet: Reserve judgement on what you are learning during the research phase. It’s tempting to put someone in a box the moment you think you have a great insight, but doing so will prevent you from seeing additional insights. Therefore, avoid interpreting until you have all the information.
Once you have the right mindset, it’s time to get out there and get to know your customers. Some methods that allow you to get deeper into the minds of your customers are:
Traditional survey: Great way to understand attitudes of a large group of people. Also allows you to ask pointed questions.
Focus group: Get a group of people talking about their views and behaviors and the conversation could steer in a direction you were not expecting. In this format, the interviewer is less likely to bias the conversation. Watch out for group think or strong personalities dominating the conversation.
Social media listening: Helpful for understanding peoples’ true feelings and attitudes when they feel they are not being watched or evaluated.
Individual Interviews: Good way to dig in deeper to various topics. Interviews allow you to get at the ‘whys’ for customers’ beliefs and behaviors.
Observational study: Best way to see how people actually behave, beyond what they say. Good way to understand how people search for a product and how they use that product.
Simulation of customer’s experience: Best way to truly ‘feel’ the experience of someone else. By immersing yourself in what the customer goes through, you can gain a deeper understanding of the customer’s feelings and behaviors. An interesting example comes from a simulation to generate empathy in dementia care. The simulation enabled caretakers to better understand the patient’s experience and as a result provide better care.
Company transaction data: Take a look at how your current customers engage with your company. Which of your products are they buying? Why are they returning certain products or not renewing services with your company? What accolades and complaints have you received from customers?
Once you’ve gathered and analyzed your research, the next step is to summarize it in a format that enables your team to easily get into the mind and experience of the customer. To do so, I recommend creating two very valuable tools:
1) Personas: Personas allow us to wear the “hats” of our customers. They remind us that we are solving for a human problem vs. a technical problem. They are a great way for marketers to understand deeper elements of the customer, such as values, goals, fears, and desires.
2) Buying Journeys: Buying journeys provide insight into how and where your customers make purchasing decisions. They also provide insight into the relevant touch points for your customers, enabling you to better meet customers at the right place and right time.
Too often organizations create great research, have a solid toolkit to work from, but then file it away to collect dust. If you want to be a truly empathetic marketer, you must take a different approach:
Use the toolkit often. Keep personas and buying journeys handy at all times. Refer back to them often, and make marketing decisions based on deep knowledge of your customer. Doing so will mean a higher probability that your marketing is successful.
Test and learn based on what you think you know about your customer. Try new tactics, learn from experiments, and try again. Over time, you will get better at serving your customers’ needs.
Update the toolkit. Continuously modify your customer understanding based on learnings from experiments. Personas and buying journeys change over time, so make sure you are updating them so that they remain relevant.