Brands are increasingly putting their marketing efforts under a microscope – scrutinizing them for predictable ROI and concrete business result. This focus and detail oriented approach is something to be praised, it ensures high quality campaigns and instills an onus of accountability within the marketing department or agency. It does however, leave the door open for one major factor to be missed when new campaigns are created.
The underlying factor in good marketing is empathy. The dividing factor between good and great campaigns is the ability for a marketer to put themselves in the shoes of their audience and think ‘What would interest me?’, ‘How could this provide value to my life?’ and ‘Why is this relevant to me?’. It is relevant across the board, from automotive to financial, healthcare to SaaS, advertising to PR and beyond. Tony Zambito puts this beautifully ‘We cannot communicate well if we do not know who our customers and buyers are, what things are important to them, and why what they hope to accomplish is important to them.’ Unfortunately, this factor seems to be an element being given less and less credence in an increasingly data-driven world.
Not to downplay the importance of data, but I am often reminded of the quote by Andrew Lang ‘He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support rather than for illumination.’ It is crucial that data informs rather than justifies decisions.
Empathy is an aspect that, in its very nature, is unquantifiable. It has no data points, and has no unit of measurement – it just is. To be empathetic, a brand must use human innate judgement based off research, experience, and a deep understanding of the target market. It requires a level of trust that comes from a recognition that marketing itself is not a set of skills, but a philosophy – one which stems from an understanding of people, rather than tools. This tends to be easier for small companies and startups than larger more developed businesses – this is because as a company grows, their departments become increasingly specialized and siloed, with more partners and a heavier reliance on pure data to prove their effectiveness. This specialization can be very useful for productivity, but run the risk of creating an ‘Us and Them’ mentality, which can create isolation and rifts.
If you are reading this and realize that this is something missing from your external marketing, understanding why it is missing in the first place can reveal a huge amount about the current Modus Operandi of an organization. A great example is Zappos.com – a company that built its entire business model on the idea of empathizing with its customers. Their answer to buyer hesitancy was to offer a no questions asked returns policy that directly addressed the needs of their customers – every piece of marketing underlines this, and every action is anchored to the need for understanding how customers react.
Empathy should filter throughout all departments and all communications, from TV adverts to internal communications, website copy to journalist interactions, down to the hiring process and office layout. Empathy should be a standard factor used in all aspects of company growth and marketing, but unfortunately, until it is measurable, many companies will continue to downplay and ignore this hugely valuable parameter.
For those not currently doing so, choosing to actively champion empathy as a core element to the construction of marketing campaigns may seem like a gamble at first – not relying solely on data, or behaving like a company in the classical sense. Kevin McKeon from the agency Olson puts it beautifully – Think like people, not marketers.