Environics Research’s Social Values research* shows that ‘Marketers, Advertisers and Communicators’ share social values that differ from, or are in stark contrast to individuals in some other occupations.

On the whole, we place higher value on Introspection and Empathy, priding ourselves on our ability to analyze and examine our own actions and those of others, and observe rather than judge variances from the norm.

While we might interpret this as a warning that our ‘marketer’ point-of-view doesn't represent the view of many other Canadians -- our Enthusiasm for Technology, for instance, isn’t shared by some of the other occupation groups -- I believe introspection and empathy is a vital tool we need to employ in designing customer-centric marketing programs, content and platforms, regardless of the audience we’re targeting.

It’s also how we can understand what others want and how to connect with them. An empathetic approach requires marketers to experience their brand from a consumer’s perspective. Introspection allows us to examine our own mental process based on consumer insights. Where marketers sometimes show the potential to fall short is over-using their gut-instinct and not backing ideas up with research.

As a shared value, and valuable skill, how we tap into and utilize empathy and introspection is core to how we present ideas, represent products, and design customer experiences.  

The following are three ways that empathy can be employed to improve a brand's relationship with consumers:

1. ACHIEVE BRAND AUTHENTICITY  

Authenticity doesn't come from a mission statement or Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. It relies on your audience accepting your message as credible. Introspection and empathy play a large role in helping define, communicate and align a brand story with consumer values.

It forces marketers to step out of their role and view their brand from a consumer perspective to discern marketing collateral from a meaningful brand narrative.

2. CREATE CONTENT FOR CONSUMERS, NOT FOR YOUR BRAND

Content marketing requires us to understand the consumer decision path and design content to specifically address consumer needs. Through empathy, we can identify decision points, obstacles to conversion and ownable content opportunities that are valuable in building brand confidence.

Customer Journey Mapping is a useful process we use to tackle real customer problems impacting a business. It relies on a few key elements: a customer problem, a facilitator, and unbiased participants. The process is driven by customer empathy, where cross-functional teams put themselves in their customer’s shoes and see the experience from their perspective. “Oh shit” moments ensue.

These days, we are coming to realize that it’s no longer about “disrupting” the consumer with a creative message. Consumers often want a straight answer; not a marketing message, wrapped in a creative concept, delivered as a meme.

3. CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE IS ABOUT THE CUSTOMER’S EXPERIENCE

A brand’s ability to respond to customer needs can be a key differentiator in building loyalty and repeat purchase.

The role of Customer Experience (CX) is to represent the customer voice at the table and translate [survey, feedback, analytics] insights into an optimal experience. A common mistake is using introspection to guide CX, where empathy is needed. Unless assumptions are validated by research, we haven’t really walked a mile in the consumer’s shoes. Empathy helps CX and marketing professionals to rationally validate customer feedback to optimize and improve the experiences we deliver.

Voice of the Customer (VoC) Programs are an effective way to gather feedback and ideas that help deliver against customer expectations. A VoC program should consider self-reported behaviour (feedback, complaints, surveys), actual behaviour (web analytics and search trends) and social behaviour (social media listening) in understanding the needs of consumers. Empathy is then employed to prioritize these needs and provide solutions that make sense to the interest of all consumers (and the business).

HOW TO GET STARTED?

In order to empathize with an audience, you need to understand them first. A large part of empathy is driven by our curiosity, observations and conversations with people. We shouldn’t discount this experience and the knowledge we’ve gained from social-based learning.

At some point, however, you may need to dig deeper to understand the motivations and behaviours of consumers as it relates to your brand. We utilize a variety of research tools, including social analysis, search trends and analytics to understand active, passive and actual behaviour. Environics Research Group's Social Values study also helps us gain insights into different types of consumers’ values and how these align with your brand values and offerings.

It's important not to confuse empathy with introspection. Empathy is about understanding the perspective of others. Introspection is about taking that perspective to shape our thinking.

* Our sister company, Environics Research Group (ERG), has been profiling Canadian and US Social Values for over two decades. A sample of the research referenced in this post is accessible here. You can also learn more about Social Values research here.

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