‘Empathy’ has become a buzzword in marketing circles. Any marketing event or podcast is incomplete without its mention. Even marketing gurus and experts proclaim the value of this term in each of their social media posts. In fact, #empathy has a total of 2.74 million followers on LinkedIn and Instagram combined.
Clearly, empathy is read and spoken about quite often. People hear about it. But very few actually understand what it means and an even lesser mortals live by it.
Now, on to the million dollar question..
What is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of other people. Simply put, it is about understanding the feelings and thoughts of another person. It is thinking from another person’s point of view at that time. Empathy helps you answer the following questions:
Why is someone talking about a particular topic?
Why did they do that?
Where did they come from?
Why are they wired this way?
What do they believe in?
Empathy can help you make informed, conscious decisions about how you respond to people. It helps build relationships, offer solutions to problems and foster enhanced co-operation among groups of individuals.
Now, you may say — Hey Rohan, how will empathy be useful in a marketing context? Let me explain with a couple of stories and a few real examples.
Empathy in Marketing
The best way to get what you want in life is to help others get what they want. — Zig Ziglar
As an industry function, a lot of marketing success depends on understanding your customers. Marketing is about finding customers and satisfying their wants for a profit. To search, attract and retain users, you have to be empathetic to them. Learn about them.
You would constantly be required to answer questions like —
What are their pain points?
Where do they come from?
What are their aspirations?
Why is a particular product so important in their lives?
Now this begs the question — how to develop empathy as a marketer? How to stay in someone’s shoes — a someone who you have never met before, know little about but need to find a way to help. To solve this conundrum, you can take three actionable steps (not in any order).
Empathy requires you to be curious of other people. See, everyone lives in their own version of reality. It is the only reality each one of us ever knows. But it is in your interest to learn about the world your customer lives in and their perception of the same.
The best way to do so is to speak with customers, learn about their motivations in an unbiased manner and find out how a day in the life feels like. Alternatively, you can connect with people from your brand’s online communities, or shadow a sales rep on calls. A customer support stint would do no harm either!
Step out of your comfort zone
A ship in harbour is safe. But that is not what ships are built for. — John A Shedd
In order to be better at empathy, you have to take in diverse perspectives as well. Look, everyone lives life in a different way. This need not be similar to yours. People’s lifestyles are different and their academic backgrounds and upbringing could be unlike yours. It doesn’t mean that there is a problem. It simply means that you need to take an extra effort to understand others.
A really good way to gain empathy (often subconsciously) is to spend time with people who are different than you. Different mindsets, diverse careers and unconventional life plans! You would be surprised at how often there would be a new perspective at the end of every conversation. it would make you reflect on your own business choices as well (sometimes, life choices too).
Reflect on your experiences
When you reflect on past experiences, it helps gain perspective and piece situations together. It also helps you explore and weed out any biases. It gets you to introspect and offers a way forward in situations like those.
Think about your conversations with customers, even co-workers and vendors. Dig nuggets from your past that could shape your present and mould your future. You may also take inspiration from personal anecdotes. But make sure to do this objectively.
Empathy allows you to be customer-centric and not business-centric. When you are customer-centric, you help people get what they desire in a way that makes them feel good. The best marketing, after all, isn’t about setting up a sale. It is about connecting with people and helping them move up in life.