Straightforward Steps to Achieving Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In marketing, empathy is the code word for understanding your audience’s needs, desires and communication preferences so well that your marketing is tuned perfectly toward meeting those needs and desires, and inciting action. At least … that’s the goal.

Straightforward Method 2: Ask … And Listen

So you’ve opened the list of your brand followers on Instagram (or Facebook or Twitter or other) and you’ve started looking at details. You’re now thinking beyond the fact that most of your followers look to be between the ages of 25 to 36. You’ve even started to map some interest graphs and seen, curiously, that an overwhelming majority of your followers have dogs. They’re dog people, not cat people. And that has started to spark some ideas for content of value.

You could jump right in and starting making content with this information. Or you could reach out to some of those followers and ask if they’d be willing to talk to you for a few minutes about themselves, and what drew them to your brand in the first place. They are, after all, following you. They might like you enough to also share some thoughts with you — about why they like you, what they want most, why the engage or buy what they buy, and what they’d like to see you do next.

This can be done in a public way by asking a light, open-ended question on one of their posts. Or by asking them a question after they like one of yours. That kind of dialogue often pulls in additional comments and opinions, which is positive in two ways: It makes you more conversational (human and approachable) as a brand; and it opens the possibility to understand other followers as individuals.

You could also ask them in a private manner, through a direct message. And that private conversation can be started as simply as asking, “Would you be willing to talk to us more about why you’re following us?” or “What you find appealing about our brand?” And starting the question with a “Thank you for following us!” can go a long way.

“Transparency Tuesday” is a regular Instagram event from Everlane — a clothing company centered on the idea of radical transparency. Keeping with our theme of simplicity, their community managers take questions from their audience and give straightforward answers. In so doing, a question like “When will you start making shoes for men?” becomes both a way to engage with an audience, but also provides valuable market research for Everlane. But — if they weren’t actively asking for fans to ask questions, and being willing to give open, honest answers, then fans probably wouldn’t be so apt to ask questions in the first place.

Another method of starting a conversation to understand more can be done through email. Everlane asked me recently to review a product I had purchased. Not just because they wanted a review, but because a customer who was looking at the same size and cut as I had bought asked a specific question about the fit. They quickly searched their purchase/CRM database for the right peer and reached out to me with a specific question to help another fan out.

By making that connection — peer-to-peer — they’re getting dialogue started that they’ll learn from. I’ll tell them (and the other customer) what I like and what I don’t in an honest way, and Everlane will learn why I buy what I do, what I might want next and why. They’ll gain true understanding of my thoughts, needs and wants. They’ll gain empathy. And in the process, I’ve created a new piece of content for them. And that brings us to straightforward method 3…

Straightforward Method 3: Co-Create

Your fans are content creators. Especially those on channels like Instagram and Snapchat. And often, you can help them in their creative endeavors – whether through liking posts, commenting on them or promoting them. And you can go further in helping them create even better content. In the process, of course, you’ll learn more about those fans, achieving empathy and greater engagement.

One of my favorite examples of co-creation — and market research — in this manner is GE InstaWalks. The process was simple enough. Identify some uber-fans with a specific interest in something you offer. In one of the GE instances: People who love trains. Next, invite those people in for an exclusive tour of the process and product. Finally, let them capture what they want and share the photos and experiences on social media.

Doing this not only gave access to something few get to experience. But it invited even more people—your followers, and the followers of your followers—behind the scenes as well. In the process, you’ve had a chance to see what those invites were most drawn to. You’ve gotten to hear, first hand, what drew them in. You’ve gotten to see what others like, and be a part of a conversation about the post. And, yes, all the while you’ve achieved empathy with your audience. You’ve transcended demographics and begun to know your audience as people.

Personas done right are centered on empathy, not segments.

As I mentioned before, I kind of hate personas. Not the idea of them, but the current execution.

If you could make a different persona, though…one that focuses on the true, expressed interests, needs and wants of your audience…one that focuses on empathy. That would be something that wouldn’t just allow you to segment your audience by demographics. That would be a touchstone for all the people communicating on behalf of your brand, to have to spark content of value and create meaningful connections with your audience.

That is achievable through some pretty straightforward actions. Try starting with the ones above and see where they lead.

Author: John Lane

Watching TV as a kid, I used to run to the bathroom during the shows so I could make it back for the commercials. Those days launched me down a path that included layout and writing for the college paper; communications strategy for political campaigns; marketing strategy and graphic design for Gensler (a global design and architecture firm); and the implementation of new programming, animation and design techniques for Centerline.

Today I specialize in content marketing strategy and building digital deliverables to execute those strategies. But it’s about more than just creating killer digital content. At Centerline, we help clients succeed in the digital marketplace using a three-pronged approach: strategic (message creation, brand strategy), tactical (design, development), and analytical (measurement and adaptation). This experience-tested approach allows me to build campaigns that are both well-designed and effective for clients like IBM, GE and Quintiles.

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