Empathy. This one word seems to cause more of a stir in today’s organizations than any other. Many business leaders say we need more of it, others argue it's overrated. This one word is searched more than 165,000 times each month on Google and there are over 37 millions results. Today we live in a culture of “me.” People want and expect an individualized experience and the only way we can create that is if we can empathize with them. Our reach is no longer restricted by city, state or county. Now we have access to the world. In order to operate and thrive in this new global and personal economy we have to learn to connect and share our message in a more focused, personalized manner.
It's no secret that the internet has radically changed the way we do business. Those who lived through the “dot com” era witnessed this first hand. While many rode the wave to the top, some also watched their dreams crash in 2000 when the bubble burst. One of the main reasons I believe this happened was that many companies were trying to drive business through the internet using the same old marketing tactics as before. The internet has not only changed the medium we use to reach our audience, it has transformed the way we need to think about business and the relationships businesses have with their customers.
This is where empathy comes in. Most of the push back here comes from, what I like to call a “fear of feelings.” Here in the West, we have been trained to push down our emotions, because they make us “weak.” That the strongest, fastest and smartest always win and that you have to do whatever it takes to get to the top! These lessons, I am realizing more and more, are absolutely ridiculous. We are, at our core, emotional creatures. That’s what makes us human. In order to move people to act, we must meet them on an emotional level. This is why empathy is essential to any business looking to grow and thrive in this new personalized economy.
Empathy is not as scary as you may think. Simply put, it’s about putting yourself in another person's shoes and trying to see the world from their prescriptive. It’s not about feeling sorry or trying to change what they think or feel, its about validating what they feel. Want to know how to better serve your current customers? Listen. Writer Richard Ford explains this brilliantly, “When people realize they’re being listened to, they tell you things." The consumer has more power than ever before, and just thinking they will purchase your product because it’s “better” simply isn’t true. They buy products and services because of how they make them feel. “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Anonymous.
The Culture of “Me"
Mass Marketing is dead. I get it, you like your direct mail campaigns. But, you are paying way too much per a lead and I can assure you that anything you send to my house will go straight into the recycling bin. I am not alone in my feeling towards these old-school tactics. People don't want to be marketed to. They want information on demand and they want to control how, when and what they are seeing. The rise of mobile technology has allowed us to customize our lives. We have more ability to block out things we don’t want to see and more access to the things that validate our already strong and personalized worldview. We are no longer marketing to the masses, we are marketing to individuals.
The Power of One
Each of us has more choice in what we want to see and do than ever before. At no other time in human history has the buyer had some much power. Businesses must understand that what they say and don’t say matters more than ever. The buyer will do the majority of their research anonymously. Only when they have narrowed it down to choices they see fit will they initiate the conversion. Now, this isn’t to say all outbound doesn’t work, it does if you have truly done your homework and know your audience. Even traditional box stores need to realize that the individual has most of the power. A study done in 2013 by GE Capital Retail Bank’s second annual Major Purchase Shopper Study found that "81% of consumers go online before heading out to the store.”
If You Build it They Will Come = FALSE
To use empathy to activate a personalized marketing and sales strategy means you are going to actually need to understand and get to know the people you are looking to reach. People don’t buy your product, they buy your brand. They buy the experience. And this no longer applies just to consumer products, but to B2B industries as well. We are dealing with people, remember? Businesses are made up of people who make decisions based on their worldview. Just launching a site and adding a few products won’t do you any good unless you target, segment and engage empathetically with your audience.
Empathy without action is dead. Just trying “feel what they feel” is pointless unless you act. You have to actively listen (while fighting the urge to respond). You have to actively care. You have to actively engage with them. Here’s where most of us fall short. We usually respond in the way we think we would like others to respond to us. That’s just human nature. But, if you can learn how to respond in they way they need you to respond, a response based on their biases, then you will begin to create a personal connection. Here’s a good rule to follow:
“It is personal, but it’s not about you."
The only way to do this is to really do your homework. Customer profiles, buyer persona development and segmentation are all the rage today. While I am all for developing these, I think a lot of the implicit attributes we apply to our personas are based on outdated assumptions. Today’s world is a global world. The internet doesn’t see nor does it discriminate against borders, color, race, gender and the like. It sees a user. I person looking to connect with other people no matter where they are.
We cannot truly empathize unless we know the person we are communicating with. If we have no connection, we are merely sympathizing, which ends up looking like pity, self-righteousness and non-caring. As business owners and marketing leaders trying to reach our audience in a more personalized way, we must go deeper than basic demographics such as age, race and geographic region and begin to look at the emotional needs of our audience.
When looking at how and why people do what they do, we can begin to understand what moves them. Many of you may be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The original chart had 5 categories, but is has been updated over the years and now has as many as 8 categories. The idea behind Maslow’s research was to uncover what motivates people. As business owners looking to grow our businesses, motivating people to engage with our company is extremely important to our success. If people’s basics needs aren’t met, they will have a much harder time engaging since they are too focused on what they don’t have and need. Many of our marketing practices, even today, ignore the fact that people have basic needs and unless they are met, they can not move up ladder.
When defining our audiences, we must not only look at what leads them to make a “purchasing” decision, we have to understand what is going on in their lives and minds. Marketing isn’t about making things look cool or being trendy. It has a lot more in common with psychology than we give it credit for. By defining and understanding all of the needs our target audience has, we can better empathize with them and create personalized solutions to meet their needs. It’s not about manipulation, its about relationship.
For example, if you are in the technology sector and trying to sell a solution to a start-up, you can’t assume that every customer in your demographic has the same problems, challenges and pain points. Some of them may be well-funded and have their basic needs met and are willing to engage at a higher level. Others may be self-funded, tired, broke and are so worried about basic needs it may be harder for them to engage at a higher level. While each of these people may fit into the same “persona", they are in all actuality in very different situations. By activating empathy, you can then address their personalized needs in a more human way.
Personalization is becoming increasingly important in today’s economy. This doesn’t mean we must create custom products for each person, it means we need to sell and market to the individual rather than the masses. In order to do this, we have to understand our audiences at a much deeper level. Basic demographics and buyer profiling is great, but we need to also understand the psychological and emotional needs of our customers and prospects as well. Using empathy to see the world from another perspective will allow us to connect more authentically and build a lasting connection with our audience.
Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.
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