Here's a riddle for you - what is the most important character trait a successful marketer must possess? Analytical skills? Shrewdness? Communication? While all of these are important, I believe empathy trumps them all. Empathy is not to be confused with sympathy, which is simply feeling compassion or sorrow for another person's misfortune. Instead, empathy is the unique ability to take the facts of a person's situation and translate them into an understanding of their feelings and motives. In other words, stepping into someone's shoes.
Empathy is the key to successful marketing.
1) Empathy will encourage you to listen to customer feedback so you can improve your product or service. Take for example Proctor and Gamble, who realizes the benefits of having customers give ideas instantly. Products such as the Swiffer and Crest Pro-Care Mouthwash were all inspired by real problems customers faced. P&G took this information, created a better product (a Purple Cow according to Seth Godin) and was able to better compete in a crowded marketplace.
2) Empathy will help you create a message that connects with customers. Are you struggling to move past the bland and generic world of messages so diluted and generic that they loose all impact? Then sit down and work on your empathy. Close your eyes and ask yourself the following questions:
If I were this person how would I....
- feel about the situation? - attempt to resolve it given what is currently in the marketplace? - react to a given message? - search for information? - tell my friends about something that is good or bad? - want to be treated? - be motivated to make a purchase (i.e. do I shop because something is inexpensive or because it's high quality?)
Once you've stepped into the shoes of your target market, you'll find the right message stands out bright and clear.
3) Empathy turns marketing into a field of service. For years marketing has been perceived as an industry that manipulates public opinion and as a result marketers have a pretty bad rep. I believe that marketers have the capacity to truly make a difference in the world by bringing consumers real solutions to their problems. When marketers adopt a stance of empathy, their approach turns from "how can I convince everyone that I have a better product or service when I really don't." (which doesn't work anymore - again, read Purple Cow) to "how can I create a better world by identifying, developing and informing people of solutions to their problems."
So how do you feel?