Of all the terms that float around in marketing tutorials, blogs, and books, one of the most common is empathy. Empathy is an important marketing concept, but its impact changed in the digital age.
Empathy: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings.
By this definition, you can see why empathy is of interest for the marketer. When you understand a person’s experiences and emotions, you can tailor your marketing message to them.
However, you can also understand why it’s so often true that marketers are poor at practicing empathy. There are several problems.
The first is that empathy is easier said than done. We like to say that we can “walk in the other person’s shoes”. But when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you’re still not that person. You’re you. All you’re doing is imagining yourself in another situation.
As soon as we bring our expectations and beliefs into the situation, we hinder our ability to imagine what someone else would do. In other words, it’s not enough to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You have to remove the filter of your perceptions and actually see things as the other person. You share and understand their feelings, even when they’re contrary to your own. This is a delicate skill that requires more contemplation than most of us realize.
The other problem is that for businesses, the motivation behind empathizing is to persuade. As salespeople, we want to understand the other person’s perspective so we can better move it towards our own.
This need makes it much harder for us to drop our filters and truly share another person’s feelings. If a prospect doesn’t want what we sell, we feel our job is persuade them otherwise.
Empathy in the Echo Chamber
Of course we know that empathy is not absolute. We can never be certain about how another person feels. As marketers in the digital age, we need to remind ourselves of this.
We must leave room for error. Because the more we try to leverage empathy to persuade and manipulate others, the more we close the door to a more effective marketing tactic: helping prospects tell their own story.
Today we see how online media works as an echo chamber. People seek out media that reinforces their individual belief system, guided by confirmation bias.
This means we must get over the two stated problems. We need to practice – to as great a degree as possible – true empathy. The best marketers remove their bias to get a much clearer view of how their prospects actually see the world.
Today’s it’s a much stronger position to get people to confirm their own beliefs than it is to bend them to match your own. Lifestyle marketing is rarely about perpetuating a new lifestyle. It’s about understanding an existing one and weaving your product into it.
Then you notice something. People with similar beliefs, information, and options often choose similar actions. Now you’re empathizing with a marketing segment. Get that right, and you’ll have an army of buyers and product advocates.
And when your offering isn’t match? Move on. You’re not trying to sell to everyone. In the end, you’ll find you do best when the people you’re selling to have beliefs that match your own.