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How empathetic is your brand?

10th May 2022
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A Havas survey of 395,000 consumers around the world found that with cynicism at an all-time high; less than half of our brands are seen as trustworthy (47%) and 75% could disappear and would be easily replaced. 

Are our marketers underperforming or have we simply lost touch, as an industry, with what really resonates with our fellow human beings? 

Is it our empathy levels that are leading to our total disconnect with the consumers that matter?

Empathy is our ability to perspective take. To see the world through the context of another. For brand marketers, empathetic marketing is about seeing the world through the consumer’s point of view, placing the customer at the center of the marketing strategy and working outwards to meet them. 

Recently released Empathy Value Index data, from The Oval Office in Belgium, shows that brand empathy does directly impact the bottom line. The research, that set out to uncover the relationship between brand empathy and marketing KPIs, found that empathic brands perform two to four times better depending on the metric. When it came to ‘identifying yourself’ (as a consumer) with a specific brand the research showed that the higher a brand scored in the Empathy Value Index, the higher the consumer engagement with that brand. In fact, the data showed that consumers were four times more likely to identify themselves with it! This positive identification was also reflected in how likely consumers are to consider the brand (x 2.7), buy it (x 2.8) and become loyal (x 3.4) to the brand.

So why is it that so many brands are missing out on this business lever? 

The answer lies in a poignant mix - an over reliance on data in marketing decision making, a leadership gap between the C-suite and the marketers making the work, and a lack of creativity in marketing execution. 

Firstly, two of empathy’s greatest enemies are low time and high stress and not enough senior marketing leaders are doing enough to alleviate these factors in the workplace to ensure the environments marketers are working within inspire empathy. Human beings do not perform, create or design at optimal levels if they are not treated as whole employees; considering their work, their health and their perspective. Empathy in leadership is an input that reduces risk and improves engagement and confidence within marketing teams, leading to improvements across marketing KPI’s and a desire to put understanding with all audiences high on the agenda.  Not enough leaders are recognising this, nor are they role modelling this need, and we have far too many demoralized and under-seen marketing managers creating sub optimal work.

Secondarily, when it comes to our over reliance on data the problem is often connected to the habitual cutting of timelines and budgets limiting the brand marketing teams ability to actually engage with the humans buying their brands.  Whilst data has revolutionized the world of marketing and become an invaluable asset in targeting audiences and building personalized experiences for individuals, it doesn’t often lead to authentically real human connections. We can never ‘see’ the real person or understand the ‘how’ or ‘why’ within a data set, we only see the outcome of behaviour during the studied timeframe. The marketing that works and the brands that resonate widely are the ones that tap into a small, even niche, insights that people connect with, and then find a way to leverage that poignance outwards to a wider campaign audience. 

Thirdly, we are seeing a crisis in marketing campaign creativity levels across the board. Creativity is so often the differentiator at the core of all valuable brand transformations and engagement, and yet a constant pressure on time and budgets is reducing our ability to market with creativity.  Creativity is the kinesiology of the branding world, stirring consumers and shifting their opinions towards buying or loyalty. It is a shared currency for connectivity and yet we are shortchanging our consumers and brands time and again as we create work in drab boardrooms in a “must deliver next week” culture.  Those who create stories, art, music, and yes, advertising, take the time to understand something about consumers that perhaps even they didn’t even know. They see you, they hear you, they watch you in the most observant of ways. They paint a picture for you to dive into, a belief that you want to be part of or a feeling you want to keep forever. They tap into society, into humanity, and into reality. They may sell brand stories, but empathy is their currency. 

Throughout history we have been projecting the stories of others into a form of output that provokes behavioural change, and a sale. Movies, music videos, and the top viral content, are all formats that share the same thing: a story about understanding and connecting with humanity. A story that stirs or provokes us. A story that makes us happy, sad, fearful, or angry. A story that allows us to empathise with each other, with a stranger, or even with ourselves in a way that makes us want to buy! 

Any marketer or strategist who has ever set success principles early in a project knows that understanding your audience is foundational for business results. Whether we are innovating a product, creating a new pricing strategy, or launching a new marketing campaign, it is insight into our audience that assures us the work will work. Empathy is the secret path to all deeply resonant and powerful insights, and it is a skill that the best communicators and content creators around the world instinctively deliver in every project. 

Empathetic branding leads to that ever sought after ‘aha’ moment that the marketer has when they realise they have uncovered a truly powerful human emotion. It is what hundreds of thousands of marketers subconsciously work toward every day. After all, provoking action requires a deeply accurate and honest reflection of human relevance.

Mimi Nicklin is a globally recognised millennial thought-leader on empathy, CEO of inclusive creative agency Freedm and author of Softening the Edge 


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