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How can your marketing have more empathy?

21st Nov 2013
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For nearly two decades, the business world has increasingly embraced the value of emotion in selling products. Countless books and articles describe how emotion factors into decision-making and bonds people with brands, products, services, advertising and people.

Increasingly, business leaders, marketers and advertisers have come to see the value of appealing to consumers’ heartstrings. There is now little doubt that emotions offer buried treasure for businesses. Emotions can be powerful economic tools if understood, but without the benefit of a proven psychological theory to tell us where, when and how to extract emotional insights, opportunities are lost.

The word “emotion” is derived from the Latin movere — “to move” — suggesting that emotions literally take us to another place. Businesses try “to move” customers, but it’s crucial to ask: where to? The logical answer is: “to the sale.” But that’s the short view, which misses the deeper role emotion plays in the marketing mix.

Google, a company with a brilliant understanding of the needs of customers, launched its social media answer to Twitter and Facebook — Google Buzz — in February 2010. There was no doubt that people were willing to share posts, pictures and information with friends over the Internet, but Google vastly underestimated consumers’ privacy con­cerns. The launch of Buzz immediately led to an angry out­cry when it became clear that Buzz made all users’ email contacts public and made connections to other Google services, such as Picasa, automatically. A class-action suit followed, resulting in an $8.5 million settlement. Despite addressing the privacy issues, Buzz never caught the imagination of consumers, and in October 2011, Google discontinued the service.

I contend that our individual well-being – self-esteem, success, relationships and happiness – is a result of meeting emotional needs. An individual’s needs are satisfied when he or she is connected meaningfully to others and comes to find his or her identity through those connections. Needs are at the root of our triumphs and setbacks, and they affect many consumer decisions.

A framework for understanding emotional needs

Businesses need to develop a conceptual framework for understanding emotional needs and a passion for meeting them every step of the consumer journey. For example, Facebook succeeds because it satisfies a yearn­ing for connectivity to a group and a need to celebrate one’s individ­uality through self-expression. Most businesses leaders claim that they care about consumers’ needs but don’t understand how these needs dovetail with their business goals.

Yet, it is possible to develop a framework to help businesses comprehend the science of emotional needs and incorporate this perspective into their strategy. But first, business leaders must acquire a more humanistic perspective rooted in the experience of peo­ple’s behaviour.

As a consumer, a clinical psychologist, market researcher and marketing consultant, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing thousands of consumers and business professionals. These interviews often take place in front of a two-way mirror with clients observing. At the end of the session, clients state what they heard in the discussion. Frequently, I have a different interpretation. When I report this, the cli­ent sometimes counters with “That’s not what they said.”

Listening with the third ear

I listen with what psychologists call “the third ear,” a trained lens that helps me see beyond what people say and toward a deeper empathic understanding of their emotional needs — the hidden meaning behind their conscious thoughts. What I do is akin to the finely honed listening skills top executives use to navigate corporate politics or manage tense situations. But, as a business psychologist, I spe­cialise in understanding a diverse, complex group of people – customers.

Despite business’ growing embrace of emotion, this awareness is often the first thing shut out of their professional mindsets. Too often, we build a firewall that helps us rely on logic and reasoning to solve busi­ness problems. We stick to what is perceived to be the safest method of meeting business challenges. The sciences, including psychology, are not immune either; they attempt to create a fact-based, quanti­fied approach that tends to sanitize people, so we forget about the humanity of consumers and filter out the raw emotion underlying the needs.

Solving business problems and generating insights is more about connecting the dots. Oftentimes, the answer is found when we widen the scope. We can learn about consumer needs by peer­ing inside the dynamics of human relationships. We can learn by observing the psychological underpinnings of how and why people use products and services. We can learn by listening to others through an empathic understanding of their emotional lives.

In short, understanding how human needs manifests in the market­place requires businesses to learn from disciplines that have often been over­looked in boardrooms. Drawing from sociology, ethnography, psychology, neurological, behavioural and clinical studies, blended with tra­ditional consumer insights, marketers can make an emo­tional needs-based paradigm shift in perspective.

This new perspective will result in better ways to listen to, talk to, observe and under­stand people’s life stages. It’s time that marketers step­ away from their spreadsheets and enter family kitchens, local bars and doctor’s offices to gain a deeper understanding of human needs.

Mark Ingwer is founder and managing partner at Insight Consulting Group

This is a modified excerpt from “Empathetic Marketing, How to Satisfy the 6 Core Emotional Needs of Your Customers.”


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