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Headspace: Empathetic brands — walking in their shoes

by Tenielle Maris. Consumers, more than ever, are not only ‘spoilt for choice’ but they tend to have so many options at their feet that their decision-making journey has become as illusive as Mona Lisa’s smile.

Bombarded by content, messages and media, consumers are no longer listening to the relentless noise. We advertisers and marketers know that we have to be smarter and more strategic than ever before if we want to win the hearts of our target audiences, but what does that actually mean?

For starters, we need to take a step back and realise that the consumer-brand relationship should in no way be one-sided: it needs to be unequivocally mutually beneficial to both parties. To develop such a relationship, consumers need to feel as though they are truly understood by a brand because their feelings and daily challenges are being validated.

In order to that, we need to be the ones doing the listening. I’m not talking about relying on the findings from big data studies or carefully engineered Marketing tools; I’m talking about the raw and subjective emotion that may only be discovered by getting up close and personal with our audiences.

Beyond understanding

What exactly is empathy in brand speak? It’s one of the biggest marketing buzzwords for 2017 as consumers expect Brands to understand them, and then offer them value that actually means something in their lives.

To take this a step further, brands need to move beyond understanding to empathy: by reacting in a way that demonstrates that they get the thing that will make their consumers happier, more-fulfilled or their lives easier.

Shouldn’t all brands be being doing this anyway, you may ask? Absolutely. The notion of customer-centric marketing is certainly not new news but, with the advancements in technology and the increasing number of platforms available to have one’s say, consumers are demanding more from their experiences with brands.

According to Tony Zambito, founder of Buyer Persona, on making business practices human centric: “We are undergoing profound changes in the purposes of marketing. To succeed in the future, marketing will not only need to understand the human experience but also must be able to add value to the human experience”.

Getting it right

The Marriott Group has been named one of the top contenders amongst brands that make their customers feel respected (Harvard Business Review, 2016) and, if you have a look at its most-recent campaign, you’ll understand why.

Westin Hotels & Resorts, one of the Marriott’s subsidiary brands, recognised that travellers’ health routines are compromised when on the road by today’s always-on and over-scheduled culture. The Let’s Rise campaign is a shining example of listening to and then validating a consumer pain point through product innovation — wellness programs, workout gear and healthy menus, to name but a few — which directly links back to a traveller’s need to regain self-control when away from home.

The result? A downright impressive response to a human insight that has firmly established the brand as an empathetic one, and one with its consumers’ best interests at heart.

Going the distance

What’s important to remember is that empathy isn’t a once-off thing. In order to authentically empathise with an audience, your brand needs to be intricately synchronised and reactive to the thoughts and feelings of your target market along each step of their journey with your brand. And, in turn, recognise that your consumers are people — not numbers — who need to be truly understood on a personal level.

If we want to create advertising and content that has the power to shift mind-sets and change behaviour, then we need go the extra mile to discover the insights that are linked to our consumers’ daily challenges: the type that can only be found by taking a walk in other people’s shoes.

Tenielle Maris is strategic director at TTL agency, 34°, in Johannesburg. Beginning her career in branding and communications, she has spent the last decade in the marketing industry where she has worked upon big brands spanning the African continent. Having found her passion in understanding what drives human beings to connect with particular brands, her time is spent getting up close and personal with the people whom brands are trying to connect with. Tenielle contributes the monthly “Headspace” column, which unpacks anything and everything that helps marketers and advertisers understand why people connect with brands, to

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Headspace: Empathetic brands — walking in their shoes


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