The Power of Empathy
For the purpose of marketing, and really, for the purpose of being more human, let’s define empathy this way:
The ability to suspend judgment and temporarily see through the eyes of another in order to better understand their choices.
The key is suspending judgment. Notice that this definition doesn’t require you to agree with your customer’s choices. It doesn’t require you to condone her behavior. It merely asks that you let go of your own perspective and biases long enough to take an honest appraisal of the customer’s thoughts, feelings, hopes, and desires.
Seth Godin recently wrote in his blog, “Productive connection requires mutual trust.” Agreed. Branding is fundamentally about building a mutually satisfying relationship. But then he goes on to say, “You can’t empathize with someone you don’t trust.” I disagree. You don’t need trust or even relationship to empathize. You need curiosity and openness.
I don’t like cage or Ultimate fighting. Nor do I necessarily trust the people who do. But if you asked me to help brand it, I could probably suspend judgment long enough to try to understand the experience of someone attending. Who am I in that crowd? An 18-year-old-boy? Did I ride with friends to the fight? Did we all have Red Bulls in the car to get amped up? The crowd is electric. The cage lights are intense. I want my fighter to win. What do I feel as I watch my favorite guy smash the other guy’s face? Power? Control? Significance? Maybe all of the above.
Now, the truth is that even after this exercise in empathy I’m likely to cross the street if I see that spectator walking towards me. But I’m still rewarded for practicing empathy.
I get insight.
If you can truly look through your customer’s eyes you’re much more likely to discover something relevant others have missed. You’ll also have a more visceral understanding of your market. Don’t worry so much about liking what your customers like. Worry about seeing them as human.