The NOW Gen


Is Empathy the Key to Optimizing Data?

Empathy-driven marketing and data-driven marketing are two pretty common catch-phrases in marketing these days, but should we really be thinking of them as two different things?

They may seem like opposites at first. When we think of “Big Data” we might think of giant internet monoliths watching our every move, following us everywhere, knowing everything we do before we even think it, which admittedly is not the most pleasant image. It’s intimidating, and it’s cold. On the other hand when we think of empathy maybe we think of grandma, a teddy bear, and that friend who is always there for us, listening and offering a shoulder to cry on. That image is warm and welcoming so, fair enough, two very different things.

But in this article we’re going to talk about how in order to get a full picture of the person you want to create a unique customer experience for you need to supplement your data with some empathy and your empathy with some data. To create authentic experiences that NOW Gen consumers are looking for you have to combine your cold hard data with some TLC.

Why Empathy

Empathy is generally defined as “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” It’s considered a key ingredient to building successful relationships because it’s how we understand the perspectives, needs, and intentions of others. 

If the definition alone isn’t enough to convince you of its importance in marketing, we have data to back it up: according to research conducted by Pepsi and IPSOS at the beginning of the pandemic 86% of Americans said that it was “critical” for brands to be more empathetic in order to build brand loyalty.  Consumers are stating clearly that they want their brands to treat them like people. 

On the Now Gen Podcast we recently talked to Jos Harrison, Global Head of Brand Experience & Design at Reckitt, and this is what he had to say about empathy: “I think that demonstrating your empathy with the person that’s trying to solve a problem can come in 70 different ways. And that’s what tends to generate those little moments of gratification, because that person feels that you actually care as a brand. You prepare to take action based on that.”

Mondelez is a great example of a company mobilizing both data and empathy, with their “empathy at scale” strategy. According to one Mondelez marketing director, “The common approach today towards targeted marketing is to use data and AI – and we are still using a lot of data and technology, but in these current times, we have found that there is a need for a lot more empathy if we want to bring our marketing to the next level.”

Why Data Alone Isn’t Enough

The word data gets tossed around an awful lot these days, and as its dictionary definition–“factual information (such as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation,”–isn’t particularly enlightening, it’s worth taking a minute to think about what we mean when we talk about data in the context of marketing. What does data tell us and what are its limitations?

Speaking very basically, data can help us identify two critical pieces of information 1) our ideal customers and 2) the best way to reach these people. Once data identifies your ideal customer, it can help you personalize the experience that customer has with the brand. In identifying the best way to reach people marketers can more efficiently allocate their resources. There’s no denying the utility of data and we can’t underestimate its importance. According to Yale School of Management 90% of consumers consider irrelevant ads annoying, and a further 68% say that a single negative experience with a brand will make them more likely to go elsewhere.

On the podcast Jos went on to talk about the importance of “why” in the customer experience: “The purpose has to sit at the heart of the engagement between the brand and the end user because if it doesn’t have a reason to exist, why would I buy it? Why would I engage with it?”

We can’t answer these questions with data alone. The problem with data is that it only gives us half the story, or rather data doesn’t give us the story, it only tells us who the characters are. Data can tell us about the “what” but data can’t tell us “why.” Without asking who these people are, without knowing their stories how can we truly connect with them? 

With empathy, we can transform consumers and data points into real human beings with real lives and real stories. Empathy tells us the story behind the data. It fills in the two dimensional picture outlined by the numbers and it connects that data to people. Empathy puts individuality in the demographics and gives the narrative to the customer journey. 

Ironically, the way to get the best out of all our cold soulless data harvesting technology may just be to add a little human touch, some TLC, and some empathy.

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