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Industry Viewpoint: Empathy in B2C marketing

By
Amanda Keefer, managing director of Healthy Family Project

Back in early March, I had the opportunity to be a part of a United Fresh Brandstorm Panel with Ajit Saxena of Mucci Farms and Yolanda Owens of Forage + Black, both industry professionals highly passionate about cultivating empathy in produce and beyond. The panel was created to talk about empathy in business to consumer marketing. When we closed out the hour panel session, I sat feeling like that couldn’t be the end of that discussion. There was so much left to cover. There was more work that needed to be done within the produce industry.

This empathy map provides a series of prompts to identify a target audience’s thoughts, feelings, motivations, desires and needs.
This empathy map provides a series of prompts to
identify a target audience’s thoughts, feelings,
motivations, desires and needs.

If you didn’t attend the panel, and even if you did, a  great place to start when talking about empathy is defining it. Having empathy allows you to connect with your customer and feel what they feel. Today’s consumer wants to be understood on a deeper level and empathy is part of that understanding.

Personally, I am passionate about empathy in B2C marketing because it’s an opportunity to understand an audience on a deep level. To really recognize their needs and habits and in turn create content/product that will be useful to them.

Why we keep getting it wrong
Let’s face it, we are worried about messing up and saying the wrong thing. We are worried about offending one group or another and justifiably so. We are afraid to rock the boat or don’t think it’s our “place” to be in a conversation not directly related to our brand. Most of the time we don’t even know if our brand should have a stance on an important social issue or should sit back and ride it out.

Brands don’t need to be in every conversation, but knowing what issues your customers value, can easily tell you what conversations you need to be in. Another indicator of what conversations to be involved in are those that align with your company’s core values or pillars. Those values and pillars should be evident in your daily marketing so being in these conversations should be natural. (If you haven’t identified core values or pillars for your company, add to the to do list ASAP) Bottom line, it’s okay to remain silent, listen and be empathetic. It’s not okay to be tone deaf or ignorant.

Better understand your customer
Who is your audience and what do they care about? Today’s marketer has it a little easier than in years past. Every day offers the opportunity to tap into a unique focus group of customers through social media. Instead of guessing what they want, you can ask.

In addition to listening through social media, many marketing teams are creating visuals like  Empathy Maps, which provide a series of prompts to identify your target audience’s thoughts, feelings, motivations, desires and needs. The map is a visual reminder to focus on the brand’s customers or target groups’ requirements and needs rather than those of the company. It’s a great exercise and a visualization that can be used across a company.

This map can be useful in all departments from product development to HR to marketing and beyond. 

Be proactive not reactive
2020-21 has thrown us some curve balls. One might look at some of the events over the past year and argue that there is no way to be prepared. However, there are certain things your organization can put in place.

One of those internal tactics, which I feel strongly about, is to give your social media manager the authority to halt social posting, your advertising manager to halt ads and your marketing manager to halt enewsletters without approval from upper management.

If there’s a highly recognized news event or happening, your brand posting your blueberry pancake recipe in the middle of it all is obviously a bad look.

Take time during weekly meetings to talk about trending topics, upcoming news and what could potentially become news. Share and/or address concerns openly and discuss how these events will translate to your audience.

Results of successful empathy in B2C marketing
We live in a cancel culture. There’s no escaping it. It’s easy to cancel a logo, but it’s hard to cancel a friend. Are you a friend to your customers? Do you believe you understand how they feel? If they believe you “get” them, even if you misstep, nine times out of 10 they’ll be willing to give you another try as long as you own up the way a real friend would. These customers will be there for the long haul. Customers want to be recognized as individuals with thoughts and feelings and not just as a demographic.

If you think empathy is a pandemic year thing, that’s not the case. Being an empathetic brand won’t happen overnight, but it’s a company culture you can develop over time and one that is not a “want to have” but a “must have.”

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