I believe that empathy for your audience is the foundation of good marketing. If you don’t truly understand your customer and the challenges they face, there’s little chance your content or brand message will make a lasting impact. Sure, you might be able to jam some conversions into your funnel. But your brand will be forgotten in the landfill of marketing buzzspeak that people have to race past as they go about their day.
A lot of brands are wearing the stench of that landfill these days because marketing has a huge empathy problem, especially in B2B content. Sure, companies may talk about business problems in broad corporate language—about “creating value in the ever-changing paradigm of digital transformation” or “unlocking the world of the future through an AI-enhanced revolution.” But relatively little B2B content talks to buyers like they’re human being.
The reason for this, it turns out, is super simple: Most marketers don’t ever talk to their prospects and clients.
The empathy marketing problem
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2019 B2B Research report, just 42 percent of B2B marketers talk to clients as part of their research.
By comparison, 50 percent of B2B marketers use social listening, which makes me want to abandon my job, hotwire a SpaceX shuttle, and give that whole astronaut dream another shot. You know what’s better than getting a list of keywords your audience uses on Twitter? Actually having an in-depth conversation about their problems and challenges. It’s also a hell of a lot cheaper.
Yes, data is important and should play an important role in your decision-making. But there’s no substitute for the nuance and insight of conversation. You’ll hear their hopes, dreams, and frustrations—even the language they use to describe their work lives, which will help you connect with them in turn. Using the same vocabulary as your consumers helps consumers feel closer to a brand.
Once you have these conversations, you’ll interpret your customer data in a new light. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of why your audience reads, shares, searches, and ignores the content they do. You’ll have eureka moments that reveal why that landing page just didn’t work. Because data without the context of customer empathy is like buying someone a present based solely on the data from their Facebook profile. (Speaking of which—martech sales reps, for the love of god, please stop sending me Limp Bizkit t-shirts.)
How to develop customer empathy, in 10 steps
This summer, as part of a Contently innovation workshop, I decided to devote two days a week for conducting empathy interviews with clients and prospects.
I’d just taken over as head of marketing, after a two-year stint as our head of content strategy. To be honest, I worried that the exercise would be redundant—I’d worked with dozens of clients as a content strategist and interviewed dozens more for our blog over the years. What …read more
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