Congratulations! You have heard and embraced the buzz word of the year…empathy.  You are aware and acknowledge that you need to look beyond the functional to the emotional to understand the role your products play in your target consumers life. You comprehend that you need to take time to explore what resonates with consumers by asking Insights in Marketing (IiM) to reveal their daily habits, affinities, influences, emotions, aspirations, and behaviors.  And IiM has completed your segmentation, and personas for each segment.  You are now ready to “step into the shoes” of your target consumer.  But before you do a word of caution!

In several tests, Imperial College’s Johannes Hattula and his co-researchers interviewed marketing managers and found that the more empathetic marketers were, the more “egocentric” they became; that is, the more likely they were to say that the customers’ preferences were the same as their own.  Common knowledge advocates that “marketing empathy” (i.e., the mental process of taking a consumer viewpoint) helps marketers separate their personal preferences from those of consumers, thus preventing egocentricity in their decision making.  The results of this study, however, show exactly the opposite. The more empathetic marketers were, the more they used their personal preferences to predict what consumers would want, and the more likely they ignored the consumer insights that was provided to them.The past couple of years, many marketing articles say we should focus on the target consumer and put ourselves in their shoes. It’s assumed that when you’re empathetic, that’s good. You know your consumer. Now we must step back and reassess the entire idea, and think more carefully about this empathy approach, because it can strike back.Marketers are also consumers, and that’s what makes this catalyst of their own consumer self-reflection so strong. Marketing managers with decades of experience ignored the consumer research just as much as young managers with only a few years’ experience.

In a follow up study by this group they did find a cure!  To prevent the “egocentric” effect, marketers simply need to be aware of their bias.  A way to make sure this happens is to work in groups. Working in a group others can challenge if egocentricities creep into the discussion.   An Empathy Map is a great group exercise to document what is most important to your target consumer.  An Empathy Map consist of a square split into quadrants with the following sections

  • Thinking – What does the customer think
  • Feeling – How does the customer feel
  • Doing – What does the customer do
  • Perceiving – What does the customer see, hear, etc.

Once this is completed work as a team to list out the pain points and goals your target consumer hopes to accomplish.  Use this going forward when making critical marketing decisions.

Humans are wildly complex, a swirl of influences, shared beliefs and experiences that form us separately as individuals both consumers and marketers alike!

By understanding how your target consumer defines success, you can develop products and marketing campaigns that tap into strong emotions. For a CPG brand, success could be the perfect family moment experienced with everyone at the dinner table, or it could be all about impressing the in-laws.