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What we need is empathy

The role of advertising was always to make products and services appealing. 'Appealing' doesn't cut it now. Consumers are looking for a real and true connection with a brand these days. They are looking for empathy.   

Mad Men at the controls

Over time advertising became a ‘profession’ with smart creatives and planners using research, psychology and ideas to sell. Some ads also verged on art, in a way, art that always carried its commercial imperative proudly. Others less charitable have said an unpleasant smell of exploitation hung around the ad world.

Either way, as time has gone on advertising feels like a much smaller part of a wider marketing canvas. And because people still have a sense that advertising is quasi-manipulative, suspiciousion remains.

I feel that consumers now want to make genuine connections with brands: they want to feel empathy. It’s a trend Prophecy Unlimited spotted at the UK’s Festival of Marketing last year, noting that, “People want more empathy for their real needs, real lives and real values.” In my view the genuine emotional connection consumers seek with brands is as much about connection with others who feel the brand is 'right'; and it is almost always nurtured via peer recommendation (social word of mouth). 

Tell me sweet somethings

Heart1The consensus in the world of marketing seems to be that people, consumers, buyers want to be recognised and spoken to personally, about things that actually matter to them.

It’s an idea supported by research from Dignify that shows 76% of consumers expect brands to understand their needs and expectations. On the surface this seems obvious; but given the ridiculous amount of choice we are faced with daily it can be a very important point of difference.

Consumers are saying, “I want to buy from people and businesses whose values align with mine.” In practical terms brands not only need to find a way to actually do this, but they must be clear in demonstrating empathy.

In a world of advertising-savvy consumers, real empathy is where a brand ‘tunes in’ to its buyers and reflects back to them their concerns and needs.


RELATED CONTENT: The idea of brands being like friends is explored in a short three-way debate between Graham Hall and his associates at The Saturn Project.


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