The Year of Empathy. Do you have it?

The start of the calendar year ushers in an onslaught of business predictions. After reviewing the marketing trends expected for the coming year, it appears that 2018 will be the Year of Empathy.

“Empathy,” in marketing terms, kicks experiential programs up a notch by offering brand experiences that are framed in a relevant, personal context for your target audience. And

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is emerging as one of the premiere tools to help create empathetic experiences.

The irony here is thick, of course, but let’s leave that for another article. The point is that AI does provide a remarkable capability to learn audience preferences and behavior patterns in real time, and then adapt to their specific needs and learning styles.

Like any technology, it’s important to remember that AI is merely a tool. And it’s more important to know how to create an empathetic experience than to focus on the tools you’ll use to implement them. Pity the carpenter with the newest tools who cannot conceptualize a table.   

Here are some helpful tips that will help exercise your “empathy” marketing muscles:

Walk a Mile in their Shoes: Before you brainstorm experiential activities or programs, put yourself in your target audience’s shoes.  Take the time you need to fully understand their needs, wants, challenges, as well as their fears, hopes, and dreams. Fully define them; map it out; organize a focus group.  If you lack a detailed, personal understanding of your target audience’s life–their context, if you will–your experiential programs will lack the personal context they crave.

Back it up with Data: While developing this clear, emotional roadmap for your targets, analyze how it tracks with relevant study data.. Connections between the emotional landscape you’ve defined and current survey data will suggest experiential frameworks you may have never considered, and will drive your ideation sessions.

Role Play:  Using the emotional portraits you’ve created, assume the role of your target audience(s) and put your interactive ideas on their feet.  How does it make you feel?  Is this experience addressing your personal needs?  Make sure to play different roles; does your experience accommodate different points-of-view? Are you recognizing and validating their feelings, or does it feel like a prolonged “all-about-you” commercial?

Outside the Brand:  Cause Marketing has played a large part in brand experiences for many years, and its importance is growing exponentially. When you make it easy for your target audience to support a worthy cause, while at the same time getting what they need, you are well on your way to converting a lead into a customer, and a customer into an advocate.

The emergence of Millenials as a major market force, with increasing pressure from Gen Z, makes it more important than ever to migrate away from brand-centric experiences and toward consumer-centric, empathetic experiences.

In short, move from asking yourself, “What are my target audience’s challenges and how can I help them succeed” to “What is my target audience feeling, and how can I help them feel better?”