SCALED’16 guest writer blog, part 1.

Text: Marika Vepsäläinen
Picture: iStock

Empathy Is the Key to Engagement in the Digital Age

What does empathy have to do with digital marketing? The answer is: pretty much everything.

Being able to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and take even a couple of steps with some awareness of their challenges, issues and desires can prove to be the most worthwhile effort you can make as a marketer in the digital age.

The key to getting results is doing it repeatedly until it becomes a habit, second nature.

Often we start with good intentions and get to know our customers a little through basic analytics and focus group studies. We then apply the data and our conclusions with high hopes. However, if it doesn’t bring stellar results in the first rounds, which is often the case, we deem it a failed experiment that doesn’t deserve another try and should be abandoned.

If you think of any relationship in life, getting to really know someone requires a lot of time, various shared experiences and a mind and a heart open to their thoughts, feelings, fears, hopes and desires. You might have been involved with someone for decades and they still surprise you at times with their ways of seeing and acting in different situations. The fact that we as humans grow and evolve throughout our lives adds to the challenge.

It’s the same with creating relationships with our customers. Because that’s what they are too: human beings. I think deep down we would all like to experience relationships in which we are appreciated and understood and can truly feel it. Be it with our spouses, families or brands.

I have been involved in several digital service development and marketing initiatives where I have put in countless hours and blood, sweat and tears without getting any notable, let alone lasting results. As I looked more closely at my and other people’s failed projects, I noticed that they all had at least one thing in common: putting technology before people.

When digital technologies, channels and media are burdened with the unreasonable expectation of engaging customers without us as marketers and business designers first figuring out, to at least some degree, who it is we want to serve and why and how, we rarely get the results we want.

It’s challenging to create lasting engagement, also in digital environments. Without empathy it becomes even more difficult.

Being able to virtually connect with just about anyone anywhere does not erase our human need for the emotional experience that comes from someone understanding us and our issues. We bring that need with us also into digital spaces.

As marketers and service developers in the digital age, our way forward is to emphatically tune into the needs of our customers. On a good day, our solution may even help them identify a problem or a need clearly for the first time ever.

They will remember the relief this brings to their previously undefined sense of insecurity, fear or stagnation.

More complex executions are not required either, on the contrary. When you’re aware of your customers’ key problems, you can focus on solving one or a couple of them extremely well at a time and that way create a foundation for a fruitful and long-lasting relationship.

So, if you want to create customer journeys that your customers want to invest their time and money in again and again, be prepared to take a journey into the psyche of your customers, again and again, with empathy.

Marika Vepsäläinen is a digital business and leadership coach. She helps leaders and teams take clear and purposeful steps in the digital transformation of business and organizational culture and create services and products that build long-lasting relationships with customers.

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