Why Empathetic Marketing is the Future

J. David Green
September 19, 2018

Why Empathetic Marketing is the Future

When researching empathy for his upcoming new book, Brian Carroll discovered a counterintuitive fact about marketers.  In a study of 480 marketing managers, “… the more empathetic the marketers felt they were towards the customer, the worse they did. Not only that, but they also ignored customer data that would have told them customer insights to create better messaging.”

I’ve always thought of the best marketers as empathetic and would like to think that I’m empathetic. This research gave me pause. I’m fascinated with this topic because I believe empathy is at the very heart of great storytelling, messaging, and all the things that lift marketing value.

Brian Carroll is the bestselling author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and the CEO/Founder of markempa, which helps companies convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

I interviewed Brian on the B2B Marketing Jukebox blog, which you can listen to here and here.

What Is Empathy?

According to Brian,Empathy can be defined two ways. The first definition is being able to see from another’s perspective. The other, slightly different definition is feeling from the feelings of another. What’s different about it when we talk about marketing empathy is that we’re really focused on understanding and seeing things from the experience of our customer. If we can take someone’s perspective and we’re able to understand how they feel, that allows us to understand their whole experience.”

Brian continued, “Every decision is emotional. Every single one. Antonio Demasio, a renowned neuroscientist, made a breakthrough discovery on how we make decisions. What he discovered is, if we cannot access our emotions, we cannot make even simple decisions. That is a very powerful point that cannot be stressed enough when you are doing marketing.”

Why You Need an Empathy Framework

I then asked Brian to elaborate on the market research he had found.  He said, “If I were to tell you, ‘Be more empathetic to your customer,’ the act of trying to consciously do that, without the right framework in place, actually backfires.”

OK, now I was really getting confused.

“There was a study published in the Journal of Marketing, by the American Marketing Association,” Brian explained. “In that study, 480 marketing managers were asked to put themselves in their customers’ shoes to design a campaign and predict what the customer would say. The marketers graded themselves on how empathetic they were in designing this offer for their customer.”

The research team for this study found that, as marketers, unless we realize that our bias is to reference ourselves, we will end up thinking as if we are the customer. And that process tunes us out from what our customer’s experience is.

What can marketers do?  That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time studying how to apply this skill. I think empathy, for marketers, is our super power. The true question becomes, “How do we apply this skill to better connect with customers, help them make decisions, and guide the experience so that we have better results?” If you can answer that question, then you will be authentically empathetic.

Empathy: A New Way to Think About Lead Generation

Brian, one of the early evangelizers of lead nurturing, has come to see empathy as a new imperative for B2B demand gen marketers.  “As B2B marketers, we’re focused on this world of lead generation. We want to know how to get more leads and how to improve lead quality. However, Forrester has done a lot of work around benchmarking, and the research has shown that best-in-class companies are converting 1.54 percent of their leads into closed-won deals. Now invert that percentage. That means more than 98 percent of your leads are failing. That’s success. That’s best-in-class. I started trying to understand why so few leads convert. If our focus is improving lead quantity and quality, why is it that we aren’t able to get more wins?”

This question is a big puzzle for any of us who has built a collaborative culture with sales and seen the percentage of closed-won deals that are sourced or influenced by marketing. I asked Brian why he thought closing ratios were so low.  “The fact is that it’s not about lead generation anymore. It’s about customer connection. It is about helping your customer on their journey. That led me to another question.  Why is it so hard to connect? We have all these channels. We have more channels than ever, more technology than ever, more content than ever. Why is it harder to actually connect with customers?”

Get the infographic: 12 Ways to Qualify Marketing Leads


The Breakdown of Trust in Marketing

As he was talking about the breakdown in trust, I was thinking about how I always read the negative reviews on Amazon. I thought about the rise of B2B review sites like Glassdoor and G2 Crowd. Anyone who has been around the tech space knows all too well the pay-to-play game that happens with media and analyst firms. Is it any wonder trust is so low?

Brian then cited some research. “HubSpot did a study with B2B buyers, asking them, ‘How many of you trust marketers and sellers?’ Only three percent felt marketers and sellers were trustworthy. Bad marketing is making it bad for all of us. What you need to do as a marketer now is to go beyond the lead and go into the world of your customer.”

Brian is surely right about this issue of the breakdown of trust. It’s been happening for a long time. I don’t think hacking, gaming, and hype are the right path.

To hear more from my conversation with Brian, check out my interview with him on our podcast here and here.

Further Reading

Savannah Mudd
October 31, 2019
. 8 min read
Lainey Mebust
October 15, 2019
Lainey Mebust
October 2, 2019