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Start with Empathy

David Bowman
David Bowman
BY: David Bowman ON June 20, 2020

Aside from coffee, most of the things people want and need right now are very different than they were just a few weeks ago. It’s natural that in times of change, crisis, and uncertainty, what people value in life changes too, often pretty dramatically.

For many businesses, that means that what people were very interested in paying them to do last month, might not matter at all to them right now. That’s the world a lot of marketing professionals, salespeople, and business owners find themselves in today. So… now what?

First, don’t panic. The knee jerk reaction a lot of people have is to freak out, double down, and just go harder in pursuit of business. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying don’t be concerned. You should be. I’m also not saying it’s terrible, heartless, or evil to bust your butt to try to keep your business running and put food on the table. That’s pretty important too. But, what I am saying is that when people are worried about all those other things you can find down there near the bottom of good old Abraham Maslow’s pyramid, cajoling and browbeating them is not a great marketing strategy. That said, sitting on your hands and doing nothing, though a lot less annoying, is an equally ineffective strategy.

But wait, there’s hope for you yet. That hope exists in a single word – Empathy.

My advice to you is to start with empathy. Great marketing almost always starts with empathy. It’s one of the most valuable tools in the marketing toolkit, and in times of trouble, it’s the perfect go-to.

At some point in the past, you probably sat down and thought about what your customer or prospective customer wants and needs. You mapped out your value proposition and outlined precisely what makes you unique to people. You polished it all up, and then you sold it to the world.

Well, as I said up top, the world’s changed. A lot of what you thought you knew about people and their wants and needs is different right now, at least for a little while. So, understanding that, I recommend that you simply step back, put yourself in the shoes of your customers, and start asking some basic questions.

Take a few minutes and think about the people you serve. What are they dealing with right now? Think about the media they’re consuming, the thoughts they’re thinking privately, the words they’re uttering publicly, and the fears they’re harboring deep inside. What’s causing them pain right now? What would give them pleasure? Write those things down and then get to thinking.

Consider how you might fit into the picture. What can you do to create value? What can you do to help them? How could you alleviate some pain or deliver some form of gain to them? Maybe it’s a subtle shift in how you talk about what you already do or a tweak in how you do it. Perhaps it’s rethinking things entirely and doing something totally different. Either way, when you start with empathy, you’re well on your well to being helpful and creating something of value.

Some great frameworks can help with developing empathic thinking and turning those thoughts into something of value. Two of them that I believe work well together for this purpose are The Empathy Map and The Elements of Value.

Empathy map

The empathy map is as simple as it is powerful. In the middle of the map is your customer, and around them are a series of basic questions that can help you develop an empathic perspective. I’ve included a picture of it, but a quick google search will uncover a lot of readily available variations. It’s an excellent tool for establishing a basic framework for empathic thinking, and it pairs beautifully with another framework, the Elements of Value Pyramid.

Developed by Harvard Business School and Bain Consulting, The Elements of Value mashes up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with 30 categories that represent ways in which businesses create value for people. The categories are broken into 4 groups – Functional, Emotional, Life-Changing, and Social Impact. You can look at each of the 30 categories through the lens of your empathy map, and start to create a new, more helpful path forward by simply matching up the pains and gains of your customer with the ways in which you can create value. You’ll generate a lot of ideas, and then you can start to evaluate, test, and implement them. Some of them may fall flat, but there’s a good chance that you can find ways to be helpful and perhaps to create new ways to create value.

The Elements of Value Pyramid

So brew up another pot of coffee, bust out some frameworks, ask yourself some questions, sketch out some ideas, and get busy finding new opportunities to help people through empathy.

And of course, if you want some help with this, that’s an area of value we’d love to talk to you about.

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