36/300: Feel Me, Know Me, Sell Me

Next week I’m heading to North Carolina to meet with a client for a four-hour workshop on meeting customers’ emotional needs. It sounds like it’s going to be interesting and, given the world I occupy, it’s actually kind of a novel idea to think, as marketers, that customers have emotional needs to be met.

But should it be?

I’m almost done re-reading Dev Patnaik’s Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy. It’s a great book that flies in the face of so many of the data-driven, insight-by-numbers business and marketing books that are out there right now. I like those books. I think Christian Rudder’s “Dataclysm” is a modern classic about how we can find humanity in the numbers. But Patnaik’s book takes a different tact when it comes to making goods and services that resonate with customers: feeling.

Patnaik is a friend of a friend. She recommended I read his book. It’s the same friend who recommended I read “The War of Art,” which has become one of my favorite books ever. In Wired-to-Care, Patnaik explores companies that put their sense of their customer ahead of the conventional wisdom – how Harley-Davidson is fueled by employees’ love of riding; how an American expat living in London missed home and the ability to buy fresh vegetables direct from the farmer and ended up building an international company to connect farmers with city dwellers; how Delta executives didn’t know how to improve the air travel experience until they gave up their perks and joined us in the security line.

We live in an age of data. It’s everywhere. And we tend to trust those things we can quantify more than those we can feel. Why? Because there’s safety in numbers. There’s comfort in numbers. And, very often, numbers help us make better decisions. But there are times, important times, when our intuition needs to take center stage, when how we feel matters if not more than certainly as much as what we can prove.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Very often the person standing at the front of the room extolling the virtue of data-driven insights in marketing is me. And I do believe in the idea that tapping into broad data sets allows us to gain some quick and wide understanding of people in the world. But when I think about the things I am most drawn to as a person, a customer, a consumer, they tend to be the ones that treat me like a person instead of a line on spreadsheet.

People want to buy from people like them. They want to feel like the people they do business with are the kind of people they would want to talk to, have an adventure with, take a vacation with. Rock climbers want to know that the CEO of the gear company they love has climbed El Capitan. Bikers buy from Harley because Harley is made up of bikers.

It makes sense.

So what does that mean for data? Well, I wonder why we think of data and empathy as being mutually exclusive. Is empathy not just another form of insight and isn’t insight a hypothesis drawn from data?

For the last six months, I’ve been working with the client I’m going to see next week to gather all their data up to create profiles of their target consumer groups. It’s been a lot of hard work, but well worth it. The thing is, this particular client has all kinds of people working there that are actually members of their target audience. And the more I think about the profiles we’ve put together, the more I’ve come to realize that, if they want to make better connections with their audience, they shouldn’t focus so much on their new product or their marketing budgets, but on telling this very simple story:

We’re just like you.

You’re just like us.

We’re in this together.

Let’s grow together.

It doesn’t seem to need to be any more complicated than that. But maybe that’s what we’ll discover next week during our workshop. Maybe we’ll all come to realize that data is good, but empathy is good. One reveals the facts, the other the truth, together it’s one hell of a story.

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