Empathy is Everything

We’re all a little too into ourselves.

From dawn to dusk, from mirror to screen, we are all up in our own feelings and experiences. Why? Because it just feels right.

We feel right.

Which means anyone who doesn’t feel like us, sound like us, or look like us feels wrong.

I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t feel like connecting with a person or a brand who makes me feel wrong because they’re right. How about you?

Enter empathy in marketing.

If you’ve read this blog, you know it’s primarily about digital marketing. Social media, apps, writing, email… these are all things that make marketing happen.

So what does empathy have to do with marketing? Everything.

If you don’t believe that, I dare you to try something:

  • Walk up to a stranger sometime today.
  • Tell the person why your breakfast choice this morning is so awesome.
  • If they haven’t walked or run away from you yet, ask them if they’d like to try your breakfast choice for themselves.

who-are-you-why-are-you-talking-to-me-really-social-blogNow you may luck out and run across a very open and receptive person who entertains your impromptu interruption of their day. Consider this, however: most marketing is not done in person. It comes at each of us through screens or paper, very often without any noise or audio, so the in-person factor is absent.

So, if instead of you stopping someone, how would your stranger respond to a flyer or a a billboard talking about your breakfast?

“BYE!”

You and your audience need empathy. Take it from me. Take it from Brian Fanzo, who has been beating the drum for empathy in marketing and, well, everywhere else.

Enter empathy in life.

As much as we may not want to admit it, marketing is involved in just about every facet of our lives as human beings. And since we already demonstrated that effective marketing requires empathy, imagine the following scenarios:

Parents try to market to their children the right choices to make as they grow up.

Job seekers try to market to a prospective employer just why they are worth getting hired.

Elected representatives market to voters why they should be trusted with power, while voters market to their elected representatives why they should support certain policies.

Religious leaders market to souls why the message of their faith matters to life today.

Each day, you are probably marketing your own opinions (whether you see it that way or not) to friends, family, and strangers in an effort to help them think and act the way you do. You use words, possibly volume, and maybe even supporting links to convince others you have the right answer for them.

How’s that going for you?

If you aren’t practicing your empathy as you market your way through life to accomplish what you want, I guarantee you aren’t being effective.

How to get empathy.

We all sorely lack in empathy, and yet it is the most important tool for us today. Whether you are a marketer trying to promote a service or product, or you are a human being trying to be humane, you need empathy in your DNA.

Need some empathy? (Yeah, you do. Trust me). Here are just seven ways to give it, and your humanity, a shot:

Read a story.

Break out that library card. Open your Kindle app. Dive into a fictional story. By reading a narrative, you can tap into scenarios and reactions that may not have been in your experience. Even as you project yourself into a character you read about, your empathy gets exercised as you must imagine alternate situations where you don’t get to decide the outcome.

Think in questions.

In a discussion with someone else, your natural response is to think of what you’ll say once the other person stops talking. More often than not, you’ll want to talk about yourself and your experience.

Instead, try thinking up a question to say once it’s your turn to speak. Even if you’re aching to share your own perspective, have patience. You’ll get to it eventually! First, you can make serious effort to learn more about the other person and give your listening talents a workout.

Ask, “What if it were me?”

This one is tough because it tackles that no good, very bad tendency of human beings: judgment. We do it in a split second: we judge other people for how they look, what they where, what they say, what they do (or appear to be doing), and then we do the worst thing possible: we assume.

What do we assume? That we would do better and they don’t or can’t because, well, they just aren’t you.

Instead of judging and assuming, try this on:

“Wait a second… what if that were me?”

This question will stretch your privilege and soar your sense of uncomfortable into new heights. But if you take it seriously and try to answer it, you may find that you need to learn about concepts or situations where you only have part of the picture. You may look backward, currently, and forward as you try to anticipate how you would respond when placed in another person’s story. You may even realize that there is often no one right way to proceed. Life feels quite different when you step out of your own shoes and squeeze into someone else’s.

Play decision-based video games.

Your video game console may do more for you than simply providing a temporary escape. Games can let you follow a story that alters the macro outcome based on your micro choices. I’ve played games where I tried to make all the right or “good” decisions, and then I’ve gone back to make all of the “bad” or wrong decisions. A good video game will cause other characters and certain scenes to respond differently based on what you’ve chosen.

joker-awesome-use-of-power-boss-really-social-blog
Mass Effect, my favorite decision-based video game.

Peruse reviews.

If you want a pulse on how all types of people feel about a product or service, online reviews are a gold mine. Even if the brand has a very niche customer base, the opinions each person chooses to publish give invaluable insight into where they’re coming from and why they feel a certain way.

Be afraid.

Maslow's hierarch of need | Really Social Blog
Maslow’s hierarchy of need

My hope as you read this is that you hardly ever have to feel real fear. I’m not talking about momentary anxiety (the kind you get when your card is declined at the register). Gripping fear is when you feel that something you need to survive is at risk. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they are listed as the physiological and safety needs of a human being:

Physiological (breathing, water, food, sleep, clothing, shelter, and sex)

Safety (Personal security, emotional security, financial security, Health and well-being)

When these basic needs are threatened, a human being—you, me, or someone in our circles—knows fear and will react to it in any number of ways based on who they are, where they’re from, and what they believe. Some feel this fear more often than others because they survive anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges.

Fear is within our control, however the things which catalyze our fears may not be. Neighborhoods, cities, and even countries experience violence. People pursue agendas that threaten the livelihood of others. Accidents happen.

I’d like to think that I know how I would respond if one of my physiological or safety needs are threatened… but I don’t. And even my best guess would still just be for me, and not for someone who has not lived my experiences. Thus when I hear of or see someone else responding to fear, my goal is to reach into my empathy and respect the fear of their situation.

Ah. Respect.

Yep, it’s true. Empathy walks hand in hand with respect. While one deals largely with feelings, the other is ultimately a choice. And both are crucial to treating each other humanely, which is something sorely needed today.

As much as each of us enjoys feeling right, where does that get us if we never tap into what others experience? By practicing and perfecting empathy, you will be a smarter and stronger person than you were before. More importantly, you will be key to creating connections rather than building walls.


What are ways you practice and perfect your empathy? Comment below!

I’ll Lasso The Moon

I’d like to dedicate this year, and in particular this holiday season, to a guy who is the darling of Christmas movie lovers and has been one of my favorite personas in fiction.

It has been a few years since I’ve viewed the movie, but it doesn’t matter since I have it memorized.  From the inaugural scene depicting star constellations “blinking” at one another to indicate their conversation about a single soul on the planet Earth to the final wink directed heavenwards as an entire community sings Auld Lang Syne in unison, I have the entire film of It’s A Wonderful Life memorized.

Down to his unmistakable twang of phrase and deafness in ear, I adore George Bailey and all of the triumphs and struggles he owns in that film.  That might make me a bit worthy of ridicule, but I’ll take it.

Lately my life has been less than wonderful.  Yes, I know – no one ever said life would be easy or idyllic.  While I have always been an optimist, I always have at least a toe on the tundra of reality.  But even my optimism has had a tough line to tow in the face of a slew of medical issues this year, living in a home that isn’t mine, being constantly strapped for funds, trying to balance my family life against work commitments, and generally feeling like I’m losing more of me with each passing day.  While I will grant any inquiring minds that some of my issues are most definitely white people’s problems, some of them are a bit grander and formidable to my general outlook and faith in myself.

But here’s the thing:  I feel that in these past few weeks another force has been at work with the specific purpose of juxtaposition.  As badly as I feel about my current state, it seems that every day I am presented with an unmistakable “it could be worse” scenario:  families homeless during the holiday due to fires; a local father who opted to take his own son’s life and then his own; a woman losing her sister on Christmas night due to a car accident; an amazing couple missing their chance for parenthood this time because of an adoption falling through; a woman having to watch her mother struggle each day for her life without clear explanations; a man visiting an adult day care center in Marietta with a former employer whose brain and vitality are slowly losing to Alzheimer’s; a mother struggling to provide for her children while they all escape from an abusive father/husband; and on, and on, and on…

George Lassos the Moon

This day I literally bow my head in deference to the lives touched by these real-life stories, and I realize that much like my fictional friend George Bailey… I really have had (and have) a wonderful life.  There is so much to be thankful for, in spite of some hardships and chronic problems along the way, and if I have to lasso the moon or pocket some petals to get my groove back on, I’ll do what it takes.  Toe in the tundra and glass more than half full of that rosy outlook.  And yes, you can call me “George.”