Igniting empathy is an essential component of research, strategy, and creativity. In our work with clients, we’ve learned that understanding the customer through deep insight is only half the battle. Instilling real empathy into your organization is as much, if not more, about how insights are communicated.
Over the years, we’ve learned there are 7 ways to spark customer empathy to positively impact your organization, and infuse empathetic understanding into every customer touchpoint.
But first, what does empathy really mean?
Empathy is everyday mind reading. Empathy requires an awareness of the feelings and emotions of others, and the ability to experience them through the power of imagination.
Empathy has two components:
- Inference: The ability to sense emotion in others.
- Perspective-taking: Using imagination to “try on” the feelings of another.
Organizational Empathy transforms the way companies operate and has the ability to improve:
- Product: optimize to meet core human needs.
- Decision making: align on customer-driven priorities.
- Agility: anticipate customer needs and reactions.
- Authenticity: customer-centric motivation.
So how do you incorporate empathy into your brand storytelling? First, let’s look at what happens to your brain when it comes to storytelling. Journalists have known it for centuries and now science has proven it: compelling narratives create empathy. When neuroscientists study empathy, they find that facts contained in narratives are more likely to stimulate feelings of empathy than facts alone. In fact, narrative stories change our brain chemistry, triggering a release of chemicals related to care, compassion and empathy.
“The story is a machine for empathy. In contrast to logic or reason, a story is about emotion that gets staged over a sequence of moments, so you empathize with the characters without really thinking about it too much. It is a really powerful tool for imagining yourself in other people’s situations.” – Ira Glass, This American Life
To that end, here are our favorite 7 keys to igniting empathy and tell a better brand story:
1. Develop workplace empathy
- Find and hire people with emotional intelligence.
- Foster empathy among your staff by prioritizing listening skills, leveraging diversity and valuing service.
- Practice empathy by developing others through mentoring and feedback.
2. Go for the head shot
- Develop strong central characters to drive the story and carry the emotion.
- Let consumers reveal something deeper about themselves and their character by making them feel comfortable, safe, and confident enough to share their story. Everyone has one.
- Choose stories wisely – you don’t need to focus on the extreme or the fringe. Normal people can tell just as interesting of a story, if you let them.
3. Provide context
- Context gives your audience a framework for understanding. Zoom out to survey the big picture before you hone in on specific experiences.
- Use Cultural Insights to place your customer in a broader context, identify emerging trends, and plan for the future.
4. Use detail strategically
- Avoid the overwhelming data dump. Think like a journalist. Curate your findings so that the most important takeaways stand out.
- Reveal memorable details to make stories stand out.
- Focus on the right facts: truths about consumers or the challenges at hand.
- Use imagery and information design to add meaning and impact.
5. Include the "so what"
- Do the work to have an informed opinion about what your research means.
- Leverage multiple sources of information for perspective.
- Explore practical business implications in a meaningful way.
6. Disrupt delivery
- Communicate using deliverables that are surprising, engaging and intimate.
- Think like a media outlet and re-invent your deliverables.
- Tell a story that your audience can hear. Consider your audience’s mindset and workload.
- Deliver insights in smaller, bite sized pieces so that they are more memorable.
7. Ask more of your audience
- Challenge them to actively participate in empathy creation.
- Ignite process with a well told story.
- Provide tools that engage your audience. Don’t present findings: workshop them.
- Treat your audience like decision-makers: make them think.