Grow with empathy

I’ve gathered my thoughts on the second theme that emerged for me from the #INBOUND17 conference. This theme seemed to carry itself throughout the conference and spoke around businesses, culture and brands, and so it made me start thinking about brands that do this well in the South African market.

Now I am sure you all know the nature of empathy, but just incase, I wanted to make it clear, that empathy is not sympathy.  It doesn’t require that you fix every problem and it doesn’t mean taking on the problem permanently.  It means understanding the problem and providing helpful advice or solutions that the person you are empathising with can action.  Your action is empathy, their action is to use your sage advice.

The theme for me that carried through from #INBOUND17 which was the change from Always Be Closing to Always Be Helping, and the sentiment of ‘Grow with Empathy’, is really just a continuation of that. So, in a branding context, showing empathy means listening to the needs of your customers and giving them the tools to take action. The days of SELL SELL SELL, are long gone. Without adding real value to a potential customer’s life, you aren’t likely to get them to take action if all you are doing is shoving your brand in their faces.

The shift means that building real connections and relationships with consumers is essential.  But in order to do this, you have got to know who your audience are, what they like, what they do, what motivates them and what they want. This is where the empathy comes in. If you want to understand people, you have to be prepared to listen to them – and I mean really listen, actively listen.  The upside is that people are more than happy to talk to brands – especially if they get to talk about themselves, their likes and dislikes, their experience with your brand and their suggestions for making it better brand experiences.

Hyper-personalisation has also become essential to the ‘new’ marketing playbook.  Individuals want to be treated as individuals. Traditional marketing messages are still intended to reach a mass audience and do still have a big role to play in the marketing mix, but brands need to work towards maintaining an audience’s attention between big campaigns to make more meaningful connections that give you long lasting relationships.

Time and time again, I have seen too many companies throw money at marketing to up their sales, but there really is a hole in the bucket of this strategy.  You put money in, run a big campaign, give away prizes, discounts, special once in a lifetime offers and so on.  Naturally the awareness pushes the numbers up – sales, revenue, website hits, engagement, competition entries all spike for the period the campaign runs.  The moment you switch it off, you lose the audience and numbers decline all over again.  More importantly than asking, ‘How are we going to increase sales with this campaign?’, marketers should be asking, ‘How are we going to sustain our growth after the campaign is run’?

So I looked to the brand that I really think has done an exceptional job.  I have spoken about them before, but it really is an exemplary example – FNB.  For me the pivotal turnaround for FNB was their ‘Steve’ campaign.   This was the campaign that got them the ears and eyeballs in traditional media.  What was more incredible though, was their follow through with establishing a truly omnichannel business, that hyper-personalised different products for different individuals.  They really listened to people’s gripes about banking, they showed empathy and they created a business and products to allow people to take action and switch banks.

What’s really remarkable is that we are talking about banking here, I mean banking, could there be a more boring subject?  What FNB did though, was make it personable.  Steve was a regular guy in a really difficult role and was the punching bag for disgruntled customers, complaining about the same things you or I would have complained about at least once about our current bank.  FNB then took that further, they developed products that answered the gripes and to build onto that, they started offering products that we would not have expected from a bank.  Not only could I do my banking, but I could also now finance an iPad, a phone, a watch, get free take me home services, access to the slow lounge, etc etc.

The cherry on the cake for me is Urie Naidoo (who I hope doesn’t mind being mentioned).  See Urie is my personal banker and is an absolute legend.  I send through queries, challenges, questions on new products, financing, card requests, statement requests – you name it – and without fail, Urie responds timeously, with the FNB mantra of ‘How can we help you?’.  It’s personal, it’s real, we have a relationship and it shows empathy.  There is no fight, no debate, no challenge.  I am heard and provided with sage advice that helps me take action.

All the other campaigns that FNB ran, continue to maintain and develop this relationship.  This is sustainability, this is what builds loyal customers, this is taking a campaign to the next level and means that ROI is successful over and over again.

So I urge you, all brands whether you are selling a product or service, show empathy.  Stop talking at people, listen and listen good.  Empathy will direct your next campaign and empathy will make a loyal customer.


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