Why Empathy Is the Key to a Positive Brand Experience

Reaching beyond the traditional role of the CMO

Few companies can take into account customers’ context at each moment.
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In our world of liquid expectations, how can marketers continually evolve strategy to keep pace? Ever since Mad Men days, the chief marketing officer has been in charge of the brand and has been the person who knows the customer best—that hasn’t changed. What has changed is that instead of marketing to the customer, the CMO needs to advocate on behalf of the customer, to breed the empathy that will influence the business broadly, reaching beyond the traditional role of marketing.

When people talk about “experience,” it’s usually transactional—a purchase, a conversation, a social media exchange. Personally, I’d recommend an alternative, which is to look at every way in which a customer can engage with a brand, because each micro-moment is an important part of the experience.

The Big E: Empathy

Empathy provides the context for a customer’s experience, which is where the brand can really connect. Many companies are working to gather the right data to personalize customers’ experiences, but few can take into account customers’ context at each moment.

Glen Hartman

For example, every Saturday “Emma” does her family shopping. Emma’s grocery store wants: more visitors and longer visits; more sales of specific inventory goods (e.g., aisle end-cap promotions); and increased value in each cart.

As Emma shops, her data enables the store to send her coupons for things she likes, invitations to taster tables for her favorite cuisines, etc., keeping her there longer, cross-selling, increasing her cart.

Emma runs in one Tuesday—her daughter’s sick and she needs some essentials. Today her goal is to get in and out as quickly as possible. If the store knew that her context was different, instead of coupons it could send her phone a store map to help her find the nonstandard items she needs, then enable her to auto-pay without waiting in line. This experience breaks every rule in the grocery store’s book; it would be classified as a failed trip on all of its metrics. Yet Emma would likely tell everyone she knows about that empathetic experience, and shop nowhere else. Real-time contextual experiences like Emma’s aren’t mainstream yet, but should be an organization’s goal—and they should prepare accordingly. CMOs should help change their firms’ operating models to create empathy-driven experiences and change how success is measured.

Success metrics: out with the old

ROI, improved lead quality and numbers of clicks aren’t the full story. We should broaden the definition of success to include what the customer would see as success: helping them achieve their goals in the moment. Businesses talk about “acquiring” or “converting” customers, but when did you last hear a friend say how pleased they were to be acquired or converted by a brand? Customers care about the impact the brand has on their day. If a brand makes their lives better, that’s what will keep them coming back for more. Rethinking success in terms of your customers involves many functions of the organization. For example, successful marketing used to be about brand awareness; today it is about brand engagement. Similarly, analytics have evolved from simple dashboards into real-time decision tools, while the success of technology is measured in effectiveness rather than efficiency.

We should broaden the definition of success to include what the customer would see as success: helping them achieve their goals in the moment.

The CMO’s role in business transformation

In today’s fast-paced world, CMOs must build the flexibility that can manage change in their marketing models while working on a continuous evolution that keeps the consumer at the center. They’ll need to introduce new measures and metrics which recognize that long-term business success depends on helping customers achieve their goals, and breaking down internal silos to deliver the experiences customers want. Being a customer advocate positions CMOs to influence the C-suite and play an active role in reshaping operational models. They won’t be able to achieve business transformation alone but can—and should—be the catalyst for some of these changes.

An empathetic CMO can be an indispensable force for good inside an organization, helping the voice of the customer be heard. Which is how, ultimately, you make a brand sing.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 26, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.