In this guest post, Atomic 212°’s head of SEO, Stephen Downward (main photo), says marketers love of data still don’t bring the result that human empathy can…

Recently, I was contracted to undertake a research project exploring the thoughts and feelings of our fellow Australians. That is our lives, our health and our mental wellbeing at the height of the greatest pandemic since 1918.

Obviously, that’s a very broad question – 26 million Aussies are going to have 26 million different answers. Of course I knew how I felt, but I wouldn’t really call my somewhat apathetic viewpoint any kind of vigorous research finding.

In this guest post, Atomic 212°’s head of SEO, Stephen Downward (main photo), says marketers love of data still don’t bring the result that human empathy can…

Recently, I was contracted to undertake a research project exploring the thoughts and feelings of our fellow Australians. That is our lives, our health and our mental wellbeing at the height of the greatest pandemic since 1918.

Obviously, that’s a very broad question – 26 million Aussies are going to have 26 million different answers. Of course I knew how I felt, but I wouldn’t really call my somewhat apathetic viewpoint any kind of vigorous research finding.

As any search enthusiast may, I started with some basics of Google Trend research; a pulse check, if you may. To my complete surprise, I discovered that yes, Pilates and yoga are a cool way to stay in shape while attempting to escape the daily horrors of 24/7 COVID news and infection-to-hospitalisation-to-death conversion rates.

Regardless, Google Trends wasn’t going to cut the mustard – it simply wasn’t the kind of in-depth analysis I was comfortable presenting to a client and their stakeholders. So, rather than a few generic search trends, I went looking for raw consumer consumption, the good stuff.

I went deep. I went meta. I went full SEO.

I tooled up to the max and scraped data from Amazon, Booktopia and all the major publishers to try and understand what Australians were searching for and the answers they were seeking. From family and health, to fitness, mind, body and spirit, my journey had begun. I did the same with podcast charts, media publishers and any other media that didn’t involve some kind of Pete Evans-fuelled technological conspiracy.

In the days that followed, my research journey became a sad state of affairs and my mood took a dramatic turn inwards. The more I looked at the data and what it signalled, the more I realised how disconnected I was. I wondered if I was too far removed from the challenges everyday Australians are facing that I wouldn’t be able to articulate my research.

As it turns out, the data spoke for itself – so much so that when I presented my findings, a number of people in the room (including myself) teared up in a moment of truth and deep-seeded empathy for everything we were experiencing.

But while these weren’t tears of joy, we realised we had an opportunity to do something impactful. It was a chance to engage our audience in a truly meaningful way, something that was born from a shared experience, a kind of tribal phenomenon if you like.

In a time so polluted with noise, we were truly listening.

EMPATHY IS GOOD FOR MORE THAN BUSINESS

As marketers, we often forget that humans are more than just users or data points to be analysed. While being data-centric is important, being customer-centric encourages us to consider our shared humanity and walk in our customers’ shoes.

It sounds cliched, but we often forget that we are also consumers outside of our clients.

I truly believe that being customer-centric reaches far beyond building a great website or offering free shipping when you spend over $500,000. Being customer-centric should make us look inwards, it should force us to ask bigger questions as an agency and for clients – questions like ‘why does our business even exist?’ Or ‘why would anyone want to work with us, or buy our product?’

Emotional intelligence, specifically empathy, can truly help us understand more about each other as people and in our daily lives. We share the same hopes and struggles as our neighbours, co-workers and friends. Empathy encourages us to actively listen and to open up to real, two-way conversations (the fact that as an industry we refer to our clients’ customers as ‘users’ is indicative of a language far removed from an empathetic mindset, usually this language is reserved for ‘Narcos’).

The most encouraging part about this increased need to really listen to our customers is that it has come about as a result of them actively engaging in meaningful conversations.

As marketers and brands, we need to start actively listening and responding in kind – because those brands that continue to blindly lecture their audiences and fail to actively listen are going to fall short of consumer expectations.

ENGAGEMENT MADE EASY THROUGH RISING PARTICIPATION

As we move closer to Web 3.0 and the idea of a decentralised internet, empowered by a creator community, brand ‘Netocracy’ is coming to an end.

As a result, it’s becoming so much easier to engage with our audiences, because they are eager to participate.

Deloitte’s 2021 Global Marketing Trends report found that participation is a strong area of growth. While the report acknowledged that participation can be as low in effort as someone posting about a brand on social media, “the deeper, higher-effort forms of participation are gaining in popularity” – which includes “cocreation and developing original content”.

This is illustrated by the rise of user-generated content, which is a goldmine for creating engaging, original, authentic content. Yet some brands continue to leave the proverbial free money on the table.

As for why they wouldn’t want to engage with the kinds of people who want to actively participate with their brand, I suspect it’s because these brands actually don’t have all that much to say.

WANT VALUE? HAVE VALUES!

In a 2019 report, Forrester found a whopping 65% of B2B customers were of the opinion they got too much messaging from businesses.

And most of it was completely useless to them.

It’s all a bit ‘Psycho Killer’: “You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything”.

Part of the reason this has come about is because consumers are more savvy to advertising messages: they recognise when they are constantly being sold something, rather than being offered something – even if the sales pitch is being packaged up in a novel way, like a TikTok video.

Brands who fail to engage their audiences through authentic conversations and actively listen will also fail to meet the changing expectations of consumers. Their brand value will diminish, and consumers will seek to work with brands that reflect their own values and the changing values of the community as a whole.

And as publishers, content creator and marketers, it falls upon us to discuss these challenges with our clients and work to help them. Because if we’re going to be publishing content, we should try to solve customer problems rather than just sell a product.

It was interesting to note in Deloitte’s report “an overwhelming trend rose to the fore” as to the reason why people participate: “People are most motivated to participate in an effort to help others.”

How long do you think these audiences are going to stick around – for positive reasons – if they’re there to help and the brand just keeps hammering a sales message?

People see through the lies and inauthentic behaviour. It’s wearing thin.

SHARED CHALLENGES PAINT THE BIGGER PICTURE

Ultimately, to be truly customer-centric, marketers and brands must gain a deep understanding of who their customers are, and the challenges they’re facing. But over-reliance on analytical data alone can reinforce bias, create blind spots and limit innovative thinking.

Marketers should look to the wider state of the world and our shared challenges to ensure we don’t miss the bigger picture.

Then we should engage in the smaller conversations – because our audiences are eager to tell us what they want.

We just have to be smart enough to listen.

Article originally published on B&T.


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