In this article, Lucy Mowatt speaks to Joe Glover, Founder of The Marketing Meetup and Empath Marketing, about the relationship between empathy and marketing.
This article is a transcript of Episode 2 of the Content Conversations podcast. Please note that the transcript has been edited for clarity. Listen to the podcast here ↓↓↓
Lucy Mowatt: I’m here with Joe Glover, arguably one of the nicest people in marketing to talk to him about empathy in content marketing.
Hi Joe, can you just tell everyone a bit more about you and what it is you do?
The Marketing Meetup started three years ago. It was very much about bringing together a place where marketers could connect with one another and learn together, but layered into that is this whole idea that networking environments are terrifying.
It’s not a nice place to be, and people, generally speaking, are quite predatory in that they’re there for business and it’s business, business, business. [They’re] not there for human beings that front them.
So I just started it very much on a whim, very much for a hobby with the hope of being able to find people who shared that idea; that we can look after each other in business and still get ahead and still learn together.
[glitch] So in the next 12 months, we’ll be running 140 events with about 11.5k members in the group.
Empath Marketing came up as an offshoot of that, which is very much about starting with empathy and starting with the customer. We’re using an associate model so we’ll be very much leveraging the folks in The Marketing Meetup community to come together on projects as and when they come in. Very much united under an ethos and a similar mindset, but also bringing their unique quirks and creativity to projects in what should hopefully be a really exciting way of working.
LM: Sounds great! And why did you decide on Empath [Emparrth] Marketing rather than a different name?
JG: Well, I say it Empath….
LM: Slightly northern?
JG: Yeah, my dad’s northern, so just bring that out!
Empath is motivated by two things. The first is the story and the second is the method.
The story is that my mum is the world’s most empathetic human being. I once remember walking into the kitchen and seeing her stood there and she was listening to the radio, and she was crying. And it didn’t make any sense, but she was listening to the London Marathon and she was just welling up. I said ‘What’s wrong?’ and she said ‘Well, these people are just so amazing and they’re trying so hard’ and she just had the ultimate sense of empathy. There were people there who were just running and doing something amazing. And, you know, that was quite incredible to me, so Empath is partly a homage to my mum…
“Empath is partly a homage to my mum…”
The second part of it is that, as a marketeer, I think we spend far too much time focusing on the tactics. We think about PPC and SEO and Facebook ads and how to optimise, and all these things, but what we rarely remember, which seems bonkers, is that the other end of all our interactions is a human being.
Ultimately as marketeers, we’re just simply trying to solve a need, a problem, that improves the life of the human being the other side of our marketing […]
All marketing starts with empathy. Understanding your customer; understanding their needs; understanding their feelings… as long as you’re able to understand them in true depth, you’re able to walk in their shoes and able to communicate with them in such a way and help them. Really make it clear how you’re able to improve their life.
LM: So the benefit is really on both sides with that [empathetic], human-focused approach.
JG: 100%. 100%; I think that’s the joy about marketing really. That is certainly the thing that l love about it; it’s the thought that I’m improving someone else’s life and I think that’s where marketing probably gets a bad rep; where we look to manufacture a need. But where we’re actually solving a real need, and really helping someone on the other side, that’s amazing. That’s so cool. You’re just in a communications role where you’re just improving someone else’s life, so marketing is wicked and Empath Marketing seems to be the right way to do it, too.
LM: Sounds good to me. Are there any industries going that maybe it applies more to, or do you think it applies to every industry?
JG: Absolutely, it has to. Every company that has a customer at the other end [becausee] that customer has a need.
I think people will mistake empathy for being kind and kindness isn’t the same as empathy, necessarily. It can be, you know? I certainly want to be treated with kindness in my interactions […]
Read more: Content Marketing & Internal Communications
In a lot of my interactions I don’t care if the company is kind to me or not, I care that they can do the job right. So, as an example, someone like Ryanair: I don’t care if they like me or not; I care they can get me on holiday quick and do it cheaply and that’s entirely different interaction. If I were flying first class, then yeah, I’d care that they treat me kindly, but I think empathy is more about understanding your customer. If you’re a company and you’re not understanding your customer then I don’t know what you’re doing with your marketing at all.
LM: I agree, I see that a lot in the distinction between B2B and B2C; that these are completely different spheres and need completely different things, but they’re still people. The business doesn’t buy itself product or solutions, it’s a human that does it.
JG: Absolutely, and I’d probably say that more B2B marketers might be against that fluffy sort of stuff, but arguably it’s more important in a B2B environment because your interaction is more likely to be on a one-to-one basis. So you can have that human relationship with someone and get to know 100 people really well and that’s even more focused rather than the opposite way.
LM: I suppose it also helps you get under the skin of that person and that business to find out what their challenges and needs are, and how you fit in with that.
JG: 100%. You’re so right. I think one of the things that a lot of B2B marketers will do is spend a lot of time trying to engage in mass communications, when really they’re going to have 30 or 40 people who really matter to their business over the course of a year.
If they could establish who those 30-40 people are and show them an experience that is out of this world, rather than just a bit crap, relying on the same channels as everyone else, not only would marketers have a better experience of [people] engaging with their activity, but [the] people being engaged would have a far better opinion of the companies they’re engaging with.
LM: Totally agree. Do you think it’s scalable? Is there an element of empathy that’s scalable beyond that 30-40 people, to a wider audience?
JG: 100% […] I think whether you’re dealing with 30 people or 30,000 you’ve got a target audience and that’s sort of the inbound/outbound approach.
So, for all your inbound activity, you might say I’m going to be targeting these 30,000 people and know that they roughly look like this, and that their problems are roughly like this. And you can go at that from either direction; you can either say ‘my product solves this need for this type of people who has this type of pain’ OR you can go to the market and say ‘okay, what is your pain and how can I solve that?’.
In either direction, you know, you can have those conversations, but what it does is, it gives you a focus not only for understanding the customer but it’s amazing how your communication can fall out from it so easily.
If you establish five things that really hurt the one person that you really want to help, then that’s your five messages; it’s as simple as that. Every LinkedIn post, every email, every tweet, it’s just to that one person, whether it’s that one person or one persona that’s exactly the same thing.
On a realistic level, that’s pretty much all you can manage as marketers as there are so many channels and all this sort of stuff. If we’re trying to use them all in the right way, we’re only going to be doing it for a maximum of 1-5 personas, or whatever it may be. So, yeah, absolutely, it’s hugely scalable, but, I would also say stuff do the stuff that’s entirely unscaleable; [it’s] fun. A handwritten letter, send a gift to someone, you know, that’s great; it’s inventive, it’s creative and it’s fun.
LM: We all get too many emails and sending another mailshot is not going to get you noticed, especially with that 5-10 people who are your core customers.
LM: So beyond developing personas, how would you recommend that people get empathy in marketing right. Are there any steps that you’d recommend people go through?
JG: I think the first thing is a bit of bravery. So, I can say this from personal experience, I’m terrified of being wrong and I’m terrified of feeling like I don’t know something.
It’s amazing that I went through this process about 12 months ago with the company that I worked for previously and we, in-house, created a persona and then we took it out to our actual audience and said ‘have we got this right?’. And they said ‘well, kinda’. But then they said ‘well, actually have you thought about this?’ and ‘well, actually I don’t feel like that at all, I feel like this’.
And there’s a sense of vulnerability, that you’ve got to say ‘you know what, I’m here to help you. It’s not about my ego and whether I feel like I’m right, it’s about whether I am right, because you told me so’. […] You have to take it with a pinch of salt and sort of rely on your assumptions.
But, apart from that, just be brave. Speak to your customers and I think it will be amazing what you actually find out.
LM: Do you think focus groups and things like that can help if, you know, someone’s got a big customer base?
JG: I think they’re a great first step, although I was watching a programme the other day because the companies [on it they held them]… I’ve never actually had the privilege of running a focus group, so I can’t comment on very specifically. But, watching this group of people in a room [on TV], a focus group specifically seemed like a really bad idea, because everyone in the room was influencing one another.
You know, you had one strong voice in the room and someone asked them ‘do you agree with that statement that she just made?’ and everyone just sheepishly sort of put their hands up because that was what they thought looked good.
I think it’s one method, but I think you use focus groups as one of a few tools to validate or invalidate your personas or your assumptions about your customer. I think that’s just conversation in many, many forms. I guess it depends on what you’re comfortable with, but it also depends on what’s practical and realistic for your marketing team as well.
LM: Sure, that makes sense. And, in terms of reflecting empathy in your content marketing, do you have any suggestions about what people can do to do that?
JG: Absolutely, so the way that we approached it beforehand was, when we were developing our personas, (and we were targeting the 30,000 number rather than the 30 number) was that we listed a bunch of pains. I think we had 10 pains on the list. And it was amazing how, before that point, we had very little direction on our messaging.
Everything started with ‘we do this’ or ‘we do that’ because that’s all we knew; we knew about us but we didn’t know about the people we were helping.
Once we had that list of pains, we were able to establish ‘OK, that’s what we can do to help these people’. So rather than ‘we do x service’, it’s ‘we do x service because it helps you in this way’.
It’s a subtle shift in your copy, but it’s the type of thing where eventually you’re showing the benefits to the user.
Ideally, you’d take out the ‘we’ bit at the beginning and just speak about the user entirely, in relation to your product.
That list of pains was really useful in the way that all of our communications just flowed very very nicely.
I’d really say that empathy, and just looking to understand customers in that way… it’s amazing how everything just flows from it really quite naturally after that point.
So long as you don’t create a document which sits on your Google Drive and you forget about it, which I’m pretty sure most people do as well! It always happens, so it’s really good when people actually live and breathe these things and I think any marketing operation really should be living and breathing the people that they’re helping, not just what they are.
I think one of the difficulties, especially for product-led companies or tech companies, in particular, is that people are very proud of the products they’ve made and they want to shout about how amazing the product is, very rarely in relation to the customer that they’re helping.
I think anyone who thinks that this chat is airy-fairy is […] exactly the type of person who should be taking a second glance and saying ‘is it because this is exactly how people’s minds work?’ That they think about how it can benefit them not how amazing their product is.
LM: Actually using their own empathy. So with case studies and blog content and video content, potentially looking at how they could put themselves into that story. To use storytelling, so they say ‘Oh, actually I could benefit because this relates to me’.
JG: 100%. I’m doing an email right now that will go out to the whole Marketing Meetup community, all about storytelling. It’s about how there was a brilliant Nike campaign where it was just an everyman, a lad who was a little bit overweight, and the scene was him jogging towards the camera and it was speaking about greatness and how we’re used to, with Nike, seeing all these mega athletes, like LeBron James dunking or whatever, and it was speaking about finding greatness in us every day.
And the thing about that story was that it didn’t matter who the figure was in the picture, it was just because you could put yourself in this guy’s shoes and you could say ‘oh, actually that’s me, there is greatness in me’ and that’s where the relatability came from in that campaign and that’s why it was so powerful.
LM: Relatability is a good word […] because everybody does it. We all think about ‘what if that were me?’, ‘what if I were in that situation?’, ‘does this actually accurately reflect what I’m doing?’.
JG: Absolutely. I think that’s… the whole point of empathy is that you’re able to look at a piece of communication, a piece of branding or a blog post or whatever and say ‘that’s me; that thing that you’ve written, that’s me! And you’ve got a solution for it, that’s awesome!’.
That’s precisely what you’re looking for. People don’t achieve that by speaking about themselves, they speak about it by having awareness about what problems the person you’re helping has.
LM: Something that I think applies to content that I’ve written is the ‘so what?’ factor. If you can read something and say ‘so what?’ you’re never going to empathise with it.
Like you say, if you’re talking about yourself and your product and business, ‘So what? What does it mean for [the customer]?’.
JG: I love that, that’s really cool…
LM: I’m quite bad for that; I’m a bit ruthless. When you get an e-shot and you’re like ‘so what?’
JG: Yeah, it’s so important. I think that’s a really good point and it’s amazing how many things out there in the wild, […] by some of the world’s leading companies, wouldn’t pass the ‘so what’ test.
It’s both heartening and disheartening; at least we’ll have some work, but it’s a shame.
LM: It’s a good point. Are there any other great examples, beyond Nike, of empathetic marketing you can think of?
JG: I think Patagonia do a great job of it, because their CEO has come out and said about that every time they double down on their social message, their revenue also doubles.
It’s one of those things where people engage and [with brands] like Patagonia because they stand for something. They have a strong viewpoint and I think that’s wicked; it’s really impressive and you can see the way they’ve built a community and a culture around their products.
“People engage and [with brands] like Patagonia because they stand for something”
You see a Patagonia logo on something and you know that person stands for something.
I did also hear a quote quite recently which was all about ‘try not to argue the examples, try to argue the logic’, which means to say that quite a lot of us will hold larger brands and stuff like that in sort of reverence and say ‘Oh, I want to be like Nike’. But quite a lot of people don’t think about ‘OK, so how did Nike get there?’ or ‘what’s the logic behind them doing this?’.
I always go back to discussions about the concept, which I think is more beneficial than the example sometimes. I think sometimes the example discussion loses some people because they go ‘Oh, that’s cool’ and move on, whereas thinking about the concept and how they can relate that to their business, everyone can do it.
Whether you’re Nike or the corner shop, you can absolutely start taking these principles and applying them to your business. It makes logical sense and it’s one of those things that’s always tricky to talk about, but I think, if you can place yourself in that scenario, rather than holding Patagonia in reverence, it’s really useful.
LM: I think we’ve all been there. You see a TV ad or the Dunk in the Dark thing, and think ‘that’s a brilliant idea but I could never do it’, or ‘I don’t have the budget to do it’, but the logic behind it was that [Oreo] responded to a news item with pith and wit, and anyone can do that.
JG: 100%. It’s about accessibility. I’m sat here in my home office, so there’s no way that I’m going to be putting together an ad or have the research capability of Nike to run 100 focus groups and do sentiment analysis and do scanning on people’s brain patterns. These are all legitimate ways to find out about your customer, but sometimes just good old conversation speaks volumes.
LM: If anyone wants to find out more about you or Empath Marketing or The Marketing Meetup, where can they find out more about you?
JG: I spend far too much time on Linkedin, so that’s always the best way… I’m not sure if I’m allowed to swear on this podcast, but I’m scared I’m going to become a Linkedin knobhead! In any case I’m on there far too much and probably more accessible there than via email, so just search for ‘Joe Glover’.
Then the Marketing Meetup is found at themarketingmeetup.com and Empath Marketing is found at empathmarketing.agency. Yeah, it’s fancy, one of those non-normal URLs! Well, it was just what was available – not that fancy when you find out the reality, but I’m always happy to help and always happy to say hello.