Listening And Empathy: Making Your Marketing More Human-Centered


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Listen by Rémy Médard

Listen by Rémy Médard

One of the most pressing questions facing organizations today is this one:

How do we connect with the outside world of customers and buyers today?

It is not an easy question to answer. Recently, we have had several studies, including those by Forrester and the Content Marketing Institute, which suggests companies have been struggling to connect with their customers and buyers. Finding many organizations and marketers believe their content marketing and B2B marketing efforts are only effective well below forty-percent of the time.

The sobering news is the needle of effectiveness has not moved very much in the last few years and continues to struggle to break the forty-percent ceiling. This is despite the marked increase in spending for content marketing, digital marketing, and marketing automation.

Held Captive By Business Assumptions

Companies who often struggle to connect with the outside world of customers and buyers can look to a common problem. Which is, many times organizations can be held captive by a set of assumptions on how the world works as well as views of their customers. The “disconnect” arises when these assumptions directly oppose how customers and buyers view how the world works. When organizations only focus on business intelligence, this limits their view of the outside world. And, never really knowing what reality looks like.

Businesses need to breakthrough this captivity – and soon. According to a Fortune Knowledge Group recent study done in collaboration with the agency gyro:, surveying 720 U.S.-based senior executives, nearly 65% of executives today rely on subjective human insights oriented values for decision-making today. Meaning less and less on business intelligence and analytics. Also, meaning more reliance on intuition, emotions, company culture, goals, reputation, and situational fit.  Suggesting business decision-making is becoming extremely personal.  Below is an interesting infographic summarizing the study:



In the past dozen years, since originating buyer persona development, I have conducted well over a 1,000 buyer interviews. What I have witnessed is the reliance on subjective factors and emotions trending upwards. Recent studies by Google and the CEB also validate this emerging reliance on emotional factors for decision-making. Thus, if you are guided by misinformed assumptions related to buyer personas being based on business intelligence, you are being misguided away from the factors your customers and buyers are truly basing their decisions on.

Listening And Connecting To The Outside World

For marketing to be able to connect with the outside world of customers and buyers today, they must be guided by human insights. Guided by understanding the human story behind business problems as opposed to total dependency on fact-based business intelligence.

While business intelligence related to knowledge of strategic initiatives, buying criteria, risks, and performance success factors help drive sales effectiveness, human insights paves the way for a deep connection to the human story of customers – allowing for marketing effectiveness.

How do organizations build into their DNA and way of thinking, the human abilities of listening and empathy? This is an important question for after years and years of engaging in business speak and business assumptions, organizations’ views of customers have become dehumanized.

One company and executive leading the way in answering this question is Marc Mathieu, Global SVP of Marketing for Unilever. In this interview, he discusses the importance of listening, empathy, and understanding the human story:

Basic Human-Centered Principles

For marketing to practice listening and empathy, there are three basic human-centered principles to keep in mind:

Focus on human insights. While sales-centric intelligence and business insights are important, companies cannot lose sight of the growing importance of gaining human-centered insights. This is especially true when you consider the growing trend of 65% or more of executives relying on subjective human factors in making critical decisions.  If your research and buyer personas are not accounting for human factors and insights, then they are not providing you with the human-centered understanding needed for buyer personas to be effective.

Understand immersion. Business today must not only look at the outside world of customers, they must become immersed in this world. The status quo based on assumptions mentioned above prevents many organizations from opening up avenues for immersive experiences.  Immersion calls for new means of research and understanding the use of customer ethnography.

Develop human-centered approach.   Many companies are still stuck in a business-centric mode of operating. Lacking real connection to the world of their customers. Some have made leaps to a buyer-centric mode of thinking. A buyer-centric only approach can still fall far short of having a human-centered approach to understanding the human story of buyers.  Buyer personas, since their origins, have been based on human-centered innovation principles – and can be effective at communicating the human story of customers and buyers.

The Human Story

We are undergoing profound changes in the purposes of marketing. To succeed in the future, marketing will not only need to understand the human experience but also must be able to add value to the human experience. To do so, new skills sets in marketing will undoubtedly include capabilities to understand the human story of customers. And more importantly, to know how to add as well as contribute value to the human story of customers.

Are you evolving to be a human-centered marketer?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.



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