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Guest column: Brandsville beckons 'genuine' empathy

The sanctity of a brand’s empathy is in creating a shared journey with the target audience.

GURUGRAM: The article is inspired by the great recent occurrences in Brandsville and published in the interest of all creative thinktanks in our fraternity.

WhiteHatJr lost its battle too soon. But it has jolted us marketers to think and analyse. The takeaway of the entire episode is that consumers are as well informed as the brand and can’t be considered naïve no more. An implication of information technology, it is one of the first times when we saw an uprise in India’s burgeoning knowledge society. Empathy is an aptitude that enables us to feel and express what someone else is feeling. It is something that is offered and brands have an advantage there.

Consumers simply don’t want to purchase products. They want to make connections and relationships. There are many factors that add meaning and purpose to a brand, and they can all be derived from one source – empathy.

Today’s consumers are not only interested in consuming content. Rather, they are actively seeking out content that prompts change, in both themselves and the world around them, allowing brands to build an emotional connection with their audience.

The ability to think about the world from someone else’s point of view is an absolutely critical quality that content marketers must possess. The sanctity of a brand’s empathy is in creating a shared journey with the target audience. When we start interacting with our customers in a more personalized way, it will make them feel special. That catalyses brand value.

Brands’ Dos and Don’ts for 2021

The brand should act on the value to treat consumers as people (Well, this should be followed at all times nonetheless). Brands should demonstrate the values through supportive actions for all stakeholders.

The brand should not get involved only in virtue signalling, which is only backing an idea to look good in public. It implies the brand entering a hibernation without communicating with the consumers, signalling an overly opportunistic behaviour in times of uncertainty.

eBay prides itself on its rich history of launching small businesses and had an idea to make it a bit easier for these smaller organisations to make it through this tough time. To help out during the Covid2019 outbreak, eBay in California, started its ‘Up & Running’ program, an accelerator program pledging $100 million in support for small businesses and making eBay Store free for three months. With this support offered by the brand the small businesses will have a better chance of surviving the pandemic. The program will help them connect at a personal level with the aspiring entrepreneurs and it is equally impactful than an ad campaign.

Some famous brands have also used this key ingredient in their branding recipe to add a purpose. Ogilvy’s Cadbury advertisement released during Diwali starts with a most intriguing line: “Not just a Cadbury ad.” The brand has tried to reach out to 1,800+ local retailers, across 260+ pin codes, whose businesses are promoted locally through this ad. The brand has been effective in evoking empathy among small businesses, who have received the worst blow of the pandemic’s economic fallout.

The campaign is a great step to show that the problems faced by the people are understood by the brand. An assurance that it will do whatever is within its reach to help them out.

Empathy branding isn't just a ‘feel-good’ technique

Empathy allows marketers to step into the shoes of their target audience so they can better understand and respond to their wants and needs. Many times it is not just the core product offering at all. Emotion is like the lighthouse that guides the boats of consumer’s brand loyalty and their buying decisions. We have to create and algorithm that the consumers relate with and then create the marketing content which will put across the brand’s message in the most impactful way.

One way to connect with consumers is to present an image of ‘realness’ This creates compassion and connection, presenting a brand as ‘just like you.’ Brands are using this very secret ingredient of empathy as a cherry on top of the cake.

Empathy is about ringing the right chord with the individual’s emotions. Nike has a legacy of identifying and narrating inspiring stories of the indomitable human spirit. The sports brand's 2020 viral campaign received great praise online for its message of inclusiveness and perseverance as organised sports were immensely affected by the pandemic.

The Covid crisis has created a very different situation for consumers of the travel industry. In August this year, Makemytrip came up with a digital campaign ‘Azaadi Wali Feeling' coaxing travellers to plan those much-delayed trips. Yet, it didn’t ripen enough for the traction desired. OYO Rooms took up the task around the same time to bring back consumer confidence with safety and hygiene towards travel. It launched the campaign ‘Road Tripping’ – Dekho Apna Desh. The articulately planned campaign hit the TG well and was rather engaging.

At the end of the day, the simplest version of understanding what a brand is, is what your customers feel about you, what makes the company unique and understanding what the biggest needs and values of the customers are. Empathetic marketing follows the golden rule: "Do (treat) unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Let us remember that social distancing is for humans, not for brands.

(The author is integrated marketing specialist at Topline Consulting Group. may not subscribe to his views.) 

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