May 14

4 ways to adopt human-centered marketing and get better results

Empathy-based Marketing


Have you thought about how you can humanize your marketing?

This post is going to focus on why you may want to reconsider your current marketing approach and 4 ways you can practice human-centered marketing.

Why do we need to be more human-centered? 

We have more marketing to sales technology to connect with customers today, but they’re tuning us out.

Why? Because marketers and sellers are using technology in a way that is creating barriers to real customer connection.

For example, I was talking with a VP of Marketing recently about helping their SDR team get better results with empathy.

We looked at the SDR team’s activities and saw her team was sending a significant number of emails to targeted accounts.

When she saw the data, she talked about also getting a “ton of cold-emails” and how she felt like every technology provider put her on their ABM hitlist.

She said, “I feel like someone painted a target on my name when I got promoted.”

And then said, “I delete them all… they all seem to copy each other’s approach.”

The irony wasn’t lost that her own SDR team was doing the same exact thing to their potential customers.

What is human-centered marketing?


Human-centered marketing requires empathy because it puts customer experience at the center of all our marketing and sales efforts. It begins with understanding our customers’ perspective, desires, and motivations, so we’re relating to them as humans and not objects we’re trying to convert.

It’s grounded on this truth from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio.

He said, “We are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think.”  

When you are marketing to people, you’re trying to get them to do something or buy something you want. That’s object-based marketing. But when you’re marketing for people, you’re advocating for them. You’re focused on helping them get what they want. That’s human-centered marketing.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Marketing isn’t something you do to people. It’s something you do for people. That’s human-centered marketing #h2h #b2bmarketing” quote=”Marketing isn’t something you do to people. It’s something you do for people. That’s human-centered marketing”]

Being human-centered feels like this to customers

As our marketing technology, machine learning, and tools become increasingly smarter, so do our customers.

Customers know authentic- sincere – communication from the scaled messages we send. They feel it.

Your customers know what good marketing really feels like. They also sense when you’re sending them scaled or generalized messages.

Let’s look at email campaigns.

You may be saying, people write the email templates.

The email (even if it’s well written) and personalized in a few places, still often doesn’t feel right.

Why? Because it’s scaled. The promise of technology to deliver personalization at scale requires us to embrace the human part first.

But it’s easy to forget that when we sit at our desks. Or when we try to think like our customers.


You are not your customer

Saying we are not our customers seems obvious, right?

However, research shows our personal biases and preferences get in the way of understanding customers’ wants, desires, and motivations.

It works like this:

We think, “if I was the customer, how would I feel?” As the customer would I like this?

This starts our marketing from a bias that’s not actually human-centered, and we do this all the time unconsciously.

Check out, Why Marketers Fail at Customer Empathy and How to Fix it

For example, I had an email exchange with Brent McKinley, the Director of Business Development at ExeVision, Inc, who shared this great story:

When I was director for a large tech company in Mountain View CA, my team printed coffee mugs that said “I Am Not My Target Audience!!”

This mug has been on my desk for over 20 years, helping me remember to “get outside of my own mind”.

This constant reminder has guided my marketing thinking and my focus on a customer’s needs, more than anything else in my entire career.

We all should have that mug on our desks as a reminder.

Are you focusing on the customer journey or the sale?

How often are you trying to move your customers to do something that will benefit you, i.e., click, sign up, register, and buy?

Our marketing efforts are driven by our goal, our KPI, our quarterly income, or profits. There’s nothing wrong with those measurements.

It’s just that our intentions may become twisted when we start with our personal agendas as a driver.

What do you measure?  When you focus on the wrong thing, your marketing can become wonky quickly. We’re not just seeking clicks. We want to connect and form lasting relationships with our clients.

When you think about your buyer’s journey, consider being sincere about helping them.

Add the human touch to your martech stack and beyond

Why do we do things that we think scale when at their core relationships are not scalable?

Here’s what I mean.

Forrester Consulting discovered, “65 percent of marketers struggle to employ emotional marketing as they turn to automation to improve customer engagement.”

If you have a martech stack (don’t we all now?), you need to emphasize the human touch more.

That means that your marketing team needs to have actual conversations with your buyers.

Use your marketing technology, database, and ability to segment to refine your initial understanding of your target audience’s needs.

Focus on helping your future customers achieve what they’re trying to do at each step of the journey.

Is this hard to do? Yes.

That said, I believe this is where marketers must focus their energy. This is what makes a better customer experience. We must be more human-centered with our marketing.

For more ideas, Mark Schaefer released a terrific book, Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins. And Mark created this fantastic Manifesto for Human-Centered Marketing for his new book.

Source: A Human-Centered Marketing Manifesto by Mark Schaefer


Four Ways to Adopt Human-Centered Marketing

1. Help like a hotel concierge to make the customer experience better

If you want to know how to approach applying empathy to your marketing efforts, consider how a hotel concierge operates. What is their goal? To help meet the needs and be helpful to guests. Why can’t we approach our marketing and sales the same way?

Do concierges give the same advice and input to all hotel guests? Of course not. They do things that don’t scale.

Still, they’ve prepared themselves to answer some of the same questions.

For example, what are the best shows? Where are the best restaurants for each occasion? Can I get a reservation now? Where are the grocery or liquor stores, etc.?

But the key is that they listen, they’re available, and their goal is to help. What can we learn? We can approach our customers by doing things intentionally like a concierge.

2. Do things that don’t scale 

There are things that customers expect to be scalable.

For example, email newsletters. Still, they want relevant content. They don’t expect that every single newsletter personalized to their interests. That said, if enough of the content is irrelevant, they’ll unsubscribe.

People mentally unsubscribe before they finally remove us from their inbox. Customers move from interested, to ambivalent, and ultimately apathetic quickly.

Our salespeople do things that don’t scale all the time.

If we don’t change our marketing automation approach, we’re going to kill the value of marketing automation.

In sum, you can’t automate trust.

But you can build it over time by being intentional, showing you care, and seeking to add value with each touch. That’s at the core of doing things that don’t scale.

That might be:

  • Opening Outlook and actually sending a personal message.
  • Picking up the phone talk to your potential customers.
  • Writing a personal note in your own handwriting.

For example, check out what Drift with their handwritten direct mail campaign.

There are lots of tools that can send handwritten notes. Alex Orfao writes on the Drift Blog, “Since we didn’t want this to look like just another mass mail, we made sure the message and handwriting were personal and human. The note was short and sweet (under 50 words) and personalized with the recipient’s name and company.”

This will humanize your marketing quickly: Be an advocate for your potential customer, be curious about them, and actually care about helping them get what they want.

You want to make each person you connect with feel like they matter to you and care about helping them get what’s in their best interest.

Also, check out this post Growing B2B Sales with Trust and Empathy

3. Shift your focus to building relationships

All marketing, selling, and lead generation is about one word: relationships.

It’s not about technology; it’s about people.

We need to take the time to do things that don’t scale.

This is from a terrific book, The Passion Conversation:

We form relationships in two ways.

The first way is through dialogue, a virtuous circle of interacting through listening and responding that causes more interaction, listening, and responding. Relationships grow through conversation.

The second way we form relationships is through a process called reciprocal altruism. That’s a fancy term to explain where people freely give to others with nothing expected in return.

Relating to people like this is the heart of one-to-one marketing.

It is critical to know what customers want to serve them better.

For more on this read, How to Put the Customer First in Lead Generation.

Also, check out Lead Nurturing: 4 Steps to walking the buying path with your customers

4. Use your applied empathy now

Empathy is your marketing intuition. Use your insight to move out of your mind and into the intention of the client.

Here’s what I mean:

Move away from me-first (company-centric) thinking to customer-centric thinking and speak specifically to their motivations.

If you don’t do this, you’re treating potential customers (aka leads) as objects and not as people. If you do that, your goal is to get them to do so something.

Instead, I advocate that you seek to understand them first; to know their motivation and learn what interests them. And even better, to understand what might be helpful to your customer to get what they really want.

For more read, what is empathy-based marketing?

Ask this as you approach your marketing:

Is that how we’d like someone to treat us? Is this how we’d like a friend or loved one to be treated?

Again, this seems obvious, but it’s not.

Check out, Why Marketers Fail at Customer Empathy and How to Fix it


Human-centered marketing is about building people-first relationships. It begins with understanding our customer’s perspective, so we’re relating to them as people and not objects we’re trying convert.

Remember this: When you are marketing to people, you’re trying to get them to do something. But when you’re marketing for people, you’re advocating for them. That’s human-centered marketing.

By following these suggestions, I hope you can use them to make a massive improvement in how you connect with your customers.

It’s your turn now.

Let me know your thoughts on this in the comments below.

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Updated: 5/22/2019

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. What a great insight. Doing market that will build the realtionship with people is a great way to success. It will help build trust and confidence to your brand. They will patronize what they know that they can trust.

  2. Brian.

    This is one of the single best “marketing” posts I have read in a long time.

    I am going to share this with my entire team this am.

    We are constantly doing “un-scalable” stuff at MGF because it feels good. You just provided clarity as to why it feels good.

    Great read!

    Lord Bless,

  3. Awesome article, Brian. You have a great way of cutting right to the heart of the matter. I think many of my fellow marketing/communications professionals are grappling–whether consciously or subconsciously–with how to bridge the gap between the “new” (technologies, media, automation, and other trends) and the “tried and true” (face-to-face relationships, customized service, etc.). Thanks for your well-articulated and informative perspective!

    1. Hey Noelle, Thank you for reading and for sharing my post. It’s so great to hear your perspective. Yes, I think everyone in the sales and marketing is dealing with this challenge at some level. I keep reminding myself that the customer (or buyer) drives the process, not me. And if I put them first, I can begin orient myself to what’s the best way to help. Thanks again!

  4. This blog provides useful information about humanize the marketing and also helps in building the relationships. Thanks for the amazing information

  5. Marketing automation has been a major focus of my new, one-man consulting business. So much in fact I allowed it to distract me from the importance of a personalized, human approach to new business. This article reminded me just how critical the ‘people piece’ is for my business. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Sam, I agree, it’s hard to keep things in balance to not let technology get in the way to really connecting with people. I need to keep reminding myself of the same thing.

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