May 14

Why Marketers Fail at Customer Empathy and How to Fix it

Empathy-based Marketing


No one will ever say, “we don’t focus on the customer.”

Here’s why (even empathetic) marketers fail at customer empathy and how to fix it.

Let me explain:

Dr. Johannes Huttula researched with 480 experienced marketing managers.

They asked marketers to step into their customer’s shoes and predict what they would reply in a market test.

BTW – The scientists already knew what the customers would say because they captured the customer’s preferences before the test.

Surprisingly, the more empathetic the marketers felt, the worse they predicted customer preferences and motivations. They utterly failed.

The reason marketers fail at empathy

According to Huttula, the marketers used their own biases and personal preferences (thinking it’s empathy) to predict what will appeal to customers.

That’s crazy, right?

Huttula found that telling marketers about their bias helped the correct marketers course. Develop awareness about your own preferences to help you step back and apply customer empathy better.

Why customer empathy is essential

Dr. Antonio Damasio said we are not thinking machines that feel. Rather, we’re feeling machines that think.

Damasio discovered that we make our decisions emotionally. His research showed every decision we make is grounded in emotion every single one. This is huge.

As marketers, we’re almost self-centered to a fault when we approach customers.

Today we have more ways of reaching our customers. We have more channels and more content than ever before. But, connecting with our customers (really connecting with them and building trust) has never been harder.

That’s why I believe empathy is a superpower for sellers and marketers to connect because it helps you understand another person’s feelings and experience.

In sum, our personal assumptions kill empathy. And we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Our personal assumptions kill empathy. And we don’t even realize we’re doing it via @brianjcarroll #marketing #cx” quote=”Our personal assumptions kill empathy. And we don’t even realize we’re doing it.”]

What you can do to fix the customer empathy gap

Here’s what I’ve found we can do to fix the customer empathy gap:

  • Focus on building a connection before you focus on conversion.
  • Consider your assumptions and biases before you do any more new marketing
  • Ask yourself, is what you’re communicating really grounded in customer insights?
  • Understand the core emotional motivators of your customers
  • Design messages and experiences that resonate with these core emotional drivers
  • Use agile testing to get actionable customer motivation insights
  • Transfer customer insights to different channels and scale up results

Share your thoughts. What did I miss, or what else would you add?

You may also like:

HBR: Putting Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes Doesn’t Work: An Interview with Johannes Hattula

How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline

Empathetic Marketing: How To Connect With Your Customers

Growing B2B relationships with trust and empathy

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. As I’ve said to many companies I’ve worked with over the years…”People don’t buy products, they buy people.” And feelings…

    But truly, we only will buy from a company, product, and person we trust, and often it takes all 3 areas of trust to gather a true conversion and lifetime customer!
    Love the post!

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