The Empathy Effect: How building relationships can better your brand

Research states that our conscious brain can only compute 40 bits of information, but in contrast, our subconscious - the part of our brain that's fast, automatic and emotional - can process 11 million.

Brands should appeal to consumers’ hearts rather than their minds, argues Robyn Swan
Brands should appeal to consumers’ hearts rather than their minds, argues Robyn Swan

This leads to a bias in thinking, where impressions, feelings and indications, can trump rational decision-making.

Despite this, many brands consistently put the emphasis on logical reasoning in their communications – concentrating on ‘this dress is cheaper that one’ – rather than selling the way that a dress can make you feel, which is so much more powerful.

But selling a feeling is difficult.

To do so you’ve got to understand the thoughts, needs, aspirations and emotions of the buyer. You’ve got be empathetic.

Whilst the capacity to empathise is often considered the preserve of humans, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Brands that act in emotionally intelligent ways are the ones that build genuine relationships with their consumers and – importantly for the bottom line – are turning one-off transactioners into long-term advocates.

The ones that are getting it right are reframing their approach to be more instinctive and emotional.

They’re looking at the ways that people form relationships and are aping these interactions themselves.

In fact, seeing brand interaction through the lens of human relationships can help to understand the nuances that so many brands are either naive to or are ignoring.

We know that for humans, in forming relationships, shared experiences and values can be one of the strongest starting points.

Therefore, brands that reflect their consumers’ worlds, the ones that people can see themselves in, are the ones that build the most solid foundations.

It is also key to recognise that, like all relationships, not all consumers are the same, nor are they at the same point in their relationship with a brand.

A couple in the first flush of love behaves very differently to one that’s been married for 20 years – but all too often brands share the same communication with a new customer as they do to long-term fan – which feels uncaring and robotic.

This is where big data can be an incredibly effective tool, to aid brands in ‘personalising’ communications by helping to really unpick audience types – giving brands the tools to build a much more human relationship with each person based on their shared interests and values.

Enterprising brands are starting to wake up to the value of creating genuine connections.

Wendy’s recent Twitter exchange is a great example.

The fast-food chain’s most recent success came after a customer asked what he’d have to do to get free chicken nuggets for a year – in a response reminiscent of a bet between two mates. Wendy’s replied, saying 18 million retweets.

The exchange saw engagement soar and the brand gained more than 149,000 new followers.

However, it is social influencers who are the true pioneers in this space. Although celebrities have been the blurring the line between them as people and them as a brand for years, the likes of Deliciously Ella, Zoella and Pixie Woo are actually blurring the boundaries of friendship and brands.

They’re building their business empires off the back of the communities that they’ve created and actively participate in, engaging with their customers as though they’re friends.

Fundamentally: emotive, empathetic brands foster better relationships which sell more dresses and is better for business.

And to end on a really cheesy, but very timely, note, adding a little more empathy and humanity to the world can only be a positive in these tumultuous times.

Robyn Swan is a junior manager at Unity

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