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Customer Empathy in Marketing and Messaging Development

Our thanks to the viewers and participants who joined our joint virtual conversation with UserTesting. We appreciate your time and great questions during our Q&A. 

 For those of you who were unable to attend, feel free to watch the webinar on demand here or read the recap below. The virtual sit-down featured Michelle Huff, CMO of UserTesting, and Dennis Hahn, Chief Strategy Officer at Liquid. 

Brands Underestimate the Pandemic, Overlook Consumers

This year, we’ve been faced with extraordinary change. The impact has not only affected us on a personal level, but we continue to see and experience huge shifts for consumers and marketers as well.

In the early stages of the pandemic, brands weren’t listening to their audiences. Many brands were unable to tap into the things that people were actually concerned about. Instead, brands felt compelled to hastily push out messages because others were doing the same. While these brands made broad marketing movements, most of the messaging wasn’t relevant. It was a mad rush to fill a void. As a result, brands lacked empathy.

The Year of Empathy

Michelle added it seems that this is the year empathy has forced many people to reconcile with connecting on a deeper emotional level. The idea of empathy being a bigger part of brands and organizations is nothing new. However, the circumstances of the pandemic and social justice movement have made it more than a buzzword. Empathy is now an expectation.

It Takes a Tribe

Clearly, empathy plays a role in building brands, but it is also key to differentiating brands. Over the years, Dennis has observed how organizations often tout that they’re customer-centric brands; however, they invest very little time or resources in getting to know what makes their customers tick. Companies have come to rely on anecdotal evidence or the assumption that they know their customer well enough because they’ve been doing business for years.

Because of these preconceptions, companies have often operated in a vacuum. There’s been a lack of real data, research and insight. When a company is trying to build its brand differentiation, that company needs to know exactly whom they’re building the brand for.

As Dennis pointed out, this consumer knowledge is crucial to help define tribes—groups of people who consume more for symbolic reasons than functional purposes. Knowing what makes your tribe tick is foundational to building your brand.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

Michelle then asked how agencies quickly ramp up and build empathy to understand consumers’ needs and sentiments. Dennis explained that Liquid Agency takes a mixed methods approach, starting with quantitative testing in the early stages and later exploring emotional elements through qualitative research. He added that Liquid Agency frequently uses online digital ethnography following quantitative research as a way to gain deeper understanding into the nuances of what customers feel and of what matters to them.

While quantitative learnings help establish a broad perspective, the qualitative input helps agencies quickly refine concepts and positioning ideas based on authentic human reactions. Michelle pointed out how qualitative testing can help clients and agencies discover what truly resonates with people—the why of it. Dennis added that the beauty of qualitative responses is that they’re unfiltered in nature. These immediate truths can’t be captured in a survey.

Human Reactions Cut Through Internal Challenges

Another benefit of qualitative insight is how it helps cut through both agency and client internal biases. Sometimes qualitative data provides a more objective perspective than quantitative information. Clients often dispute quantified results based on their own tightly held personal beliefs. But it’s difficult for that client to refute video of consumers speaking candidly or reacting naturally. As Michelle said, we like to think we make decisions based on logic, but we actually rely on our emotions.

Going Beyond the Focus Group Table

Michelle and Dennis went on to discuss how traditional focus group methods can also predispose outcomes. For example, when testing consists of a one-on-one conversation asking for feedback, consumers feel compelled to please the facilitator instead of sharing what’s actually on their mind. Conversely, when participants interact with a computer versus a person, they’re much more apt to share their true thoughts and feelings.

Emotions Don’t Lie

Michelle focused the conversation on the power of emotional data. She keyed in on how watching consumers react and relate with a campaign or with messaging can bring new meaning to marketing strategy. Dennis explained how people’s body language provides marketers with a visceral reaction, something focus group quotes and survey answers are unable to surface. Being able to see and hear the nuances in participants’ expressions and voices can reveal whether the agency’s campaign or messaging is working or not. There’s no hiding behind written responses.

Empathy & Emotional Data Are Here to Stay

Michelle and Dennis wrapped up their conversation by reiterating the importance of early testing well before campaigns are produced. Dennis referenced the current health crisis and how it’s crucial to understand people’s sentiments around the pandemic. It’s such a personal experience, and it’s always changing. That’s why empathy and authentic human responses can shed so much light on where to take messaging and campaigns. Michelle and Dennis concluded by pointing out that disruptions come with the territory, but COVID-19 has forced people to live a shared, simultaneous experience. Marketers are all the more under fire to navigate a constantly shifting landscape. Fortunately, empathy and emotional feedback can help make sense of it. Proof that qualitative testing is more vital than ever.

Watch On Demand and Learn More

Interested in how you can use UserTesting to get real feedback, real fast, on your next marketing campaignRequest your free trial of Marketing Insight today!

Be sure to take a look at our recent UserTesting brand campaign in a previous blog.

If you’re looking to tackle complex brand and business challenges, Liquid Agency is here to help you find your company’s next, new opportunity. Contact us here.

Watch playback of the full webinar here.

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