This year, our holiday message challenges each of us – and our agency as a whole – to live by a word in 2018. As I think back on 2017 in the news, devastating events come to mind. But with each headline I read, I didn’t just feel sadness or frustration; I was also filled with a sense of determination to help, to reflect on my personal blessings and to empathize with others. My individual efforts to do so may be small, but can you imagine what empathy could look like as part of a company’s brand strategy? Organizations often forget (or underestimate) their ability to influence, but when they harness it for positive change, it can be beneficial in multiple ways.
We live and work in a world of declining trust. Millennials, one of the most populous generations and dominant consumers, are less trusting than any other generation. One way to build (back) trust is through empathy. But remember, empathy isn’t about you; it’s about them – your clients and customers. It’s something you give. You can’t own it; you can only offer it. Use empathy to power action. To make and/or offer things that serve needs and solve problems. Things that add value, that brighten people’s days. Things that make people love your brand, because your brand is thinking about them.
There are a couple of organizations that are masters of empathy. They understand what it is and how to deliver it in ways that make a meaningful difference. If you need a good example of how to embrace and exhibit empathy as part of your brand strategy, follow their lead.
Examples of Empathy in Brand Strategy:
In the U.S., the decision to not participate in Black Friday seems like a retail sin; a missed opportunity to make big bucks. But for REI, it’s a small price to pay to prove its commitment to the well-being of its employees and customers – and its mission. In 2015, REI announced it would close on Black Friday, and instead, chose to encourage others to #OptOutside, to spend the day in the great outdoors with family and friends. Through this purposeful initiative, the organization is living its brand mission – to inspire, educate and outfit its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.
Panera understands that what you put in your body doesn’t necessarily always come out (e.g., hormones, artificial sweeteners, food coloring). It also understands that its customers are increasingly concerned about and focused on “clean eating.” According to a Nielsen study, more than half of consumers say they’re avoiding artificial ingredients, hormones or antibiotics, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and bisphenol A (BPA). So, when Panera announced it was removing artificial ingredients from its products and focusing only on clean food, it exuded empathy. And it has helped its bottom line, too. The brand saw a massive jump from 2015 to 2016 in the percentage of people who chose to frequent Panera because of its healthier, lighter food.When a company’s actions show empathy, the end result is financially and emotionally rewarding.Click To TweetOf course, you don’t always need a grand campaign to make an impact. Take Delta, for example. The airline empowers its employees to empathize with its passengers. Earlier this year, they bought hundreds of pizzas to help ease the stress (and hunger pains) of passengers due to flight cancellations. You also don’t need a Fortune 500 company to show empathy. Remember the CEO who took a 90 percent pay cut to pay his employees a better salary?
The key to ingraining empathy into your brand strategy isn’t your messaging; it’s your values and actions. Be authentic and genuine. Empower your employees (like Delta). And walk the talk in everything you do. When a company’s actions show its concern for employees and customers, the end result will be both financially and emotionally rewarding. How might you incorporate empathy into your 2018 brand strategy?