Effective Empathy: Defining the Brand With Your Customers (Not For Your Customers)

In a recent FUSE Calls podcast, Dan Madinabeitia, Informa's Head of Brand and Design, interviewed Jon Silva, President and Creative Director at DuPuis. Their chat focused on how empathy is key to reaching today's consumers. 


Chat with Jon Silva Creative Director at DuPuis

Dan began the conversation with this point: "the advent of the digital world is requiring businesses to be more human, whereas 10-15 years ago they didn’t have to be".

Jon agreed with his statement, and added: "We have to kiss transparency goodbye as a choice. Your behaviors are evident in the marketplace. You’re not opting in on it anymore, you just are. Companies are struggling with that, people are seeing a little bit different truths than they might be hearing.

The way that we attribute new thought and values to the millennials is a bit of a contagion

Jon doesn't cut brands any slack for doing a poor job in the way they market to millennial consumers - as he pointed out they ultimately have the tools to get it right. He said: "The millennial is the poster child for market penetration and growth. The millennial target is becoming more of a psychographic as much as a demographic. The way that we attribute new thought and values to the millennials is a bit of a contagion. You really can’t sell to 'consumers', you’re putting people into analytical buckets."

You’ve got to evolve

Jon continued his criticism of a typical "marketing to millennials" strategy, and posed a solution: "You have to get down and look at people as human beings. A big company admittedly has to go pretty far and drive pretty hard to be able to do that, but they do have the resources. Having that connection on a one on one basis and not applying old rules to new generations and new problems. You’ve got to evolve. In the last 20 years brands have not had to evolve as fast as they must now. 

Point of no return?

Jon remarked on the challenges that the current competitive space is making for brands: "A lot of (brands) are finding themselves a bit on the ropes and kind of in a quandary about ‘how do we back into a relevant strategy with an evolving consumer?’ Well… you may not be able to. Especially if you’ve lost a consumer contingent. It’s very difficult to wean them back by modifying your ingredients statement on a box of cereal, for instance. That can be very tough… a consumer doesn’t have any more needs. Their needs have been met by a thousand choices. If you’re just one of a thousand there’s not a lot of leverage you have to get them to pay attention to you if they’ve walked away once."

Effective Empathy

Dan asked Jon to name a company that has innovated an approach with millennials that employed empathy in an effective way. Jon used Frito-Lay as an innovator, speculating that they may have got more than they bargained for - in a good way - when they utilized crowdsharing to engage consumers.

Jon explained: "Frito-Lay’s 'Do Us a Flavor' campaign put it out there to the consumer. 'What flavors would you dream of'... I’m guessing it probably began as a promotional campaign, it ended up becoming a product platform. They handed the keys over to the marketplace and said ‘Hey come up with some wacky stuff and if it has enough traction well actually make it'.  They’ve come up with some flavors they never would have come up with on their own. They probably see that as a very big win that created a bit more of a relationship with their consumer base than just throwing options on a shelf."

The consumer defining the brand

Dan postulated that Frito-Lay's choice to open up decision-making to consumers gave those consumers the ability to actually define the brand. Jon agreed, adding: “That took a lot of risk for a brand. Sharing authorship…sharing direction… is not something most companies are familiar with.”

Let's get uncomfortable

Jon closed the discussion with some valuable advice to designers and brand marketers who want to gain the empathy it takes to be effective. "Do something that makes you uncomfortable." He told the story of how prior to his career in design he made an attempt to do stand-up comedy. Jon related how difficult and awkward it could be when jokes fell flat to an unforgiving audience. Far from regretting his past, he's embraced it as a great empathy builder. He explains: "Everyone has the thing they’ve done in their life that has made them the most uncomfortable. Perhaps that’s the lesson. Do something that makes you uncomfortable. It will help you relate to people better.”

You can listen to the entire podcast here or continue the conversation with Jon on Twitter at @silvaware.







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