The human side of marketing
As marketing professionals, it's natural to track and measure the success of campaigns. We track clicks, conversions, and ROAS like hawks, pouring over data to optimize our campaigns and drive business growth. But, in our quest for numerical perfection, it's easy to lose sight of the heart of successful marketing: human connection.
At its core, marketing is about connecting with people. It's about understanding what sparks interest, drives their emotions, and motivates them to take action. And yet, all too often, we rely on data and metrics to guide our strategies rather than genuinely understanding our customers on a human level. As Rory Sutherland puts it, “it’s art and science, but we’ve become far too focused on the science.”
There’s truth in this – metrics will only take us so far. Sure, they tell us what campaigns are working, which are providing solid results and which aren't, but they need to tell us why. That's where the human side of marketing becomes critical. By truly understanding consumer behaviour and psychology, marketing strategies are created that resonate on a deeper, emotional level and drive more meaningful connections with our target audience.
Empathy in marketing
One of the key ways to connect with our audience is through empathy. By putting ourselves in our consumers' shoes, we can begin to understand their needs and desires better. This, in turn, allows us to create campaigns that speak to them on a more personal level. And it's more than just a touchy-feely idea. It's proven to be effective. Companies that understand the power of empathy and emotional intelligence are the same ones driving innovation and have a concrete competitive advantage.
Take Patagonia, for example. The outdoor clothing company has built a loyal following by understanding that its customers are not just looking for functional gear but also for products that align with their values. Patagonia's marketing campaigns focus on sustainability and environmental stewardship, speaking to the emotional values of its target audience and creating a deeper connection with its customers. As a result, they have been able to thrive in an increasingly competitive market for decades.
One of the most successful campaigns that exemplify customer empathy is Dove’s "Real Beauty" campaign which broke away from traditional beauty standards and celebrated the diversity of women's bodies. By challenging the societal expectation that specific physical attributes should define beauty, Dove surprised their audience with a message of self-acceptance and body positivity. The campaign sparked a conversation about the importance of representation and inclusivity in the beauty industry. As a result, the campaign increased brand awareness and loyalty and encouraged action as people began to challenge their biases and perceptions of beauty.
Fostering human connection in marketing
How do brands and consulting firms integrate a human-centred approach in their services? The key is a mindset shift from numbers and metrics to consumer behaviour and emotions. This requires a willingness to experiment, be creative and approach problem-solving with an open mind. This is described well in Rory Sutherland’s book, Alchemy. Too often, what we consider marketing “experiments” are akin to testing different screwdrivers to drive a screw into a plank of wood. True experiments ask what a hammer would do in that situation, whether we really need a screw at all, or if there’s another way of holding the wood together…
One effective way to do this is to use frameworks that focus on understanding consumer behaviour and emotions. These frameworks guide your research and analysis, helping you to uncover insights that might otherwise be overlooked. Some consulting exercises that could be successful in connecting with your audience on a deep level are:
- Empathy Mapping: This will give you insights into the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of your target audience, allowing you to create more relevant and effective marketing campaigns.
- Audience Personas: Through an audience persona exercise, you create detailed profiles of your target audience, taking into account their demographics, psychographics, and behaviour patterns. Personas serve as a valuable tool for understanding your target audience on a more human level.
- Customer Journey Mapping: This will help you to understand the different stages of the customer experience and how they interact with your brand. You identify pain points and opportunities to improve the customer experience by mapping the customer journey.
One way digital agencies integrate a human-centred approach is by involving their clients in developing campaigns — providing valuable insights into their target audience. One effective way to achieve this is through discovery interviews with clients to gather information about their target audience, habits, and pain points. Consulting experts use this information to develop campaigns that align better with their target audience's needs and desires.
If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no
Another best practice for understanding the human side of marketing is integrating surveys, focus groups, and user testing into your process. These techniques provide first-hand data on how your proposed campaigns resonate with your target audience. The data collected helps identify areas for improvement, allowing you to make data-driven decisions.
Surveys and focus groups give you a deeper understanding of customer attitudes, feelings, and motivations that help you adapt your strategies to align with their preferences and interests. User testing will help you understand how customers interact with your products and identify pain points and usability issues that can be addressed to improve their satisfaction and engagement.
However, a critical aspect of truly benefitting from this sort of research isn’t just about listening to how people respond. Rather, pay attention to how they respond — the language they use, their behaviour, and the answers they’re providing. Humans are an interesting animal: we post-rationalize all sorts of behaviours that are driven by instincts we don’t completely understand. Embracing the human animal will provide far more insights than just listening to the rational person trying to tell you what they think you want to hear.
The human touch
Recognizing the power of the human side of marketing is crucial to all aspects of persuasion and connection — not just a successful digital marketing strategy. By understanding consumer behaviour and psychology and using empathy and emotional intelligence to drive our strategies, we can create campaigns that resonate on a deeper level to foster more meaningful connections with our target audience. Doing this well means looking beyond the data. Doing this profoundly means running wild experiments that may not follow any known conventions.