By Saleh Ghazal, Managing Director at OMD UAE
We live more isolated lives, away from our traditional communities and in algorithmically optimised social media bubbles that reinforce our own biases rather than enrich us with different views and opinions. In fact, it is becoming harder for brands to connect with overwhelmed and jaded people short on trust, patience and attention. Empathy needs to make a comeback.
Despite the pandemic, which brought relationships and care for others into a sharp focus, most brands have failed to step up to the plate. A recent YouGov survey has highlighted that 69 percent of brands and companies are delivering similar and interchangeable messages, which 42 percent of respondents are tired of hearing. Clichés and platitudes, like “we’re all in this together”, have lost their meaning and are no longer cutting through. For empathy to work, it has to be true and meaningful, otherwise it’s a cheap plaster that quickly cracks to reveal a less desirable reality. And today, people see through this better than ever before.
In an industry like ours, which is all about creating connections and persuasion, empathy with consumers and creating value for them every step of the way should be top of our agenda. Empathy guides us to create brand affinity and valued experiences and interactions, through a better definition and prioritisation of audiences across a range of interests, mindsets, needs and moments.
By all means, brands should ‘feel’ and express empathy too, but that’s not enough when everyone, including their key competitors, does it. Empathy, not sympathy or emotionality. The response this situation calls for is distinctive empathy.
Distinctive empathy is about recognising situations for what they are, warts and all, good or bad, genuinely, authentically and honestly. There’s bravery in this approach too, because truth hurts sometimes. It’s about being grown-up and mature about things, and talking to consumers as adults, something they recognise and appreciate. By addressing consumers like a human would, brands build a unique and real rapport, separating themselves from others and creating a distinctive and lasting impact.
Distinctive empathy planning has certain rules:
- Be prepared to take risks. Genuine empathy should form part of a longer-term brand ambition, rather than be a reactive tactic, to be authentic and therefore effective.
- Don’t just follow the crowd. There is no safety in numbers here, so create empathetic comms that set you apart from the competition while staying true to your brand.
- Understand and get closer to each phase of the consumer’s journey by identifying signals to deliver the right message. Think beyond environments and timing, and focus more on moods and mindsets.
- Ride the cultural conversation. Embrace the cultural context, positive or negative, and form and share a position for your brand on one or more causes. Be proactive in your planning, rather than reactive.
- Speak human-to-human. Being more authentic, human and likeable will help to bring your brand closer to your consumers.
Creating value for potential customers through empathy can take many forms, from simple frequency capping to more tailored and relevant messaging. Distinctive empathy doesn’t stop or start with media planning; it can be built across the business from fundamental pillars of the proposition itself, including pricing, packaging or distribution.
As the meaningful point of difference increasingly becomes the full multi-sensory brand experience, it is the systematic and structured application of empathy across each interaction that can generate value for both customers and businesses. This is why we’ve aligned our process, OMD Design, and our precision marketing and insights platform, Omni, to identify and act on opportunities to create value across the entire customer experience.
As we advance further from one-to-many to one-to-one targeted comms strategies, we need to be able to see the world through the eyes of the consumers we’re trying to reach. Covering the entire funnel, empathy planning considers the full consumer experience as well as unmet needs and untapped desires to determine how a brand should use communications and media to fulfil them. Not only does the consistent practice of empathy in all areas of our business unlock growth and improve performance, it also enriches consumers’ lives. If this pandemic taught us anything, it is that for humanity to thrive, true empathy ought to prevail.
This article was published in Campaign Middle East
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Think back to your time at school or university. Were the classrooms and lecture halls rammed with enthusiastic students a full 20-minutes before the start of a lesson? No, I didn’t think so. And yet this is precisely what we see at SXSW. A 10-day festival in Austin, Texas, that brings together more than 70,000 people from around the world who are deeply passionate about technology, film, social policy, creativity and everything in between. It is a festival that has become a fixture in many of our calendars as we come in search of inspiration, education, and application.
Day 1 began with the fascinating and funny talk from the author Daniel Pink who shared The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
Daniel explained that simple questions, such as “what time of day should I do my workout” should be answered with purposeful discipline, because there are in fact evidence-based ways to make smarter timing decisions. We believe that timing is an art, but really, it’s a science. Science shows that the hidden pattern of our day profoundly affects our mood and performance. Our emotional balance and performance rises in the morning, dips in the afternoon, and then rises again in the evening. Whilst this may seem intuitive, most of us lack the discipline to factor this knowledge into our daily lives. This is reckless behavior. Analysis of 26,000 quarterly earnings calls carried out by 2,100 companies over a period of 6.5 years revealed that the emotions expressed on those calls changed over the course of the day, so that afternoon earnings calls resulted in higher levels of irritation and more negative responses than calls held in the morning. The effect of that heightened level of combativeness led to temporary stock mispricing. Daniel then gave an example from healthcare, where data revealed that anesthesia errors are four times more likely at 3pm than at 9am. That’s because our cognitive abilities do not remain static over the course of the day.
So, what should we do in our everyday working lives? Well, for a start, we should stop organising meetings based simply upon the availability of the attendees but rather, think about the task you want to solve and plan accordingly. You should do your analytical reports in the morning, your administrative work around lunchtime, and save your creative brainstorms for when your second peak hits in the afternoon or early evening. When time of day effects explain a 20% variance in human performance, we owe it to ourselves to be more deliberate in how we treat our own and each other’s time.
Next up was filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, who delivered a wonderful Film Keynote outlining the 10 Commandments of Indie Film. As I wrote each one down, they seemed to me to be excellent reminders for anyone who has a creative purpose.
1. Make the film that only you can make. This applies equally to writers, designers, and craftsmen. We are living in a time when people are demanding all sorts of authentic and diverse voices. As brands and agencies mine the data in order to determine what people want, and then manufacture that product or content accordingly, so the independent filmmaker (or artist) must be resilient and create the work that they believe in, not the work that the data will predict.
2. Persistence is 90% of the game. Aronofsky actually said it was probably more like ‘well over 50%’ but that’s not quite as memorable!
3. Collaboration is key. Ideas can come from anywhere and you need to be democratic and humble in how you receive them. If an idea is better than yours, use it. And if it’s different, well then you have a choice to make.
4. Do your homework. Do as much as you can before you get to the set because once the filming begins, time moves quickly!
5. Allow for Procrastination. Don’t think of breaks as a deviation from work. Think of them as a crucial part of the work.
6. Adapt to Reality. Turn your restrictions into an advantage.
7. Create an Environment of Trust. The role of a filmmaker is to create the environment in which the actors, actresses, and crew feel safe to express themselves and to be vulnerable. Making a movie is a family affair and you must treat everyone on the set equally. Again, this is a mission that all great teams and companies should pursue.
8. Commit to the Vision. See things through to the end.
9. Let go of your child. Rather than tinker endlessly with making incremental improvements to a project, it’s important to know when it’s time to draw the line and put your efforts into your next challenge.
10. Give a Shit. Art is about disruption, especially today. Telling the stories that matter, and making something deeply human that connects with others is what it’s all about.
With that uplifting conclusion, I moved over to my third session, Exploring Innovations in A.I. It was both provocative and sobering, as the panelists debated whether human beings will remain the most intelligent species in years to come.
Whilst there was agreement that AI’s achievements over the past 10 years have been significant (consider IBM Watson correctly answering the questions on Jeopardy in 2011, the Sony AIBO robot dog doing a dance after it scored a goal, and the fact that nuanced language translation now a reality), there was disagreement as to whether our future will be as bleak as Elon Musk suggests with Skynet scheming against us, or if even Ray Kurzweil’s prediction that we’ll have human level AI by 2029 is likely. Adam Cheyer (who was co-founder and VP Engineering at Siri) suggested that we’re only 1,000 years away from AI having the intelligence to challenge humans, whilst Daphne Koller (Chief Computing Officer at Calico Labs) said that AI needs to be able to learn from small data sets before it’s able to truly make the next great leap. The example she gave was, you only need to tell a toddler a couple of times what a puppy is and she’ll be able to recognise any puppy after that. But AI needs many more data inputs to be able to make that same connection. In the meantime, Koller said that AI can work towards making inroads in the agriculture, energy, and healthcare space and offer a real contribution to humanity.
Nell Watson (AI & Robotics Faculty member at the Singularity University) added an ethical dimension to the discussion and suggested that in the future, AI could learn to be kind and compassionate. It’s an interesting concept because AI learns by analyzing the data that’s available today. We know all too well that our data contains the biases that are inherent in our society. If we want AI to not reflect our inequalities and flaws, we need to allow it to go beyond the decision-making patterns and moral codes that got us to this point, and instead allow AI to be free to create its own solutions. And that’s a scenario that demands careful consideration.
Keeping with the AI theme but grounding it in a business context, I went over to the session entitled How AI is Revolutionizing the World of Film and TV.
Manoj Saxena (most recently General Manager of IBM Watson) was quick to give us a reality check about what AI can and can’t do. He joked that AI stands for both Amazing Innovation and Artificially Inflated. Whilst there is considerable fear that AI will displace jobs, we must remember that AI will also augment jobs, helping and guiding us in our tasks so that one day soon ‘everyone will have an Iron Man JARVIS suit’ of sorts. Cameron Davies (SVP Decision Sciences, NBCU) explained they are using AI to augment business decisions, analyzing data around past Super Bowl spots in order to guide on who should be cast in TV spots, and creating better engagement models for their advertising campaigns. The idea that AI will write entire film scripts was dismissed because storytelling is fundamental to who we are as a species. But where AI can add value is in helping us access smarter, sharper insights faster in order to super-charge our creative process, as well as heighten business outcomes.
I left the convention center exhilarated and a tad overwhelmed, with a notepad full of notes and a mind spinning with ideas. For the next few days, we’re all students again, exposing ourselves to different theories and perspectives and it’s fantastic.