EMBRACING THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE: WHY EMPATHY SHOULDN’T BE JUST A NUMBERS GAME

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We’ve always believed that focussing on human feelings and emotions is critical in our insight and innovation work, so it’s interesting to note that financial services are now also seeing the true monetary value in understanding human beings.

We’ve read Deloitte’s latest publication around the Human Experience and applaud the auditing giant for making inroads towards empathy and swapping stats for stories. We believe imitation to be the greatest form of flattery, so we aren’t sore about the name of the report (the cheque, we assume, is in the post). However, we did want to give our point of view on their overarching take-outs around their definition of the “Human Experience”.

“1. Building trust — Balancing the inherent tension between freedom for the individual, safety of the collective, and the shifting social contract”

Rather than talking overtly about building a trusted brand or company, we would assert that brands must be built with purpose. That doesn’t mean that they have to be terribly earnest or worthy, but when a brand continually demonstrates its reason for existing, both internally and externally, the brand will naturally build an authentic foundation of trust.

We’ve already written on the importance of “trust and credibility as the most important assets a company and brand can have”. We’ve seen the success of brands demonstrating to consumers that their brand purpose is more than a marketing initiative — prioritising real action verses simplistic, hollow virtue signalling. For example, a host of businesses, from Ben & Jerry’s to Patagonia, took part in the Stop Hate for Profit Facebook boycott.

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Jon Goldstone at The Brandgym neatly summarises the ultimate consumer needs from a purpose-led brands to be: “be kind and be useful”. He asserts that “things like coronavirus, global warming, Brexit and Trump’s divisive policies are forces that make people feel wobbly and vulnerable. Brands that are able to be those two things will be the brands that win.”

Essentially, purpose allows brands and businesses to fill the trust and leadership vacuum church, crown and state fail to fulfil today.

“2. Signalling safety — Determining the safety of a situation is top of mind; humans look for signs that they can see, feel, hear, and smell”

What Deloitte call ‘safety’ we would define as the human need for Autonomy (i.e. control over their situation).

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We assert there are 3 universal human needs that must be fulfilled to define human happiness: Autonomy, Relatedness and Competency.

When these needs are fulfilled, people feel happy and secure. Products and services that help people satisfy these needs are sure to find a place in people’s lives. The more in control businesses and brands can make individuals feel, the safer (and happier!) people will be.

Ultimately, these should be principles embedded in business practice and product innovation universally, not simply an area of focus during a global pandemic. Why is it that brands are able to show kindness during trauma, but not during normalcy?

“3. Redefining connection — Making physical and virtual adaptations to social interactions to reconcile the need for connection with new norms and guidelines”

Humans are social beasts — to be happy we must satisfy our need for Relatedness. We have an innate desire to be cared for and to care for others. Taking the necessary social restrictions to safeguard public health in the pandemic has led to a Contagion of Kindness — a time when people crave connection.

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It is vital companies “enable meaningful connection by balancing the imperative to make in-person interactions safe, and virtual interactions more human.” Or, to put it another way, it means taking steps to physically (or virtually) walk a mile in your consumers’ shoes. It means acknowledging them as people, not simply consumers of your brand. It means listening to the real stories from real people — not reducing people to statistics and failing to understand the complexity of human emotion through algorithms.

Understanding people in the wider context of their lives and bringing our clients closer to those people is something we put real emphasis on in our day-to-day work. However, we feel this should not be leveraged when to stress-testing a product, service or advertising campaign, but instead it should be the litmus test for everything you do as a brand.

HX Learnings

Being more human-first means bringing empathy to the fore. It is therefore ironic that in the same breath Deloitte urges companies to be more human, they are simultaneously reducing the individual to the relationship they have with a company and nullifying their human emotions to an entirely inhuman algorithm.

It is no surprise that a business such as Deloitte, steeped in 175 years of numerical data, seeks to make sense of humanity through reductive means — they urge businesses to quantify feeling and emotion to drive sales. If we truly want to engage people on a human-to-human level, we must stop reducing people to numbers and engage our businesses internally by telling the emotive, inspiring, empathic stories that unlock real change. It is not a case of insight over data (or vice versa), it is only when you see the human that sits beneath the numbers that you’ll truly unlock the full power of your brand.

A “human experience can be transformative” and the pandemic has given us all a chance to embrace that transformation. The pandemic has given brands and businesses the opportunity to reimagine the very idea of the “workplace”, how people will buy, interact with and use their products. It is the opportunity to revolutionise the consumer experience with the very best of human happiness at its heart. It’s not only thinking about what is best for the individual, but also for a progressive, fairer society and for the planet as a whole.

We know people see large global companies as those most responsible for helping them make informed, responsible and more sustainable choices. Compared to an elusive, and “untouchable” government, people feel a closer connection to the companies whose brands they let into their lives and use on a daily basis for everything from keeping their homes germ-free to keeping their children safe.

We believe it is crucial to urge companies to take a human-first approach to understanding their brands, businesses and innovating for future success. Not only is understanding your consumers as people a moral imperative, but we know it creates better products, experiences and services that solve real needs for real people.

Nathania Messer is a senior consultant at Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. Having worked in insight and innovation for 5 years, Nathania has a breadth of experience in the world of FMCG and beyond.

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Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics www.brandgenetics.com

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