(Figuratively) Walking in their shoes and (Literally) Sleeping on their sofa…what we’ve been reading this week at Brand Genetics
“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own” — Henry Ford
This week, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation published their 2020 annual letter. The work covers topics such as healthcare, education, climate and gender, all relevant to the work the foundation has been doing for the past 20 years.
And with this, the topic of consumer empathy has moved out of the shadows and rightfully taken centre stage. Could the rest of the world finally be catching up with us here at BG? (Here’s hoping!)
The letter in itself offers fascinating insights into the world of philanthropy, the scale of past challenges humanity has overcome and their views on how we must approach solving the big problems of the next two decades. What we found most interesting, however, was how they felt they can improve on the work they have done and gain a deeper understanding of what is required to fully meet their objectives.
When writing about the challenges faced in their fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in southern and eastern Africa in the early 2000s, Bill and Melinda found that getting people to take medication was just as difficult as getting the medication there in the first place. A Botswanan woman employed by a friend of theirs (their friend was a doctor in an AIDS clinic) went back to her village and later died of AIDS without seeking treatment. Such is the power of the social stigma around the infection.
On the matter, Bill and Melinda said:
“[…] for all that we do know about these girls, there’s a lot we don’t. We know how their lives look through our eyes. We don’t have a lot of data about what the world looks like through theirs.”
In other words, the Foundation struggled to empathise with the people they were supplying, and ultimately those they were looking to help. While not always a matter of life and death, creating products and services that meet the needs of the consumers has been a perpetual shortcoming for so many big brands.
With Nielsen research showing that ‘3 in 4 FMCG launches fail within a year’, brands that fail to walk in the shoes of their consumer risk more than just a few bad reviews — they’re walking the tightrope between success and disaster.
But how do we begin to bridge the gap between the creation and the consumer?
Empathy! Empathy! Empathy!
Empathy is not only an amazing human ability, it’s also the future of consumer (and human) insight. Leveraging our ability to feel and understand what someone else is experiencing is both a powerful tool for building relationships, but in business, this allows you to design in a way that has these components at its core.
But for brands, this doesn’t happen by chance. It requires a concerted effort from everyone in the business to invest and trust in the voice of their consumer, even if this means slowing up the process of taking the product to market.
And even with all the data we have at our disposal, empathy is as relevant as ever (if not more!). In October 2019, while trying to find out why women in eastern and southern Africa have over twice the amount of new infections per year than men, Melinda spent time with a member of the Foundation who was engaging with adolescent girls to “co-design treatment and prevention services that will better meet their needs”.
In a similar vein, Rory Stewart, a candidate for the upcoming mayoral election in London, is asking citizens to invite him into their homes so he can see their lives as they live it:
“Today I’m launching #ComeKipWithMe — asking Londoners to invite me into their homes and show me the city through their eyes. I want to know your concerns and your ideas. And I promise to bring a sleeping bag and a box of chocolates!”
In a world where politicians are seen as the epitome of detachment and elitism, this move goes some way in showing there are those in the field that are willing to take the time to understand the people they serve.
If big businesses are able to borrow a sprinkle of this empathetic magic in the way they approach product development, brand positioning and advertising, we would live in a far more satisfied world — consumers would feel heard, and brands would feel purposeful.
And who wouldn’t want to live in a world like that?
The Human Experience (HX) Learning?
At Brand Genetics, we encourage our clients to approach every design process with their end users in mind. You can develop a groundbreaking medication that alleviates all symptoms of HIV/AIDS, but if no one takes it because they’re too ashamed to do so, what was the point?
Thus, while innovation remains imperative for brands, unless you start by understanding how your consumers think, feel, want and fear, you are starting with a blank canvas. And with the typical annual cost of the empathy deficit measured at $300m for global brands, those that fail to adapt to this new reality will also be cashing blank cheques.
Brando Guerreri is a Consultant at Brand Genetics, a global insight and innovation agency specialising in unlocking growth by thinking human-first. Brando has experience working at The Boston Consulting Group, PepsiCo and Havas Media. His biggest passion is exploring how we leverage design effectively to increase human wellbeing and happiness.