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November 14, 2013
Empathetic Marketing: Appealing to Customers’ Heartstrings
The business world has increasingly embraced the value of emotion in selling products of late as marketers see the value of appealing to consumers’ heartstrings. Emotions can be powerful economic levers, but without a proven psychological theory to tell us where, when, and how to extract emotional insights, opportunities are lost.
The word “emotion” is derived from the Latin movere — “to move” — suggesting that emotions literally take us to another place. Businesses try “to move” customers, but it’s crucial to ask: where to? The logical answer: “to the sale.” But that’s a short view, which misses the deeper role emotion can play in the marketing mix.
I contend that our individual well-being — self-esteem, success, relationships, and happiness — is a result of meeting emotional needs. An individual’s needs are satisfied when he or she connects with others and finds identity through those connections. Needs are at the root of our triumphs and setbacks, and they affect many buying decisions.
A Framework for Understanding Emotional Needs
Businesses need to develop a conceptual framework for understanding emotional needs and a passion for meeting them along the consumer journey. For example, Facebook succeeds because it satisfies a yearn­ing for connectivity and a need to celebrate one’s individ­uality. Most business leaders claim that they care about consumers’ needs, but don’t understand how these needs dovetail with business goals.
As a consumer, clinical psychologist, researcher, and marketing consultant, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing thousands of consumers and business professionals. These interviews often take place in front of a two-way mirror with clients observing. At the end of the session, clients state what they heard in the discussion. Frequently, I have a different interpretation and when I report this, the cli­ent sometimes counters with, “That’s not what they said.”
Listening With the Third Ear
I listen with what psychologists call “the third ear,” a trained lens that helps me see beyond what people say and toward a deeper empathic understanding  — the hidden meaning behind their conscious thoughts. What I do is akin to the finely honed listening skills executives use to navigate corporate politics or manage tense situations. But, as a business psychologist, I spe­cialize in understanding a complex group of people — customers.
Despite business’ growing embrace of emotion, this awareness is often the first thing shut out of their professional mindsets. Too often, we build a firewall that helps us rely on logic alone to solve busi­ness problems. We stick to what is perceived to be the safest method of meeting business challenges. The sciences, including psychology, are not immune either; they attempt to create a fact-based, quanti­fied approach that tends to sanitize people, so we forget about the humanity of consumers and filter out the raw emotion underlying the needs.
Solving business problems and generating insights is more about connecting the dots. Oftentimes, the answer is found when we widen the scope. We can learn about consumer needs by peer­ing inside the dynamics of human relationships. We can learn by observing the psychological underpinnings of how and why people use products and services. We can learn by listening to others through an empathic understanding of their emotional lives.
In short, understanding how human needs manifest in the market­place requires businesses to learn from disciplines that have often been over­looked in boardrooms. Drawing from sociology, ethnography, psychology, neurological, behavioral, and clinical studies, blended with tra­ditional consumer insights, marketers can make an emo­tional needs-based paradigm shift in perspective.
This new perspective will result in better ways to listen to, talk to, observe, and under­stand people’s life stages. It’s time that marketers step­ away from their spreadsheets and enter family kitchens, local bars, and doctor’s offices to gain a deeper understanding of human needs.
This is a modified excerpt from Mark Ingwer’s book “Empathetic Marketing, How to Satisfy the 6 Core Emotional Needs of Your Customers.”

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Mark Ingwer PhD is a consumer psychologist and the managing partner of Insight Consulting Group, a global healthcare marketing and strategy consultancy specializing in market research and consumer insights. He has over 25 years of experience applying his unique blend of psychology, marketing, and healthcare industry acumen to helping companies optimize their brand and marketing strategy based on an in-depth understanding of their customers. He is the author of the book “Empathetic Marketing" published by Palgrave in May 2012.
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