You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch: To Kill a Mockingbird
I was dumbstruck by this quote a few weeks ago when it was recited by President Obama in his farewell speech to the American people. To be honest, the moment he quoted one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite movies, I didn’t hear another word he said. I was immediately lost in my own thoughts, reflecting back to an article I wrote a few months ago on the importance of a brand’s relevance and resonance to a consumer group when attempting to connect with them emotionally. The need for empathy was the conclusion then. The need for empathy was what Mr. Obama, channeling Atticus Finch, was suggesting now.
Obviously, like those of you reading this, I have my own opinions and persuasions when it comes to politics, and I won’t share them now. But I will share what I believe is the single most important rule of branding and marketing. A rule that I believe applies to any relationship in life – be that a brand to a consumer or one person to another. Empathy is the key to all relationships where trust and honesty are paramount to success. And as the fictional character Atticus Finch understood so clearly, it’s impossible to be empathetic without climbing into the skin of those you are trying to influence.
But just like a joke isn’t funny unless there’s some element of truth to it, Atticus’s statement wouldn’t be the epiphany that it is unless we, the movie viewing audience, were not guilty of doing just that! That’s what makes it so profound. It’s so obvious and yet we, as brands, as marketers and as human beings, are so profoundly guilty of not doing it!
Think about it, in marketing, how often do we come across a product or service that we can immediately tell was created simply because it was a brilliant idea – a truly great concept. In a sea of like products, it’s admittedly different. Best of all, says the creator, “There’s nothing else like it on the market.” And, they’re correct. But wait! What about the market? Did anyone ask them if there was a need for this innovative take on an existing product? Was the market complaining that the other products in the category were not meeting their needs? Did anyone climb inside the skin of the “market” and walk around a bit in it?
I wish I had a dime for every time I encountered a product or service guilty of this “lack of empathy” sin … or, was guilty of this very sin myself! If I did, I could buy myself several triple-grande cappuccino’s (my favorite morning drink in case you ever want to indulge me). Why is it that we’re so guilty of this offense? For the answer to that question we’ll turn to Atticus,
“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”
Bingo! Quite simply, we think everyone thinks just like we do. Or worse yet, we think they should because we’re so right. And what surprises me most about those two previous statements is the very fact that I am just as guilty as the next person of doing that very thing … even though I’m the one writing about the iniquity of it!
It surprises me how often I find myself being quickly judgmental about someone or something else; a friend, a product, a business associate, a politician, pretty much anyone in the moment. And my reaction is, “They sure need a healthy dose of empathy.” And then, just as swiftly, I realize that it is me who needs the dose of empathy because I was the one being judgmental without first putting myself in theirshoes and attempting to understand their emotions from their perspective before I so quickly judge.
In an effort to get myself back on the path toward empathy, I must often recall the most powerful testimonial from our fictional friend Atticus Finch,
“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.”
I can’t imagine a more appropriate starting point on the road to empathy in today’s turbulent times. I just hope Atticus is there to remind me.