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Why the Empathy Business Is the Only Business That Matters

Posted on April 21 2016

why the empathy business matters

Nothing’s the same.

Big businesses are barely surviving. Empathetic businesses are thriving.

I believe that all (good) empires start with empathy. They start with humanity. They start from the soul.

To build things that matter to the masses, or even a tribe of a few hundred, we must start with a single person in mind: the you in your audience. When you care, I mean really care, about sharing with someone out there the stuff you’re staying up late at night mulling over, something special is present and it’s organic. It finds us, we needn’t worry about finding it.

When we tap into empathy, we understand the feelings our audiences want to experience in toying with our thing. That thing we’ve promised that will make their lives easier and better. The brands we admire all get this and they excel at amplifying their empathy. Before the limitless budgets, before the press and accolades, hell, before the idea was even fully realized, perhaps they started with, ‘how do we want people to feel’? Or better yet, ‘if I were them, what would I want to feel from interacting with ____?’

In the 2010 film Inception, Cobb told his heist crew,, ‘Downward is the only way forward.’ In planting spinning tops in the minds of our customers, maybe inward is the only way outward. Because it does need to come from a place of authenticity, a place of who you are when no one is looking, a place within your soul.

Professionally, and perhaps paradoxically, whether I’m speaking to many or just a few, I’m most honest when I talk like I’m addressing just one person in front of me. It’s freeing. It’s human. It’s intimate. This helps me reach a different degree of empathy, my best north star in playing the long game of trust over attention.

Consumers hate being conned. They don’t really want to be sold to. They don’t want to be interrupted with ads when they’re scrolling through their personal feeds. And they don’t want their intelligence insulted. What they want most is to be seen, heard and understood. They want us to be empathetic. So our marketing agendas should obsess about how what we make fits into their stories and lives. Then what we do matters. And mattering is success.

Empathy is very subjective. But it’s also human nature. And it’s how we socialize most purely. All the research, analytics and deep pockets in the world can’t buy us empathy. If you’re the new kid on the block, this is perhaps your greatest advantage in competing with the big boys. You can simply and straightforwardly ask what people care about at the most deeply-rooted level, so that you can do more of what they want and less of what they don’t.

We’re all selling something. I’m in the Empathy Business. What business are you in?

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