Empathy Marketing Practices in Customer Research


5, Oct 2020. 14:54pm

The best brands always innovate, adapt, and advance. But you already know this. And the best brands know this. A constant stream of innovation plays a crucial role in a brand’s DNA. Matthew May, acclaimed speaker, executive coach, and advisor on strategy and innovation, writes in his book, The Elegant Solution, the three ways for fueling innovation: “watch the customer, become the customer, and involve the customer.” Here’s the second part (click here for part 1) in a series of powerful practices that smart marketing strategists and innovators use to develop insights, cultivate inspiring stories, and elicit specific emotions from their target audience. This article focuses on how to observe the customer and adopt your customers’ ways of thinking.

Practice #2 – Use mystery shoppers to infiltrate the sales cycle (see practice #1)

In a past engagement, we introduced our Mystery Team as potential patients at our client’s rehabilitation facility. It started with the facility administrators giving our Mystery Team a tour of the premises. As we were walking through the building, the tour guide proudly proclaimed, “…and this is our group meeting sanctuary, where patients share their challenges.” Bright red walls adorned the big room. Red is hardly the right color for a calm, collaborative experience. In the Great Courses, “How Colors Affect You,” Professor William Lidwell, M.S., University of Houston, cites plentiful research on how red signals aggression and dominance. Soft blues, which suggest optimism and trust, or gentle greens, which symbolize growth and regeneration, offer more soothing choices. When we mentioned the wall color to the guide, he said he’d gotten used to it. Takeaway: suppressed urges or emotions stifle innovation. The way to reinvigorate innovative insight starts with adopting the view of the customer.

Browse and purchase as a customer

IDEO, an international design and consulting firm our team has had the pleasure of collaborating with, puts Mystery Team shopping first in their research strategy. This segment of their engagement begins with assembling a team to observe and interact with the customer experience. A popular practice is for executives to browse and purchase their preferred products and brands. They also send the Mystery Team to shop the competition to deepen their knowledge of their customers’ real world experiences. Claudi Kotchka, VP of Design Innovation at P&G, said this process opened their eyes to new ways of working and thinking.

Transform how your design team ideates creative

In another example, a growing wine brand asked us to help improve their label designs. We learned, after visiting a few dozen stores, that the wine section in any given grocery store faces fierce competition. The wine industry boasts more sku’s than any other product. We watched as people walked down the aisle, at about one mile-per-hour, scanning bottle labels from the waist up. While the labels looked great on screen, looking at them from a foot or so away, when printed and pasted onto bottles, sitting alongside hundreds of other bottles, the labels just got lost and didn’t stand out against their competitors. We pressed the client to install shelving in the creative department of their company’s headquarters, and advised them to stock the shelves with competing wine brands to test their designs. By shopping as a customer, we helped their creative team reimagine their design process, which led to improved awareness and an uptick in global sales. 

Inspire insight for one-on-one interviews

Leaving the office to conduct field research in environments where your customers’ encounter or use your products, will help inspire your team to empathize with your customers. And this will ultimately lead to better creative and more sustained customer engagement. Field research is like gathering evidence at a crime scene before interviewing witnesses. If you don’t know the landscape, the questions you ask customers later on during interviews may not get at the truth. 

Online mystery shopping saves hours of watching heatmap analysis

If you don’t have a storefront to explore, your team can mystery shop online. They’ll learn a lot from shopping on your own website and they’ll validate how your products display on marketplaces like Amazon, Walmart, and others. Not only do we have our quality assurance team shop our clients’ favorite eCommerce websites, we also have them make purchases and interact with support. We don’t merely task them with finding defects, but instead urge them to experience the customer’s journey from search to sale. Watching hundreds of hours of heatmap videos can sharpen your eye for improvements. Going through the process yourself can achieve similar, if not better results—in less time.   

Next steps…

Mystery shoppers offer in-depth analyses of the customer experience, and they can help you uncover valuable insights to make your customers’ journey more enjoyable and productive. Think Michelin stars, but more comprehensive. Want to learn more? Contact us for our three-step research framework.