The trouble with human relationships is that at the end of the day, all of us are alone — trapped in the cosmos of our selves. Add to that the problem of our own mortality, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for failed relationships.
Yes, it’s a grim place to start a marketing blog post, but bear with me for a moment. If you’re smart, you’ll be thinking about what relationships have to do with marketing (if you’re really smart, you’ll know they have everything to do with it) while you wade through the next few of paragraphs.
I’m stretching the definition a bit, but Kierkegaard and the 20th century existentialists called the result of this fundamental human condition “angst.”
Whatever you want to call it, it sucks, and it’s most likely the main problem humanity has faced since the beginning of consciousness.
The good news is that there are a number of ways to deal with our angst:
- We can try to deny it by becoming a part of the herd
- We can try to medicate it with sex, drugs and rock & roll
- We can try to avoid it with power and money
- We can try to displace it with masochism or sadism
But the healthiest way humanity has found to deal with the problem, as many Beatles songs attest, is love.
Among other things, love gives us the ability to empathize with another human being — to be with them in their aloneness — to actively try to experience what they’re experiencing. While it may not eliminate the actual geography of our aloneness, we feel more connected. The universe feels safer. We forget our mortality for a moment.
Love, in this sense, is a truly wonderful experience.
So wonderful, in fact, that in a market economy, people will pay a lot for love. And I don’t mean that in a cynical way. The fact is, the best products begin the process of bringing us together. And the best marketers of those products understand the need for people to feel connected.
In fact, the best marketers not only create products that bring people together, but also communicate with those people in a way that makes them feel less alone.
All marketing messaging is simply the marketer reaching out, empathizing with, and building a relationship with a person. Yes, the relationship is based on an economic transaction, but that doesn’t make it any less of a relationship. And it doesn’t eliminate the basic connection that occurs when we love people and empathize with them.
Marketing could be distilled down into the practice of love in the context of an economic transaction.
The better marketers are at loving their customers, the more effective they’ll be at their job.
Of course, the main problem with this thesis is that it’s difficult to love people. Hence, it’s difficult to be a great marketer. Because, despite what most of the population thinks, marketers are people too. We feel just as alone and afraid as everyone else.
Ultimately, love is the best answer for our angst, but because we all painfully feel our own angst, it’s also the most difficult response we can muster in the face of it.
Our instincts tell us that we need to withdraw — to become consumed with our self-interest. “Loving people is too risky,” we tell ourselves. And so we become a shell of a human.
In a marketing context, our self-interest shows up in our terrible ads. Ads that shout at people, or make silly demands, or brag, or do anything that most normal people find disgusting in a relationship.
So the question is, how do we overcome our own angst-induced self-interest and love our customers?
The truth is, I don’t really know the best answer to that question. But I can tell you what has worked based on MarketingSherpa’s library of marketing case studies…
The best case studies we have begin with the marketer actively empathizing with a customer.
The best case studies we have, begin with the marketer actively empathizing with a customer. At MarketingSherpa, we use the (somewhat unwieldy) term “customer-first marketing” to describe it. But it’s meditating, in a sense, on customers’ needs, their aloneness, their fear.
We have fancy ways of doing this, of course. We call it competitive analysis, data mining, customer profiling, A/B testing. A new strategy for it comes around every once in a while, but the heart of what we’re doing is trying to empathize with our customer.
And while those ways of empathizing can be effective, there’s no substitute for just sitting down and thinking about the desires, fears and angst your customers feel.
I personally do this by writing out what I think my ideal customer is thinking and feeling in the first person just before she sees my offer.
There are other ways to do it, some of them more effective than others, but however you do it, according to recent data from MarketingSherpa, loving your customer just works from a business perspective, and we might just be making the world a better place to live while we do it.