Escaping the marketing circus: How empathy can realign brands, audiences and results

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Marketers today face a perfect marketing storm, battered by conflicting forces. They’re bombarded with data, pressured for immediate results and expected to navigate an increasingly cynical consumer landscape. But here’s the kicker: the disconnect isn’t just with the audience — it’s a three-ring circus with a front-row seat for the marketing team.

Ring 1: The audience disconnect

Ring No. 1 is characterized by short-termism, data overload and a lack of human connection when reaching customers. Marketing messages become inauthentic, creativity gets stifled and trust erodes.

Ring 2: The internal disconnect

Marketing departments can become isolated silos within a company, disconnected from sales, customer service and product development. This lack of collaboration leads to a disjointed customer experience — marketing promises a utopia, while reality falls far short. In addition to all of the marketing factors, the quality of products across the board and the amount you get for your money seems to be less and less these days.

Ring 3: The client disconnect

One of the biggest marketing challenges is aligning with our clients’ perspectives. Executives, under pressure to deliver results for the next quarter, might crave quick wins and prioritize immediate ROI. This can sometimes lead to a disconnect with the marketer’s focus on long-term brand building, which requires patience and investment. It’s important to remember that these executives often face immense pressure. They may be held accountable for short-term metrics, even if they understand the value of long-term brand strategy.

Dig deeper: 24 customer experience misconceptions debunked

Is it me, or does no one seem to be winning here?

This pressure pushes marketers toward manipulative tactics that ultimately backfire. The above puts marketers in a position with little control over the outcome, resulting in rampant fraud that can spread through every engagement and interaction.

Imagine being approached to join an advisory board for a supposedly prestigious organization, one affiliated with a respected local university, no less! They shower you with flattery, touting your expertise. You’re excited to contribute your knowledge and passion to a worthy cause. You even got a certificate of participation. Only to discover it’s all a ploy to sell you a second-rate customer experience design course. The irony is breathtaking. Here they are, trying to teach the principles of customer experience management (CXM) while simultaneously treating you, a potential customer, with utter disrespect. The core of CXM is building trust and treating customers with genuine respect.

How about this invitation I received to join a complimentary membership program that supposedly offered meetings with potential business partners? However, it quickly became apparent that the program prioritized rewards over creating real value. It’s clear that the focus here is on incentivizing participation rather than fostering genuine business relationships. If the person paying for this service knew participants were being bribed to participate, I wonder if they would likely feel misled and disappointed.

If your motivations are insincere, your entire house of cards crumbles. Strategy becomes a hollow shell, a cynical manipulation of numbers. Tactics devolve into transparent tricks, easily seen through by a jaded audience. Execution lands with a thud, annoying and forgettable.

Worse, your own people can’t stomach the charade. They see through the manufactured enthusiasm. The forced smiles mask a hollowness that permeates the organization. The lack of a raise for many years and the threat of layoffs are constantly on their minds. The customers? They feel it, too. Their intuition screams that something’s off, that they’re being played.

So, amidst this cacophony of insincerity, what are you left with? 

Nothing.

No trust. No connection. No loyalty.

Just a fleeting echo of empty promises that fade as quickly as the latest marketing fad.

Dig deeper: 3 steps to an authentic brand: Identity, intention and implementation

Marketers, we stand at a crossroads 

We need to reclaim the human element of marketing. We must remember the power of storytelling, connection and genuine value proposition. Data is essential, but it should keep the brand’s voice and consumer needs intact. Ultimately, achieving good marketing demands a great product, the resources to support it and the agility to constantly learn, adapt and scale your offerings to meet the ever-changing needs of the modern consumer. 

Whether you are a marketer or the person employing a marketer, this is ultimately your responsibility — deliver on what you promise. We must look at this from a team perspective rather than individuals and think more significantly than ourselves. 

By identifying areas where they might be leaning too heavily toward short-term gains, teams can adjust their strategies to achieve a better balance. Additionally, it can communicate marketing challenges to leadership and secure buy-in for long-term vision and strategic initiatives. 

Short-termism vs. long-term relationships

  • The pressure: Marketing metrics and dashboards push for immediate results, pressuring marketers to prioritize quick wins over building long-term relationships with customers. This can lead to tactics like manipulative ads and inauthentic interactions.
  • The consequence: Customers see through these tactics and become disengaged. Trust erodes, leading to a revolving door of lead acquisition with little to no loyalty.

Data deluge vs. human connection

  • The disconnect: An overreliance on data can blind marketers to the human side of marketing. They may create targeted campaigns based on demographics but fail to connect with their audience’s emotions and needs.
  • The result: Marketing messages fall flat, lacking the emotional resonance that drives action. Customers feel like numbers, not valued individuals.

Micromanagement vs. creative freedom

  • The constraint: The pressure to track everything can lead to micromanagement of campaigns, stifling creativity and experimentation. Marketers may hesitate to take risks on innovative ideas for fear of not hitting immediate targets.
  • The loss: Marketing becomes formulaic and predictable, failing to capture attention in a crowded marketplace. True innovation and impactful campaigns get sidelined.

Dig deeper: The marketing ROI problem has its roots in marketing culture

Internal silos vs. collaborative teams

  • The divide: Marketing departments can become isolated entities within a company, disconnected from sales, customer service and product development.
  • The obstacle: This lack of collaboration hinders a holistic approach to customer experience. Marketing messages may contradict the reality of the product or service, creating customer frustration.

The key lies in building genuine opportunities through mutual benefit. Imagine advisory boards that foster expertise exchange, not captive sales pitches. Picture business connection programs that prioritize long-term partnerships, not superficial interactions. 

Marketing should empower people to contribute their expertise and feel valued, fostering a sense of belonging. The disconnect between short-term needs and long-term vision is a common challenge. Marketers can be the bridge builders. We can educate clients about brand building’s long-term benefits, but let’s go further.

Below is a checklist that will help you be awake, aware and expecting these consequences so you can navigate them with your eyes wide open. 

Empathy-driven marketing framework checklist: Building trust and measuring success

Before you begin: Partner selection with empathy

  • [ ] Research potential partners: reputation, motivations and target audience. Identify alignment and potential for a mutually beneficial value exchange.
  • [ ] Evaluate partnership fit: Does their audience align with yours? Will the collaboration create authentic connections?

Phase 1: Understand your audience (Empathy in action)

  • [ ] Conduct audience research (surveys, focus groups, social listening) to uncover emotional drivers: desires, fears and dreams.
  • [ ] Map the B2B customer journey. Identify touchpoints where empathy-driven marketing can make a difference.

Phase 2: Craft compelling content (Connect with emotion)

  • [ ] Ditch the product pitch! Develop compelling B2B stories that resonate.
  • [ ] Showcase customer success stories, industry thought leadership and content addressing specific pain points.
  • [ ] Foster conversations, address concerns thoughtfully and provide valuable resources — build trust, not just leads.

Phase 3: Measure with meaning (Track value, not vanity)

  • [ ] Identify and track KPIs that showcase the impact of empathy-driven marketing (engagement, brand sentiment, lead quality, retention).
  • [ ] Ensure chosen metrics provide actionable insights and demonstrate value delivered (company, client, audience).

The empathy advantage

  • [ ] Be on the lookout for “naggy” tactics (manipulative pitches, misleading info) that erode trust.
  • [ ] Collaborate effectively with stakeholders (sponsors, sales, events, even the customer) — shared responsibility for trust-building.

The future of marketing: leveraging data to understand our audiences, crafting compelling content that speaks to their needs and fostering genuine connections that build trust and loyalty. It’s time to move beyond measuring clicks and start moving hearts and minds. Let’s reimagine marketing as a force for positive change that builds trust and empowers lasting connections in a data-driven world.



Dig deeper: How to bring empathy to your customer experience strategy


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


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About the author

Jay Mandel

Contributor

Jay Mandel is a multi-faceted entrepreneur, professor, consultant, coach, and author of “Brand Strategy in Three Steps (Kogan Page, 2023).” His transformative journey from corporate America to coaching reflects his commitment to infusing meaning and authenticity into the business world. With two decades of corporate experience, including a notable role as the former social media and content lead for Mastercard’s global team, Jay’s brand methodology is honed through a diverse range of corporate, entrepreneurial, and academic experiences. Armed with a Masters’s in strategic communications from Columbia University, Jay is dedicated to guiding individuals and the companies they work for in pursuing clarity, strategy, and finding their unique market niche. Embrace growth, explore with purpose, and embark on a transformative journey with Jay Mandel today.

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