3 Lessons on Customer Empathy from #CTAConf


When you base much of your marketing decisions on cold, hard, data, it can be easy to lump your potential customers into a metric, and momentarily forget their humanity.

This forgetfulness isn’t due to a lack of compassion, but rather,  because with the over-abundance of technology available (seriously, I have an app that clicks my mouse for me), it only makes sense to use as much data as is available to inform marketing decisions.

After wrapping up Unbounce’s Call to Action Conference 2017 in Vancouver, our team was impressed by all of the speakers and the lessons they shared. While we learned a lot about how to leverage technology to aid in marketing strategy, we found that speaker after speaker encouraged marketers on the whole to embrace something less high-tech: empathy.

After all, a business is nothing without customers, and customers are just people. Not personas, not metrics, not leads. 


The speakers reminded us that the core of marketing is helping people solve their problems, which in the end, makes you (and your product) more relevant to their lives. So: how can you apply empathy for your customers in your marketing practices? Check out three examples we handpicked from industry leaders below.


Though marketers use Google on the daily, it’s easy to forget that people turn to search to find an answer in a time of need - not for sport. When we try to use SEO to force searchers into a funnel, we aren’t solving their problem, and Google can see their disappointment when this happens (thanks to computer learning!) 

As Wil Reynolds, Founder of SEER Interactive, puts it, “When I do my job well, I'm solving problems that people are searching for.”

To illustrate the difference between forcing searchers into a funnel and solving their problems, I did a search for “compare SEO companies” and came up with some surprising results:


Notice the paid results at the top are all SEO companies - not comparisons of SEO companies. These ads don’t answer my question, and what’s worse, the first two companies aren’t even local results. “Searchberg.com” is based in New York, and “Zebratechies.com” is based in India - how is this relevant when I live in Vancouver? 

Below the paid results are the organically ranked results, and thankfully, they actually provide an answer to my question. These results are a great indicator of the kind of content you need to provide searchers to rank organically for this search term, and this content is worth imitating.

To recap: If you want to rank organically, you have to solve people’s problems.

Search results for Compare SEO Companies

2. Focus on “Jobs to be Done” vs. traditional personas.

“Personas can’t tell us what was happening in a person’s life that led to a decision.”
 - Claire Suellentrop, Founder, Love Your Customers

Customer personas are the standard tool used to understand your target market and what motivates them to buy. The only problem is, they often focus on shallow demographic details that paint a limited picture of a customer’s motivations for buying. I’ve created a sample customer persona based on me:

Sample Sam

Sample Sam:

  1. Career: Marketing Coordinator
  2. Age: 20 Something
  3. Marital Status: Single (no kids)
  4. Urban Locations
  5. Online Behaviours:
    1. Browses Reddit religiously.
    2. Prefers Instagram over other social media platforms.
    3. Relies on online ratings for online shopping and refers to them for in-store purchase.
  6. Goals and Challenges:
    1. Become a better marketer.
    2. Balance work, friends, family, and career development.

While this might tell you a little bit about what my motivations are and what’s important to me, it can’t truly inform you about my buying habits.

Specifically, from the persona above, can you infer why I bought these shorts?

Why did I buy these Lululemon Shorts?

I’ll save you the effort: you can't.

Instead of solely focusing on creating customer personas, identify a customer’s “job to be done” - the task they’re trying to accomplish by buying a particular product or service.

In my case, I’m going to Europe in a month, and in an effort to tan my legs, remain comfortable while walking/hiking all day, and possibly look not dumpy when out for dinner, these shorts satisfied my needs. 

When you focus on what job a customer is trying to accomplish, you learn a lot more about what motivates anybody to buy your product. Claire Suellentrop, my newfound hero for imparting this wisdom, has conveniently outlined how to do this:

Claire Suellentrop Customer Jobs

To further personalize this, “help me” can be replaced with any other relevant term:

Claire Suellentrop Customer Jobs 2

In my case, my motivation for buying shorts looks like this:

“When I’m switching between hiking in the countryside and exploring the city, equip me so I can feel appropriately dressed no matter where my travels take me.”

Now doesn’t that paint a better picture?

3. Use positioning to provide the context in which your value is the most obvious to customers.

Positioning is one of the most important aspects of marketing strategy, and, as April Dunford notes, "bad positioning can kill even a great product." At this stage, it is imperative you understand your customers' pain points inside out and show them exactly how your product is the right solution.

So, how is this done? Well, it can be simpler than you think:

  1. Listen to what your customers say about how your product addresses their pains.
  2. Integrate this feedback into your value propositions, positioning statement, and content. Forever.

Following this method establishes your product in the context of a solution to a specific problem they already know they have, making your product relevant to their lives. 

So, what does this look like in practice? Speaker, Amy Harrison, Founder of Harrison Amy Copywriting, provides an example with Corsodyl, a mouthwash for gum disease. Albeit unconventional, Corsodyl does a perfect job of telling customers how it addresses their pains:

Corsodyl Example Amy Harrison

Customers immediately know what Corsodyl does. Furthermore, the language used is plain enough that it looks exactly like a searcher’s input into Google, which means customers will easily relate to the messaging. In this way, Corsodyl has provided the context in which the value of their product is immediately obvious to the customer. 


Key Takeaway:

All of the examples above show that having empathy for your customers’ problems beyond a surface-level understanding of their demographics (i.e., outside of their persona), shows them that buying your product provides more than just a transaction; it results in the transformation of their lives by solving their problems.

Samantha Grandinetti