Obsessed: The ten rules of the principle abiding marketer


Strategy: Move beyond insight into foresight using relationships


Rule #1:  Aspire to build a relationship with a person that has feelings, hopes, fears, and dreams, not only market to a persona or a segment





Rule number one comes with a prerequisite, a mantra for the marketer and by extension for all passionate about being other-focused: “I intend to have empathy.”  It is one’s passion that allows for the continuous repetition of those words that aid in focusing on understanding who the customer is and why she behaves the way she behaves.


The definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”  Since “the other” is the one who ends up paying our salaries, the effort to empathize seems to be at the very least a moral obligation. The definition does not speak of what the other knows or possesses; it merely states the word “feelings.” However, do not mistake feelings for emotions; they are not the same.


An emotion is a basal response that occurs in our brain, and that sparks a biochemical reaction in our body, and therefore changes our physical state.  The human being needed emotions to survive. Emotional reactions reside coded in our genes and quasi-universal. The principle of reciprocity applies to emotions. Just try it: walk a (safe) street with a gentle smile on your face and some people will smile right back at you. They may even say hi. In an unsafe street one’s smile might broadcast “come rob me.”  Never ignore the context.


Contact center professionals know it is best to smile when making or answering a phone call. Here too, in absence of visual contact, the principle of reciprocity of emotions applies. The human being can distinguish between vocal intonations. Not only between a smile and no smile but even between different types of smiles. The act of smiling influences our articulation to the extent that the listener recognizes the type of smile by the sounds we produce. 84% of a message we convey by telephone consists of intonation. Getting the intonation right is critical.


According to Robert Plutchik, there are eight primary emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. Emotions precede feelings; they are physical and instinctive. Because they are physical, one can objectively measure them in blood pressure, blood flow, brain activity, micro-facial expressions, body language. Just think about the new field of neuromarketing.


A feeling, however, is the mental picture of what happens in our body when we experience an emotion. It is a mental association and a reaction to emotions. Feelings are subjective; our personal experiences, beliefs, world views, and memories shape them. A feeling is a by-product of what our brain perceives and gives meaning to emotions. A feeling immediately follows an emotion, has a cognitive input that usually occurs in our subconscious, and unlike emotions, cannot be measured effectively — a problem for the new neuromarketers among us.


Emotions fuel our feelings,  and thoughts, memories, and our subconscious mental pictures associated with specific emotions color them. It also works the other way around.  Thinking about something threatening can provoke an emotional response of fear. Whereas individual emotions are temporary, the feelings they produce can last and can get even stronger during a lifetime. Because emotions trigger subconscious feelings that in turn can provoke emotions, one can get stuck in a vicious circle without knowing how got there. Without knowing why one feels the way one feels.


Our customers are smart people. They know when someone treats them with indifference or insincerely. How do they know? Emotions and feelings tell it.  In their book Authenticity: What Customers Really Want, James Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II argue that authenticity in marketing and business is what modern consumers crave.  Couple that with competing on customer experience and it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the individual human being the [internal and external] customer is, is who truly matters. Personas and segments are just approximations and virtual by nature. Very hard to have a relationship with a persona.


The customer who feels appreciated – ask sincerely and with genuine interest how she feels- might become the customer who also wants to have an emotional relationship. Capturing, listening to, and acting upon the insights revealed by customers’ emotions and feelings builds bonds and longevity. What else is foresight? 


There is a catch: according to research by IBM, only twenty-two percent of customers think brands understand them as individuals.  It is safe to opine that marketers still have their work cut out for them.


This blogpost is based upon the new book of Marc Bresseel and Renout van Hove: OBSESSED: Decode the data landscape. Reboot your sales and marketing.

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