Empathic Brands: What's the Story, Who's Telling it and Who Cares?

The nature of design strategy, thinking and consumer engagement

I was talking with a team international brand development people, for a project initiation — the challenge focused on the discussion of relevance.

Literally — for this brand, this idea, this whole movement, what’s the point, who cares? What’s the foundation of the drive, moving forward? Are we asking the right, the most important, question in igniting this plan?

To the nature of audience embracement, this signature question is profound and significant, but oftentimes less than effectively answered. The response might be more of “we’re moving forward, so make it work.”

“We’ve done our studies and we believe that we can get the audience to support our extension plan.”

Yet the key query, that self examination of premise, simple and obvious as it might be, is sometimes hidden in the proposition of action and evolution. Any self critical leadership would be prone to that self study, one would presume, yet there are countless brands that pop up — new enterprises — that the audience might be suggesting: “what were they thinking?” Perhaps you’ve thought of that question yourself.

Studying the marketspace of innovation, we find ourselves in that positioning of examination — “who cares?” Or better, who would care about this? And if they would — why?

The brand manager that I’d spoken to on a project outline referenced that this was perhaps the most important question that remained unanswered in many steps of processing innovation — if there’s a change, a new innovation, really — “who cares?” Or perhaps, if there’s a sidebar examination, if they don’t care, how would we “make them like it — make them care about it.” In the age of cynical overburdening, that self reflective connection is crucial.

To the character of building out a modeling of relationship and engagement, it’s good to consider some basic tenets of leadership and encirclement strategy. Frankly, this approach comes from the baselines of design thinking — which might lead to how to approach community, and finally even employee relationships. One circle, becomes another.

Pain threshold
Empathy, apathy, sympathy — all are derived from an ancient seed sound (PIE *kwenth) for “suffering or endurance.” The threshold for connection lies in that idea of linking reactively back to the scenario of needfulness. David Kelley, the CEO and founder of IDEO offers that “The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is exactly the same thing–building empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help.” So the foundation in any brand signature is about needs and values, and how the innovation might shift to providing solutions — new fluency in the answering response. (Think: the meaning of, and feeling “pain” as a level of the most significant encounter.)

Care points
Similarly — to word origins — care is a heartfelt conditioning, an ancient seed sound (PIE *gar) for “a crying out, a scream.” The lamenting character of care, let alone the powerful nature of the pathos of links to others speaks to emotionality and deeper reaches to foundations of being. But if there’s a sense of designing, or innovating for, new brand development, the idea of not only caring — but being involved with — relationships will be crucial. Caring works both ways — caring about utility, about relationships, about relevance. Care is about “getting to the same place” as the other. (Think: the power of insight, experience connectivity and personal relationships.)

Resound and ripple
The idea of resonance speaks to the idea of a bouncing back of sound (PIE *swonos [later, song])– that might be aligned to echoing. But in the modeling of giving, and giving back to relationships, this sentiment has more meaning. If there is a positive connection, in the empathic character of a brand — synchrony and alignment — connections hold steadfast as long as that “sound” holds, the relationship could be aligned. Sound off, sound out and expect a sound in reply. (Think: following the ideal, the leadership, being in a community.)

Relate relevance
For the idea of empathy to work, there’s got to be a synchrony to these two points of connection. The carrying of the story to relating. And the sync to relevance, the lever — to “raise, to relieve.” But this idea of raising and lightening, relief, there’s an implication of insight of connectedness. The seed sound (PIE *le(n)gwh) reaches back to the idea of “lightness, easiness, an agility and nimbleness.” With this offering — “things are easier.” (Think: making contributions that are relief-based, empathically founded, solutions.)

These are sequences of exploration, the examination of the empathic connection, that have magnitude to the nature of “what’s the story, who’s telling it, and who cares?” The patterning links almost entirely to emotional conditions. But in the human capacity, the nature of the movement of emotion is a robust platform for understanding the reflective reach. And the reach back.

Ripple onwards.

TIM | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC


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