If the past elections have shown one thing, it is that we live in bubbles created by the algorithms of social media and our daily routines. And that most of us -as well as the marketing and advertising industry at large- are out of touch with what is really going on out there. In fact, there is often a serious disconnect between marketers/strategists, and the people buying the product, services and ideas we work on. In a sense it is not surprising as the “persona” of most folks working in marketing and advertising is completely different from the “persona” of 90% of Americans.
Why does it matter? Because without the ability to experience your audience’s life and life circumstances first hand you can’t empathize with them. And empathy leads to better strategies. The key words here being “experience” and “empathy”. So here are 5 things I believe every strategist and marketer should do on a very regular basis to keep in touch with, well, reality and become a better marketer:
Take a road trip through the countryside. Get out of LA, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Chicago and discover this country and its people. And stay away from the Interstates and use the country roads instead. And for breakfast, lunch or dinner stop at a local diner (you know you’ve arrived when you can’t find a Starbucks anywhere) and watch and talk to the people around you (which comes very easily).
Travel around the world. By that I do not mean to take a beach vacation at a tourist resort in Costa Rica or Mexico. Take a train throughout Europe, ride a motorcycle in Thailand, take a trip to Cuba. Doing so will give you a new or renewed appreciation for different cultures, lifestyle and languages and put everything you do and know in perspective. It will also show and remind you that there is a world out there that is much much bigger and exciting than the bubbles we generally live in.
Try to build and sell something on your own and at “no” budget. This can be creating an online community (try to get as many people to sign up), an article you write to specifically reach a large audience (try to achieve the highest engagement levels) and that is not related to your job or something you build and try to sell off- or online (how much can you actually sell). This will give you an appreciation for the whole marketing and selling process and provide you with a reality check for all the models, frameworks, tools and buzzwords you are using day-in, day-out. And if you work at an agency or consultancy, it will also give you a renewed appreciation for what your clients deal with and go through.
Just spend time with your audience without any further agenda. Suspend judgment (it’s not about you and your next instagram post) listen to them, observe them, see what they value, what’s important to them, how they interact with each other, etc., etc. And if you feel particularly brave do that with a group of people you can’t identify with. Hang out with a group of hunters if you don’t like guns. Or a family of 8 if you are single and without children. You get the drift.
Learn a foreign language: Learning a foreign language is good for your brain but more importantly it opens your mind to other worldviews and cultures. And that leads to growth. I always find it fascinating to see the how differently world events are being covered in the American, the British, the French and the German press.
None of the things I am suggesting above are quick-fixes or instantaneous. They take time and require an effort on your part. But that is exactly the point. As mentioned in the introduction, it’s all about going through the experiences yourself (and taking the time to do so) and it’s all about evolving, changing or adding to your worldview and thus developing those “empathy muscles”.