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Industry of Empathy

A black and white drawing of a cartoon ear listening with a question mark drawn in.
A black and white drawing of a cartoon ear listening with a question mark drawn in.

Leveraging Agency Learnings For Listening

So, after what’s seemed like an eternity of unrelenting social posts, one-sided debates, mud-slinging and recycled rhetoric (and that’s just the electorate), it’s finally over. And what did we learn? Well, seemingly not very much. It’s as if we’re all stuck mingling at the same bizarrely combative dinner party talking about those very specific topics you’re supposed to avoid. And there’s not nearly enough booze.

Everyone has been to that kind of party. You know, when you’re talking to someone and instead of listening to you, they’re just waiting for you to wrap it up so they can make their point. And, like most people in this situation, you make your excuses about running dangerously low on Judith’s signature punch and slip away. Because this isn’t a conversation; it’s not even interesting. It’s just a guy with an overly intense sales pitch waiting to convince you of his point of view – just as soon as you have the decency to shut up and listen.

So if no one likes this in real life, why would we do it anywhere else?

Thanks to social media, the virtual party never stops raging. It’s a place where we have a voice that allows us to talk to the masses – all at once and unchallenged. Where we can impress upon others what our views are through divine daily posts of wisdom, at the same time condemning any dissenting opinion. But what we’ve really done is create comfortable spaces for ourselves to be surrounded by those who are just like us. It’s easier than ever to narrow down our connections thanks to the ease of unfollowing and unfriending, employing our digital single-fingered salute to the oblivious odd uncle you never see with the outdated take on gender equality.

But this practice leaves us preaching to the already converted, creating echo chambers where the only thing you hear back mimics exactly what you’ve been shouting. This isn’t a conversation; it’s affirmation. It’s talking to yourself and liking what you hear back which in the non-digital world for would be grounds for quite a few wary stares, if not some kind of intervention.

But by doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, maybe we are all a little insane. Brands learned long ago that shouting at someone in the hopes that they listen to your message isn’t effective. Nobody likes being talked at, so we do things like skip commercials or try to avoid live TV altogether. It’s one of the main reasons that total digital ad spending will surpass TV for the first time in 2017 (eMarketer). Advertising has now grown up and become more sophisticated, talking to specific groups of people personally and flexibly by listening to what they want and reacting. Sometimes they start these conversations, sometimes they just join them, but they are always paying attention to them.

This is where we can all learn from brands. As a creative agency our expertise lies in our ability to help our clients connect with their audiences. We’re professional empathizers who, by listening and trying to understand why our audiences think the way they do, are able to influence their decisions by engaging in ways that are meaningful to them. But, and this is the important part, we can only influence by understanding what they truly value in the first place – their truth. By making an effort to understand, and not simply dismiss what is important to those whose opinions differ from our own, maybe we can start to influence the current narrative for the better.

So the next time you’re in a conversation, ask yourself,  “Am I really listening, or am I just waiting for you to finish?”