I decided to attend a session of an entrepreneurship conference that sounded really intriguing, despite having no real idea of what it was going to be about. It was (rather long-windedly) called, “E is for Empathy: What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know About Business Anthropology.”

When I walked into the room, I could see I was a few minutes late because the speaker was already on slide two of her presentation. The only available seat was in the very first row, so I quickly shuffled to the front, feeling guilty for the accompanying disruption. She gave me a very quick welcoming smile and effortlessly continued with her thought. With that subtle gesture, she completely put me at ease, and I think it was intentional. In my mind, this move immediately validated her as an expert on empathy.

The woman explained that her title was “business ethnographer,” and her job was to go in and really get to know the consumers of her client’s products to find out the true causes of seemingly baffling statistics.

For example, her firm was hired by a private elementary school because its enrollment numbers were lower than t expected.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” they told her, “we rate the top school in every category. So, why don’t parents want to send their kids here?”

Enter Empathy Squad. She and her team began interviewing parents and quickly discovered that choosing a school was a very emotional decision for them. Leaving your children with strangers is distressing and intimidating. So, what was this school doing wrong?

As the empathy team discovered, it was wearing fancy clothes and high heels, and speaking with a formality that came across as cold and uncaring. Not exactly the nurturing type you want to entrust your offspring with, I imagine.

This insight came as a real surprise to the elementary school, who had clearly lost touch with the humanistic side of their jobs. Children had somehow become “prospective students,” while their parents were simply “clients.”

Let’s not underestimate the power of empathy.

In a well-known study, radiologists were handed CT scans with a photo of the individual to run diagnostic tests on, with the hypothesis that it would increase their attention to detail when they knew who they were diagnosing, rather than what.

Three months later, they were then given the same scans in which they had initially caught unexpected findings, this time without photos. The radiologists failed to properly diagnose the same exact tests in 80% of cases. Woah.

What does that tell you? Empathy matters in every field.

But if you’re a marketer within the association industry, this message is especially relevant because you need to be appealing to the real human beings who make up your current and future member base.

You may not have the marketing budget to hire ethnographers to go around filming people to discover what they’re really thinking, but there are so many ways you can add empathy into what you’re doing. If your association hasn’t already, I suggest developing user personas, because everything becomes a lot more meaningful when you’re speaking to “45-year-old Wendy who enjoys hiking and yoga” than to “women between the ages of 40 and 50 with physically active lifestyles.”

If you can envision the person at the other end of your offering, you will be that much more effective at making their lives a little bit better. Because when you boil it down, that’s really the end goal, right?

I lead AssociationSuccess.org,and I do so with the fiercest of passion. Along my journey, I have been lucky to meet association professionals who choose this field because they believe in its power, and dedicate their time to furthering it. It is my job to bring these people together to solve problems, and this is the very core of my raison d’etre!

I lead AssociationSuccess.org,and I do so with the fiercest of passion. Along my journey, I have been lucky to meet association professionals who choose this field because they believe in its power, and dedicate their time to furthering it. It is my job to bring these people together to solve problems, and this is the very core of my raison d’etre!

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