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Ouch! This made me wince…

by | Apr 8, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

At the weekend, I was walking the dog in the park…

There was a guy on a bicycle, just up ahead.

He was trying to manoeuvre past a bunch of kids who were taking up most of the path and generally being snotty teenagers. 

Suddenly, his wheel hit the curb awkwardly.

His feet slipped off the pedals, and – BANG – down he went, clattering into a litter bin.

Instantly, I recoiled, winced, and made an involuntary “OOOF” sound – almost as if it was me who fell off the bike. 

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar?

Watching a stranger face-plant the floor when they trip over… seeing a football smash into someone’s nether regions… recoiling as a car skids into another vehicle.

It tends to elicit a physical response, as if the thing you are observing is actually happening to you.

You recoil as if you are receiving the blow, or hold your hands up as if to defend yourself from injury.

And it’s not only something that happens in violent incidents…

If you see someone looking nauseous, it can make you feel sick, too.

If you see someone racing towards a finish line, it can make your adrenaline pump like you’re doing it yourself. 

If you see someone on TV embrace their long-lost relative for the first time in decades, you can start to well up. 

For just one moment, you find yourself in someone else’s shoes, and feel what they feel…

This is known as empathy.

It is one of the keys to how primates, like we humans, interact socially, and build communities.

After all, when we see the world through the eyes of another, we are less likely to cause them harm, and more likely to co-operate in the service of shared goals.

Empathy is also crucial for running ANY successful business.

In fact, when it comes to marketing, it’s pretty much impossible to communicate with a potential customer UNLESS you have stood in their shoes.

Unless you know their deep desires, how can you create a compelling headline for your ad? 

Unless you know their likes and dislikes, how can you know what features to include in a product or what kind of packaging to create? 

Unless you know their daily struggles, how can you know what benefits to emphasise in your sales copy and listings, or what free gift to give them in exchange for their email address?

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Unless you know their worldview and values, how can you create relevant and meaningful content for email newsletters, blog posts, videos and webinars?

Basically, if you don’t know what your customer feels, you are effectively ‘flying blind’. 

It will make things like list-building, content publishing, marketing and product development really difficult to get right. 

But empathy is not always easy to achieve….

Sometimes we can be blinkered about what our customers want because of our own emotions and worldview. 

Sometimes, we’re too busy or too stressed to stop for a moment and put ourselves in their shoes.

And sometimes it’s because we have personalities that lack the usual levels of empathy (through no fault of our own) because of our upbringing or the peculiar ways that our brains are wired. 

That’s okay….

There are some means of gaining empathy with your target customers, even if it’s something you naturally struggle with…

How Mirror Neurons Work

Back in the 1990s, researchers at the University of Parma, Italy were studying macaque monkeys.

They were looking at a region of the brain known as the ‘premotor cortex’ – the area involved in planning and carrying out actions. 

As they recorded the neural activity of monkeys that were trying to grab plastic balls, they found that the same parts of the brain were activated in monkeys who were simply WATCHING the activity. 

These neurons were named ‘mirror neurons’ because they mirrored the behaviour of others so closely, it was as if the observer were performing the action themselves.

“When we witness what happens to others, we don’t just activate the visual cortex like we thought some decades ago,” says Christian Keysers of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. “We also activate our own actions as if we’d be acting in similar ways. We activate our own emotions and sensations as if we felt the same.”

Which is EXACTLY what happened when I saw that cyclist tumble into a bin. 

Since then, neuroscience has built on these foundations to give us a much more detailed view of how empathy works in the brain. 

And it turns out that it’s crucial for PREDICTING the future behaviour of another person. 

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You see, when we observe an action performed by someone else, we receive two vital pieces of information:

  • What action is being taken?
  • Why is the action being done?

The second piece of information is what helps us work out what someone else’s intention is, and therefore how they might act in the future.

Now can you see how that might be useful?

By putting yourself in someone’s shoes, you understand WHY they act in the way they do, and therefore understand HOW they might act in the future.

This will help you create powerful listings that tap into their desires… create compelling online content that chimes with their worldview… and create products that genuinely help them overcome their problems. 

But how can you put yourself in a stranger’s shoes?

Well, in the same way as I felt the pain of the cyclist who crashed into the bin the other week…. 

You need to OBSERVE your customer. 

Not as a bunch of stats… not as a socio-economic category… and not as a theoretical person made up in your head, 

You need to see and hear them as they deal with their daily struggles in the real world.

This will fire up those mirror neurons, and help you get into their frame of mind. 

How to Become An Empath

We live in a much more transparent online world now, where we can watch people in all kinds of emotional states – getting angry and upset, sharing enthusiasms and leaving comments beneath articles and adverts that inspire them or annoy them.

That’s where you can observe your customers. 

Get onto social media and online forums to see what potential customers are saying about their experience. 

Follow hashtags or search for specific terms related to your industry, product or service, 

Look at Amazon reviews of the kinds of products they buy to see what they grumble and complain about. 

And if you have customers already, email them with a survey to find out more about them.

You can also find friends, neighbours, colleagues and family members who are in your target audience, then either ask them questions or get them to try out your product and share their experiences.  

The aim is to find out the following:

  • Their daily lifestyle 
  • Their common behaviours
  • Their deep seated desires and life goals
  • Their fears and pain points
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Once you have this info, you can put it into Chat GPT, and get it to flesh out more details for you.

Here’s a prompt: “I am going to feed you the results of my customer research. Afterwards, I am going to give you questions that you will need to answer as if you were that customer, so that I can understand your needs and pain points.” 

Now feed it any info you have gathered about your customer. After that, you can ask more detailed questions about how that character feels. 

Another  helpful tool is an AI system called Character AI,  It allows you to enter a description of your customer and then talk to it like you are chatting online to a real person. 

Here are some examples of questions…

  • Hi, how’s it going today?
  • What is your average weekday like? 
  • What frustrations do you feel?
  • What would help you live a better life?
  • What kind of tools, information and services might help, do you think? Are you looking for anything?
  • What puts you off the idea of finding and paying for advice and information?
  • In an ideal world, given the right advice and tools, where would you like to be in a year’s time? Describe your perfect week.
  • What is your worst fear or concern about your life?
  • Tell me something that you have never told your friends or family.

The AI keeps learning over time as you provide feedback, allowing you to develop a more complex avatar. 

You can then talk to this customer any time you like, asking questions or posing scenarios and asking them how they might respond or feel. 

These are some easy ways that you can begin to put yourself in your potential customer’s shoes.

It doesn’t matter what stage of a business you are at – it could be that you’re hunting around for an idea or you could be already up and running.

There’s never a bad time to start empathising with the needs, desires and fears of the person you are selling to… 

Or indeed anyone you know or meet. 

Being empathetic in everyday life can completely transform the quality of your interactions.

Just try it and see what happens! 


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