What a Client Taught Me about Empathy in Marketing


When we understand our clients’ customers, only then can we help clients tell the best stories to the market. Tapping into what we call an “empathetic narrative,” we can see the world from the customers’ eyes and make real connections, ultimately allowing us to create a strong brand message.

There are moments when I feel like Carbon8 should be paying our clients instead of them paying us. One such moment happened with Lee Dolan, Executive Vice President of Business Development at ATBS. Lee came to us as he was preparing to launch a new brand for his trucking financial services company and wanted our help putting together a new website that would embrace the new vision.

I remember our first meeting in my office. Lee told me about his experience as VP of Brand Marketing at Cabela’s and MillerCoors. He told me about something he calls the “email signature test”. He explained, “You know when you’ve nailed your messaging if the employees love it so much, they put it in their email signature without being forced to do so.” Over the years, I’ve come to understand that branding is just as much for employees as it is for the external market.

Some weeks later, we set up a meeting for Lee to review his new branding and messaging for ATBS. I expected the typical discussion of personas, target markets, pain points, benefits, the competition. But Lee opened with a discussion I’d never heard in marketing. He spent the next 15 minutes telling us all about the challenges of being a trucker. “They don’t see family or friends for weeks on end. They get cut off on the road. People don’t let them over…” This discussion went on for some time and by the end of it, I wanted to hug a trucker. He got me to not just understand their life point of view, but have true empathy and gratitude for what they do.

In that moment, his target market became real. It wasn’t a demographic, a stat, or a persona. He created empathy for his target market. The final messaging, branding and even the way he re-structured their services reflected a true, empathetic understanding of his customers. They were his friends. You could tell he—and ATBS— “got” them.

Since that meeting, we at Carbon8 have embraced Lee’s methodology, which we’ve called an “Empathetic Narrative,” and incorporated it into our branding process. It’s made our branding better times two. It’s made us better marketers. Clients have noticed the change. One client said, “It’s like you peered in my soul, saw the best of what we could be about for our customers, and brought it forward in a way we could have never imagined.”

So, go beyond the trite personas. Really get into your target customers’ lives. See the world from their eyes. Go on a truck ride with them, like Lee did. And then, write their story, and then you will be able to write yours.


Mark Mitton
written by MARK MITTON

Mark Mitton is the president of Carbon8, bringing his passion for creative, strategic branding and deep experience in digital marketing to Carbon8 clients (and employees!). Mark founded Carbon8 with the knowledge that, in today’s digital age, beautiful creative and smart strategy must be supported by a strong programming team.

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