Last month, Microsoft overtook Apple as the most valuable company on earth. (This may be painful to hear for die-hard Apple fans.) How does a company get to be worth a whopping $2.5 trillion?
In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, was asked to list the most important quality for innovation. You might think he would say it’s creativity or out-of-the-box thinking…or tapping into talent with serious technology smarts…or creating a collaborative work environment. But, none of those made the top slot. Instead, Nadella said the key ingredient to innovation is empathy.
“To me, what I have sort of come to realize, what is the most innate in all of us is that ability to be able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and see the world the way they see it. That’s empathy. That’s at the heart of design thinking. When we say innovation is all about meeting unmet, unarticulated, needs of the marketplace, it’s ultimately the unmet and articulated needs of people, and organizations that are made up of people. And you need to have deep empathy. So I would say the source of all innovation is what is the most humane quality that we all have, which is empathy.”
As a marketer, this makes complete sense. The first step to any great campaign or positioning statement is putting yourself in the customers’ shoes and feeling their pain points. The next step is determining how your product or service solves those problems better than everyone else.
When we do this, our first instinct is to focus solely on the customer. But, what if empathy wasn’t customer-centric? Brands that broaden their focus from “me” to “we” often land on a more meaningful and altruistic purpose.
Tom’s Shoes didn’t just design a comfortable cloth shoe for its customers, it built its brand around a mission focused on a bigger “we”—donating a portion of its shoes to those in need and later donating a third of its profits to grassroots organizations that create change at the local level.
Of course, not every company can afford to make this level of empathy a reality, but there may be other ways we can shift our positioning and our messaging in a more community-centric way. Maybe that’s giving your core values center stage.
For example, if one of your core values is humility, you could create a brand campaign around how being humble creates a better product and a better world. Humility means putting others’ needs first, making fewer assumptions and asking more questions…which leads to better understanding and, ultimately, better products. This type of messaging positions the benefits of the product, while communicating your brand values. It tells your customers you care about something bigger than just solving their pain points. You care about creating a corporate culture and world that make things better for all of us.
At a time when society seems especially fractured and focused on “me,” marketers can play a vital role in shifting the messaging to a larger “we.” Brands like Patagonia, LUSH, Ben & Jerry’s and Airbnb have made this their mission. But, marketing for the greater good isn’t exclusive to national brands and it doesn’t have to be your only message. Broadening your empathy when it’s appropriate can help differentiate your brand in a more meaningful way. And, let’s face it, the more voices spreading a message of unity and compassion, the better.