There are numerous skills that are valuable in becoming a well-rounded brand strategist. And I would argue that there is one that stands out as the finest skill of them all. One to be honed and refined throughout your career to make you a more competent developer of brands.
I’m talking about empathy. The ability to put oneself in the shoes of others. To be able to see what they see, think what they think, and feel what they feel.
People are different. Some are highly empathic all the way from childhood. Others less so. To become a great brand strategist, you are way ahead of others if you enter the profession as an individual with a strong degree of empathy. But wherever you are on a scale, empathy can indeed be strengthened and sharpened by actively working on that side of yourself. Look for opportunities to get close to people, contexts and situations that are very different from what you normally experience – and aim to see things the way others see them.
It’s both great fun and you’re doing the world a favor since it suffers from a quite alarming lack of empathy overall. This empathy gap is demonstrated in all sorts of conflicts surrounding us.
Relevant to the field of branding, empathy will help you craft brands that strongly resonate with the contexts in which these brands wish to make a meaningful and differentiating impact.
On a personal note, I was struck with severe tinnitus already at the age of 17. As the initial trauma had somewhat subdued, this handicap became a door-opener into heightened empathy for others with limitations in life. From that day onward, I have been looking at people differently. And many open up and tell me about their personal traumas, which allows me to learn about an ever-growing array of situations and to be able to feel what others feel.
My point is not that everyone needs to experience a personal trauma, but I think it does affect your mindset quite a lot, paving the way for increased empathy. Most importantly, by opening up and sharing intimate stories with one another, your mind is continuously expanded and you learn more about life outside your immediate surroundings.
Having been in branding for the past 14 years has provided me with a large number of opportunities to learn about so many different fascinating contexts that I knew nothing about beforehand. Approaching these brand engagements equipped with an open mind and a strong sense of empathy has helped me arrive at an intimate understanding of the given challenge and to define brand content that resonate well with key stakeholder segments.
One very fascinating brand engagement for the world’s largest crane manufacturer took me to the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal in New Jersey – one of the busiest ports in the world – where I had the chance to get to know the different on-site roles working with container handling at one of the major port operators. I had lunch with a few foremen at an old-school mafia-style New Jersey eatery. They told me a bunch of vivid stories about life in the port (including the slightly surreal The Wire-style mob activities going on down there). By leveraging empathy, their stories and all the impressions I got during my stay gave me a rich understanding and feeling for the context they were in. This was yet another illuminating experience as an empathy-oriented brand strategist.
Empathy is the finest and most important skill of a brand strategist. Make sure to work everyday at honing it and leveraging it to its fullest in your brand engagements.
Image source: marleneangeja