Empathy and your online identity

The greatest challenge on the Web in the twenty-first century is to connect with your target audience in a way that enriches both them and you. For that to happen, beyond the glitz and gloss of “professional” styling you have to connect at a level that is personal enough to dispel misunderstandings, overcome perception barriers, and create the kind of trust that produces long-term business relationships. 

How you do that exactly? This chapter examines some of the techniques, explains some of the tropes, and, above all, covers the one “secret ingredient” you absolutely need to have for total success in your Hangouts on Air.

How Do You Show You Care?

I don’t like army recruitment advertisements because they usually play on all our worst emotions. However, there is one from the 1990s that has always stuck in my mind for what I call the “sunglasses moment.”

The video sets up a “soldiers in foreign war zone” scenario, to show two groups of armed men, with a member of one group shouting agitatedly at the other and gesticulating with his AK47. Because this is a British Army recruitment video, obviously one group is British Army soldiers led by an officer; the other is an unidentified armed group. The scenario looks set for escalation and mayhem until the moment the British Army officer removes his sunglasses to make eye contact with his shouting counterpart.

At that moment a very human connection is made. The shouting dies down and the scene devolves from a high-tension moment to an anticlimactic situation of two people trying to understand each other. The video can be seen on YouTube here:

The point, made by the video incredibly well, is that eye contact is important. It is how we have been biologically designed to “assess” another person and the situation we are in. Many TV advertisements in the past employed the use of eye contact to connect with their audience in a way that engenders trust and makes the message more accessible.

As a technique this is so effective that it is still employed today, as shown in a government ad in Ireland, aimed at parents.

Irish Government Ad Employing Eye Contact
The use of eye contact in ads is the surest way, still, of capturing attention, “stopping” the eye long enough for whatever message the ad contains to work on the mind.

The “ploy,” if we can call it that, never seems to date. It is employed right across the board in advertisements that push anything from books and films to perfume and aftershave as we can see below.

Ads employ eye contact as a device
The use of eye contact appears to be a standard device used endlessly by the advertising industry for a very specific reason: because it works.

The reason all this is pertinent here is that ads are meant to do a very specific thing: communicate a message that helps us form a sense of identity and engender trust in a product. Funnily enough, this is also what Hangouts on Air can do for brands and businesses. But there is a difference here and it is an important one. Stills, images, and carefully controlled ads lack spontaneity and, in the days of social media, come tainted with the suspicion of the carefully staged “reality.”

Hangouts on Air, on the other hand, take place in real time. Even the most carefully scripted one has an element of interactivity that makes it totally unpredictable and that raises its value in terms of it being “real” and therefore more trustworthy. Above and beyond everything else we have covered here, this is the most important benefit.

This is the ultimate channel for the kind of relationship management that marketing researcher Patrick E. Murphy was envisioning when he wrote in a paper for the University of Notre Dame in Indiana: “[I] envision relationship marketing as passing through three stages: establishment, maintenance and reinforcement.” The name of the paper was “An Ethical Basis for Relationship Marketing: A Virtue Ethics Perspective.”

Hangouts on Air provide an unparalleled opportunity to establish a channel that helps initiate all three stages of relationship marketing. The reason it can become so effective lies in the disambiguation of intent that the direct contact with another person whose body language you can see and whose eyes can meet brings into the medium of communication marketing.

Suddenly, it is not just what you say but how you say it and to whom that makes all the difference. This takes “marketing”an activity that in the past was associated with mass media and mass communication and the“one size fits all” approach and makes it personal, personable, and human.

Framing the argument in an article in London’s premier marketing magazine, The Hub, Jason Sorley, shopper-marketing Director of Marketing Drive, wrote: “Only three percent of in-store marketing communications is currently passed and seen by shoppers, according to POPAI’s MARI project, conducted by Sheridan Global Consulting. So, the biggest barrier facing a brand’s point-of-sale is simply to get noticed. To look at the problem another way, consider that 97 percent of in-store communication is completely missed by shoppers.” And he concluded that “brands that empathize both rationally and visually get more attention at the shelf.”

We see here in this description a sudden alignment of aims. The ability to get noticed, which is what every company or brand wants, coincides with the ability to connect. And after a connection is made, after a brand is “talking” to its target audience, things change. Marketing is assessed in a different light. Purchasing decisions are made based on shared values and personalized messages.

Hangouts on Air are a unique medium in that respect: direct, subversive as far as sleek marketing traditions go, and disruptive in the transparency they create. In a “marketing” environment where a company or a brand uses a HOA to connect with its customers, it lays the organizational structure bare by showing its very human element: people talking to people. This establishes the fact that connections can only really be made by people with people.

This is as radical an approach as you might think it is. One that requires an equally radical rethink of how direct marketing is done, how video is employed, and how its impact is then linked to the generation of brand equity and sales. At its most basic a Hangout on Air, in its totality, should be the perfect answer to the question “How do you show you care?”

This is a question that traditional advertising has never asked, never mind answered. Brands and companies are great at projecting product value but very poor at communicating how they care. This is now changing, and there is one ingredient, indeed, just one, that is required to make every Hangout on Air a total answer to this simple question.

That ingredient is empathy.

Adapted from the book: Google+ Hangouts for Business: How to use Google+ Hangouts to Improve Brand Impact, Build Business and Communicate in Real-Time


Go Deeper: 

Intentional book by David Amerland The Sniper Mind by David Amerland
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