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Empathy Briefs. The difference between great work and guesswork.

Written By Amber Breeden

August 29, 2019

Our CEO, Jon, recently wrote a blog post about the origins of the word empathy. The English word empathy was coined in 1909 as a translation of the German term Einfühlung, literally meaning “feeling into.” In Robert Vischer’s 1873 Ph.D. dissertation, he first used the term Einfühlung to describe our ability as humans to enter into a piece of art and feel the emotions the artist intended. In the early 20th century, the meaning of empathy focused on projecting one’s feelings and emotions into the world. Today, empathy has several different interpretations, including imagining oneself in another’s place, understanding another’s thoughts and feelings, and projecting oneself into another’s situation—the latter of which is the definition most closely related to the original.

People often confuse the concepts of empathy and sympathy. While empathy requires you to feel and experience emotion, sympathy merely requires that you recognize and acknowledge emotion. Sympathy is often a result of caring about another’s feelings, but it stops short of shared perspective and shared emotion, especially if that emotion is distress. And that shared perspective is the key difference.

So why does any of this matter? Because as marketers, we cannot expect to deliver what our customers need if we don’t know and understand them. We need to see their challenges from their perspectives if we want to create the best product or service to address those challenges. At More Vang, we put an enormous amount of time and effort into building empathy for our clients and their customers.

We cannot develop a brand if we don’t fully understand WHO the brand exists for and why they see or feel a need for it. If we don’t see the value, we can’t articulate it.

To achieve this level of understanding, we kick off most of our creative projects with an Empathy Brief. Traditional creative briefs are, well, brief. And there’s nothing wrong with that. By the time you give direction to your design and copy team, you should be able to answer those questions clearly and succinctly. The real work is in how you get to that point. 

Our creative team takes a deep dive into what makes our clients valuable by starting with their customers. We try to understand their motivations, challenges, likes, and dislikes. We talk to them, ask questions, do research, and ask more questions. We look at the history of the company and put in writing where they’ve been, where they are, and where they need or want to go. This may seem unnecessary, but you would be surprised how many companies don’t know their full history or realize they are on the wrong trajectory to reach their goals. Some don’t even know what their goals are, let alone how to get there.

It’s a time-consuming and exhausting process, but we believe so strongly in Empathy Briefs that we will not do a branding or strategy project without one. It’s how we do our best (and most effective) work. And, ultimately, it’s how we help our clients express their value and build belief.

To learn more about our Empathy Brief process and how it might help you clarify your company’s value, drop us a line.