Empathy

In the fall of 2015 when I had moved home from Boston, my mom told me our very close family friend was sick.

Photo by Kayleigh.

“Sick with what” I asked

“Just sick” she responded.

***

He was our neighbor growing up, the father of my childhood best friends. Our families became inseparable, where all of us kids would eat, swim, and breathe together in the summer months. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child” – this was the village and we were the children. He was the neighbor that walked my crying brother home to my mom when he fell and busted his chin open at six years old. He helped me to install shelves into my room when I was eleven and needed to “reinvent my room”. He was the neighbor that gave out full-size candy bars on Halloween and always gave my brother and I two instead of one. We were lucky to have him in our lives.

As us kids got older, we all found our independent friend groups but never lost touch, our parents all remained especially close. His son and I had a joint high school graduation party at their house because it made sense: we were family.

We didn’t know it at the time, but he was sick with Lou Gehrigs disease. Also known as ALS, it’s a rare, nervous system disease that weakens muscles and eliminates physical function. His sickness was devastating to all of us. My mom cut back her hours at work to be one of his full-time caregivers, helping him to live his most comfortable life and assist in his everyday activities.

After a day of being with him, my mom came home crying. I sat with her and tried to gently figure out what happened.

“I tried to shave his face today,” she began. “It was… so hard. I felt like I was hurting him, I think I may have accidentally cut him a little” she cried again. This everyday activity that used to be easy for him now became a pain point.

***

Earlier last week I saw a tweet that left me breathless. It was from Gillette, and it showed a razor that was specifically designed to shave someone else. The Gillette Treo read,

“Together we can provide a great shave for those in need”.

The Treo razor has unique features like a disposable blade after one use to reduce infection, a safe shave head to prevent cuts, and shave gel built right into the handle. Simple improvements built into a universal product to change someone’s life, and it was designed through empathy.

It’s become common for brands to utilize empathy to enhance marketing and product development. Instead of buying into a brand, the brand buys into you, taking a special interest to recognize what your need states are, pain points, and where your moments of joy come from. When companies work through empathy, they create meaningful products that positively exist within consumers lives. While sympathy looks at your shoes and feels sorry for you, empathy looks at your shoes, tries them on, and walks miles in them to understand how you feel. Empathy doesn’t sympathize with you, it identifies with you- it feels you. When marketers understand their consumers to the point where they ache when you ache- the entire tone deviates. Empathy marketing creates a different kind of consumer value, one that changes lives and evokes change.

***

When you have the privilege to help someone when they need it most, you search for things that make life as normal as possible. Sometimes these things can be a favorite meal after a bad day, a car ride to a familiar destination, and sometimes, it’s a razor. There must be some kind of oxymoron in the idea that a sharp tool used for cutting could provide someone with so much comfort. I think about the Treo razor and how it would have made him feel, how it would have made my mom feel, knowing that he could get the simplicity of a clean shave.

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3 Comments

  1. Wow. I just can’t imagine any company that wouldn’t want you on board if this is how you think about the relationship between products, profits, and people. In my life, I have been so skeptical of advertising and for-profit companies that claim to put human needs at the core of what they do, but you demonstrate that profit and people could potentially work together to make the word more humane. Really intrigued and thinking deeply about your work!

  2. I remember seeing a commercial for the Treo Razor and I was blown away by what an amazing concept it was. I was moved by the commercial and idea of making that task a bit easier on everyone involved. I am now even more impressed by your ability to share the product with a connection to your own life and an description of ways in which the marketing on the product is more than for just the product itself.

  3. This is an extremely touching story. It really drives home that a marketing campaign can really be personal and meaningful. We often think of marketing as a sales game to increase our profit, but we often forget the most vital aspect: we are all human. Even adding the littlest bit of empathy into a marketing campaign can change a one time customer into a lifelong customer. Thank you for sharing your personal experience of empathy marketing. Hopefully, more marketing campaigns can make a difference in peoples lives for the better.

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