Start with Empathy: Design a Brand with People at the Center

Feb 9, 2018 9:30 AM ET

To stay relevant in a world of limited resources and mounting concerns, brands cannot simply show up and sell more stuff. Like never before, consumers expect brands to make their lives better. Doing so means understanding consumers’ struggles, needs and aspirations and addressing the issues that matter to them in meaningful ways.

A fundamental design principle in divided times is to start with empathy and listen to what people are feeling and what they desire for their lives. Empathy is fundamentally about respect. When was the last time you truly listened? When people feel ignored, or when their basic human needs are not being met, it is time for brands to start listening.

Brand relevance starts with a human truth that shines through in every business decision, product design and marketing program. To remain relevant in times of dynamic change, winning brands are honoring both the conflicts and the aspirations of consumers’ life experiences and are showing up in honest and authentic ways.

Real Talk

In light of the deep ideological divides in our politics and culture, Heineken challenged conventions with “Worlds Apart,” a campaign based on the human truth that beneath the surface we are more alike than we are different. Using the beer’s role as a social lubricant, Heineken invited people with opposing views on issues like transgender rights and feminism to sit down together, have a beer and really talk. With real people and an unscripted setting, the resulting interactions made for a powerful story that reveals how we are more than what you see on the surface. Opening a cold one also cracked open the door to the kind of honest and respectful dialog the world needs.

Parents and Partners

Understanding the daily realities of parenting young children led Plum Organics to create an off beat ad campaign that took an unexpected approach to selling baby food. Their “Do Your Partner” platform invited parents to have more sex, since the latest social science research shows that happy, healthy parents means happy, healthy kids. As a brand built by parents, for parents, Plum understood that we all want to be great parents, yet that also means being great partners. By creating an open dialog about the real (sex) lives of parents, the brand gives us permission to let go of trying to be perfect, to have a laugh, and find a true ally along the journey.

Home Life

Recognizing the humanity inside every home, IKEA created “Where Life Happens,” a campaign that portrays the real – and sometimes complex – life moments that happen at home from divorce to adoption to a father struggling to communicate with his teenage daughter. IKEA designs their affordable furnishings to help meet life’s challenges and changes – the good, the bad and the in between – and the campaign reinforces the fundamental idea that IKEA is there to help you make a home no matter the circumstances.

By seeing the humanity in our customers’ lives, and not simply studying consumption habits, we reveal deeper truths, unleash more value and build more meaningful relationships that endure.

For more design principles, global consumer insights and inspiring brand examples, click here to download BBMG and GlobeScan's full report, Brand Purpose in Divided Times.