Empathy-based research is a critical building block for developing products or services that meet consumers’ wants, needs, and desires. When teams prioritize empathy as a pillar of a research framework, they help team members recognize and mitigate their own biases and filters. With this view, teams can develop a deeper understanding of the world from their customers’ point of view. While market, client, and consumer needs shift, teams dedicated to an ongoing program to learn and hone their skills are rewarded with consistently better research insights to power their activation planning.
The important role empathy plays in delivering successful research.
Advanced empathy skills help teams conduct more meaningful research. They can develop better survey questions, demonstrate a deeper understanding of shared feelings with consumers during interviews, and establish connection and trust for ethnographic research.
Mastering empathy skills requires training and practice, and the first step individual team members can take is developing a sense of self-awareness. By examining their own identity and positionality, team members build on their ability to understand where they sit in terms of privilege and power. For instance, a researcher who holds a position of power or privilege may unconsciously overtalk, interrupt, or appear dismissive to the interviewee, diminishing the potential for insightful responses by making the interviewee feel unheard and devalued. Empathy training helps researchers know how to bridge gaps in a variety of situations.
The next essential step for researchers is taking the time to build knowledge about the history and context of the community being studied. Understanding the social, cultural, economic, and political factors that shape the population’s behaviors, values, and beliefs enable researchers to develop relevant and sensitive research questions and methods, which can lead to more accurate and meaningful data. Without this context, researchers risk misunderstanding the population they’re studying and may misinterpret the data.
Empathy development fosters richer data analysis by helping teams acknowledge that different people may interpret the same data in different ways. Building skills to understand interpersonal perspectives is critical to developing a comprehensive interpretation of the findings.
Empathy development fosters richer data analysis by helping teams acknowledge that different people may interpret the same data in different ways. Building skills to understand interpersonal perspectives is critical to developing a comprehensive interpretation of the findings.”
Empathy training leads to better research and activation outcomes.
Rich and authentic input gives brand teams the data insights they need to develop meaningful activation plans. Centering the focus on making your subjects feel welcome and comfortable gives them room to open up and provides insights teams can use to build robust programs. Research teams that lead with empathy are able to:
- Build brand trust. When consumers feel understood on a personal level, they are more likely to trust and engage with your brand.
- Develop campaigns that resonate. A deeper understanding of what consumers want helps teams create campaigns that resonate with consumers’ values, motivations, and needs.
- Create strong targets. When you listen to consumers, they’ll tell you how they want to interact with your brand – listening is the key to building strong targets.
How to recognize bias and filters to improve research methods and insights.
Biases and filters in research are preconceived notions or beliefs that researchers may hold about a certain topic or population which can lead to a skewed interpretation of the data. Filters are the lenses through which researchers perceive and process information. These can include factors such as personal experiences, cultural background, and assumptions about the population being studied. These factors can be problematic in cross-cultural research, particularly when researchers have limited knowledge about the culture they are working with.
Building a knowledge base about the people or community under study gives researchers more tools to identify potential biases and filters that may influence the research team’s approach to the study and interpretation of the data.
Practice in small groups gives teams an opportunity to build skills.
It can be difficult for individuals to recognize subtleties in their behavior that might have an impact on research subjects. Training in small groups gives researchers an opportunity to work in a safe space to develop an awareness of their privilege and power so they can take steps to mitigate its impact during research. In small-group sessions, team members or classmates can practice being mindful of their tone, learn about body language, and explore how language choices might impact respondents. The goal is to develop the knowledge and skills needed to create a safe and respectful space for the interviewee to share their authentic and valuable insights.
Empathy skills become even more critical when teams conduct ethnographic research. To get the most from the rich experience of immersing oneself in a person’s home environment, brand teams must invest time in acquiring knowledge about the people and community they’re examining, and the cultural expectations and etiquette that will foster a successful visit.
By investing the time in developing new approaches to their work, teams can gain meaningful insights and build trust with the community they are working with, ultimately leading to more effective research outcomes.”
During empathy training, teams practice and hone critical skills.
Developing active listening skills and learning how to reflect on biases during fieldwork and analysis are critical for researchers and brand teams. Building these skills requires a willingness to listen and learn, and the ability to put aside preconceived notions about consumers. It’s not always easy, but when teams build empathy with their customers, they create a foundation for long-lasting relationships and sustainable growth.
We recently launched a program to help brand and research teams build skills around the following areas:
- Understanding the ethnographic/Immersive approach – Exploring the history, ethics, and best practices for this type of research.
- Practicing reflexivity – How to address and mitigate “othering” through self-reflection.
- Empathy – Understanding and practicing empathic listening in research.
- Rich Points – Identifying moments where culture is revealed through discomfort, taboos, and misunderstandings and using them to deepen analysis.
- Best Practices for Qualitative Research – Specific methods moderators and client team members can adopt to enhance their research.
- Telling an empathy story – Team building through creating and presenting empathy stories.
Investing in your teams will enrich your research opportunities.
Empathy is a crucial component of cross-cultural research. It requires all team members to approach their work with an open mind and a willingness to understand the experiences and perspectives of the population being studied. By investing the time in developing new approaches to their work, teams can gain meaningful insights and build trust with the community they are working with, ultimately leading to more effective research outcomes.
Want to talk about a tailored program to help your team develop deeper empathy skills?