Back in 2004, Dove did something that was almost unheard of: it stopped using supermodel-like women in their advertisements, replacing these models with “real women.”

This Real Beauty campaign had a simple mission: to make women feel comfortable in the skin they are in and to create a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety.

With one simple decision, Dove – an international brand – acknowledged a reality that their customers already knew: all women don’t look like fashion models.

This display of empathy didn’t just help Dove grow its customer base, but it also made these customers build a stronger bond with the brand.

That’s the power of empathy, and that’s exactly what your business can do. And, as a multi-local organization, you benefit from being able to incorporate aspects of empathy to your customers on a hyper-local level.

Understanding the power of empathy in your marketing

communityWhen a brand incorporates empathy into its marketing strategies, what it’s doing is validating its customer base. The more validated a customer feels the deeper a relationship that customer will build with the brand.

Deeper relationships lead to repeat purchases, loyalty, advocacy and, potentially, the level of brand evangelist (a customer who actively promotes and markets your brand).

A brand will fail to cultivate this type of relationship because:

  • They don’t truly know their customer or his needs, beyond just the basic demographic snapshots and superficial anecdotes.
  • While multi-location organizations often seek out customer feedback within each location, often times this feedback isn’t truly interpreted.
  • Companies will fail to communicate to their customers when and where these customers are ready to receive these messages.

So how can your multi-location organization establish a marketing strategy steeped in empathy for each of your individual locations?

To begin with, look no further than the workforce

waitstaff-customersWhile it’s important to understand your customer a base, a good place to begin to get a clearer picture of the nuances of each individual location is with your existing workforce.

The employees and managerial staff at each location most likely hail from the surrounding community. Consider making it a part of your onboarding orientation to survey or interview new employees. Ask them not only why those chose to work with your organization but whether or not they shopped with you before:

  • If they have been a customer, ask them why they shopped with you, when, and what drew them to you in the first place.
  • If they haven’t been a customer, ask them why they never needed your product or service. Find out if there are other competitors in the area who are stealing your market share.

You’ll find your employees will be more willing to share this type of information with you when compared to customers and prospects.

Survey and talk to your customers (and non-customers)

friends-referralsThat being said, you simply cannot afford to not survey your existing customers. The questions you ask these customers will help you understand their pain points, their motivations to make conversions, as well as their opinion of your brand’s standing in the community.

What we see many organizations do is spend an incredible amount of energy developing the type of surveys designed to yield incredible results, but then they fail to invest that same level of commitment to deciphering the responses.

What good is a survey if all it does is collect dust somewhere in your corporate offices?

Before you conduct a survey, make sure that you have a plan and schedule in place for pouring over the responses. You want to walk away from this exercise with a firm understanding of who your customers are, what they think, and how your brand can make them feel a little better about their lives.

Beyond surveys, it’s also not a bad idea to conduct periodic interviews. The anecdotal responses you’ll receive will help personalize your data, but it’s also good to get your managerial staff engaged in conversations with the local community.

One trick we suggest is to take your surveys and interviews outside your store location. Remember, your goal is to establish an empathetic message that hits home for an entire community; it only makes sense that your managers attend community-based events to not only promote your brand but to take the pulse of community members in their natural environments. This might include attending school sporting events, fundraisers or setting up a table outside the town square.

Develop a unifying empathetic message, but tailor it to each location

surveyOne of the challenges multi-location brands face in marketing is creating a personalized message to each location that also adheres to the unifying message that represents the entire organization.

The most effective way to accomplish this (in terms of adding empathy to your marketing) is what we call a backwards-design approach. Rather than develop your organization-wide empathetic message and then finding ways to make it fit across your locations, first gather the anecdotes, data, and survey results of your local customers and prospects.

You can then find common themes and patterns across your various locations, and use these commonalities to develop your unifying empathetic message.

This backwards-design approach ensures your message is organic and speaks to the hearts and minds of your consumers, rather than sounding like a forced message by a faceless brand out of touch with its customers.

Empathy gives you the ability to connect with customers across all your locations

One of the advantages of multi-location brands is the ability to reach a wider audience with a consistent, recognizable name and product/service.

But this familiarity can only take you so far. In order to establish the type of relationship that encourages repeat customers and brand loyalists, your organization needs to look at implementing empathy at the corporate level, and then differentiate the messaging throughout each location.

When the prospects in your communities feel like your brand “gets and validates them,” you’re on your way to developing a devoted customer base.