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Cognitive Empathy is the First Secret to Successfully Marketing to A&D Specifier

June 26, 2017

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a hot topic in marketing. EQ refers to a person’s ability to recognize and understand their own feelings as well as the feelings of others around them and how to adjust thinking and behavior based on emotional signs. The foundation of EQ is empathy, and a deeper understanding of empathy can help to create more informed marketing strategies and tactics.

In his seminal book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman defined three types of empathy that impact emotional intelligence and human interaction: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and compassionate empathy.

Cognitive Empathy

It’s tempting to think of empathy as understanding how someone feels, but as Goleman points out, empathy starts with understanding how someone thinks. Cognitive empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective, including how they think.

Cognitive empathy is essential in sales and marketing, especially in the building and construction industry where there are numerous people influencing product specification. Architects, designers, contractors, subcontractors, building owners, dealers, and code officials, just to name a few, all have some influence over product selection and specification. As marketing and sales professionals, it is important that we seek to understand how each of these individuals think and adjust our strategies and messages accordingly.

The specifier, in particular, is someone we’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand in order to help our clients tailor their marketing and sales methods in a way that influences specification. For instance, a specifier doesn’t think in terms of isolated solutions, they think in terms of “the system,” and understanding these thought processes and perspectives can improve the odds of specification.

Emotional Empathy

Many marketers and agencies in our industry tend to jump straight to emotional empathy, almost entirely bypassing cognitive empathy. Emotional empathy includes understanding how someone feels. For example, focusing on an architect’s or designer’s aversion to risk and helping them feel better about a product choice is a form of emotional empathy, but if it’s not rooted in a full understanding of the thinking that lead to that emotion, its effectiveness wanes.

Compassionate Empathy

The third form of empathy is compassionate empathy. This is where you express concern for an impending issue and seek to help that person in some way. New code restrictions, for example, or tighter health product declarations might trigger a need for compassionate empathy. Compassionate empathy is consultative and can also include helping people do better in the midst of existing chaos, confusion or disruption. Similar to emotional empathy, compassionate empathy depends on first understanding how your audience thinks and feels.

Empathy and Building Product Personas

Developing and analyzing decision-maker and influencer personas can help sales and marketing teams better understand the A&D audience. Building a persona offers a critical snapshot representative of a person’s thinking, perspective, behavior, patterns, needs, goals and motivations. Personas that are tailored to specific product categories and take into consideration how that product is specified, work better than generic personas.

For over 20 years, we’ve been helping our clients understand the role of the architect, designer, dealer, distributor, contractor, building owners and occupants in relation to the design of commercial and residential spaces. A deeper understanding and empathy for each influencer’s role can help streamline messages, campaigns, product pitches, advertising and more. For more information on understanding the specifiers’ perspective or creating personas based on your products, give us a call. We can tailor your personas and create hyper-targeted presentations to help your sales and marketing teams be more effective and empathetic when approaching potential clients.


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