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Time to add empathy to your dashboard

How insights professionals can navigate uncertainty in times of crisis.

Let’s face it. There is no such thing as a ‘’new normal’’. We are in the midst of a historical period of disruptive change.

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Even when the coronavirus pandemic is under control in a few months, the consequences will fundamentally affect organizations for an extended period.

What does this mean for the strategy and insights function at corporations, governments, and NGOs? What can they do to increase resilience and spot opportunities and trends in a continuously changing landscape?

Coping with crises

The Kübler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief, explains various reactions to crises and coping with loss. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross describes critical elements in dealing with grief, such as information and communication, emotional support, and guidance and direction. Although heavily debated, because the phases do not necessarily occur in the same order, the model describes stages of denial, followed by anger, depression, bargaining, and a period of acceptance and moving on. All these elements are present in situations of grief, and people can often move between these stages.
To some extent, all people in the midst of the pandemic and lockdowns are going through the pressure cooker of these elements, at the personal, organizational and societal level. Lives are disrupted due to illness or a tragic loss of a loved one, jobs are at stake, perspectives diminish, there is time stress due to combining work and educating children, life priorities change, people are not able to visit the elderly, travel plans and study plans change, economic crises loom and so on. And the same is true at the organizational level. Organizations cannot wait for waters to clear up.
So what does all this mean for the strategy and insights function of organizations? Naturally, insights professionals and strategists help increase understanding and put the best plan in place. When the water is stirred, the pond becomes cloudy. When a sense of stillness returns, the water becomes clear again. But that’s not how organizations should work. The insights professional should stay ahead and can do much better than just wait for a ‘’new normal’’ to occur. With ingenuity and foresight, insights professionals can dig deeper and find solid ground. Waiting until waters clear up again makes no sense if you want to stay ahead in the current market economy. You have to act fast and choose a steady course based on intelligent entrepreneurship.

Intelligence must be sided by empathy
in order to guide successfully.

Evolutionary theory states that the most adaptive of species succeed in overcoming the most severe challenges and crises. Humans are the most intelligent species on earth. We are able to thrive in the harshest of circumstances and environments. However, intelligence alone is not enough for getting through the crises in good shape. People can only succeed by working together. The pandemic can only be overcome by collective action. Therefore, intelligence needs to be sided by another unique human capacity.

In times of crisis the capacity for empathy is increasingly important for brands and organizations. Humans are able to step into the shoes of other people. Most of them are willing to follow guidelines because they see that they are part of a bigger community.

They have the capacity for doing good and contributing to a larger cause. Empathy is even more relevant for offering emotional support and guidance in the disruptive times people from all around the world are experiencing. This is why many brands and NGOs decided to stop their campaigns and are fundamentally rethinking their strategy. Many old campaigns simply do not make sense anymore. And this should not only be about ’finding the “new normal’’, but about digging much deeper and connecting with basic values. For example, for many brands and campaigns it now makes no sense to focus on risk taking, status, displaying large group gatherings or promoting freedom, as the Zeitgeist is different and the need for security and belonging have become more important to many people. For example, when we use the Glocalities survey data for deeply understanding people who value empathy, it becomes clear that they are attracted to values cards such as wisdom, sharing, harmony and compassion (see below). Specific immaterial values are important to this group of people, which may be present among your organization’s consumers, donors or among relevant groups of citizens.

Changing values, a larger purpose
and the need for social intelligence.

Organizations that look ahead understand that, for coping with crises, the strategy and insights function has a vital role to play.

Both functions are pivotal for staying ahead and guiding your organization through challenging times with strategic and practical insights. Looking through the rear view mirror won’t work for navigating the current disruptions.
There is no recent past that can point the way ahead anymore. All organizations that depend on people (be it as consumers, citizens, donors or volunteers) are forced to make clear choices in order to prioritize audiences, sectors and markets to focus on for securing resilience and future growth. A refined and panoramic overview of human motivations, cultures and your brand or charity in relation to the pandemic is pivotal.

So what changes are happening
below the surface?

Our recent trend research into changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic in China and the Netherlands indeed shows that values are shifting. People are increasingly focused on etiquette and taking precautions. They focus on vitality and are more and more critical of selfish and individualist behaviours.
There is a rise in trust in civil servants and education. People value health workers, the heroes of these days.

Trust in science is rising, as well as a new sense of collectivism. There is an increased importance of social responsibility of companies. People want billionaires who have profited most in from the global economy to step in and contribute their fair share. Governments that help companies stay afloat are demanding from them to act sustainably and responsibly.

For effectively tapping into current trends the social and psychological antenna of the strategy and insights professionals of  corporations, governments and NGOs is of vital importance. Instead of merely focusing on the product or service at hand, larger, human-centred and societal perspectives need to be incorporated as well. Organizations need to navigate through and be aware of audiences profiles and sensitivities. In times of crisis, social intelligence is at least as important as business intelligence.

How to integrate empathy into your insights position

The question is how to effectively integrate and ‘’add’’ empathy to the strategy and insights position within your organization. Firstly, it requires to look at consumers, citizens, donors and volunteers the way they are: people in all diversity.

This requires the ability to empathize and step into other people’s shoes, to segment, differentiate and think in a holistic fashion. Secondly, insights professionals need to be able to zoom in and out for detecting societal trends and joining the dots. They need to be able to understand and work with cultural and values differences, as lots of these elements are mixed in the pandemic pressure cooker of these times. And thirdly, insights professionals need to be able to relate the Corona pandemic and effects directly to their brand values, propositions and communications, even if these brands and propositions do not have anything to do with health and disease. There will be no increased resilience or growth if you are unable to connect with audiences on a deeper level.

How to stimulate the right blend of
intelligence, creativity and empathy

Practically, strategists and insights professionals need to be able to zoom in on their target audiences and connect these audiences to brand values, types of messaging, storytelling, sustainability topics and product features in relation to the pandemic. They need to be able to step into the shoes of their audience and relate to worries, hopes and aspirations. If they don’t zoom in on their audiences, they won’t see the need for updated communications and risk a much lower return on investment from their campaigns.
Communicating based on gut feeling may have worked well during the ‘’old normal’’, but now we are living in totally different times with much more uncertainties ahead. It is much better to spend 10% of your marketing budget on obtaining solid insights that help you connect with your audiences and improve the effectiveness of the remaining 90%, instead of spending 100% of the marketing budget on untested activities that are only based on gut feeling.
For adding the capacity to empathize with very specific audiences to your dashboards, new tools are needed. Relying on traditional tracking research or measuring opinions without keeping an eye on the changing cultural and psychological context does not work any longer. To blend creativity, empathy and intelligence, strategic thinking needs to become holistic again, based on solid international data. The organizations that are most able to navigate audiences, needs and cultures in the midst of disruption will be the winners of the new era.
The new generation of strategy and insights professionals needs to have social intelligence insights at their fingertips, 24/7. At Glocalities we have been tracking trends, values and consumer behaviour since 2014, in more than 32 countries. We developed the World of Glocalities insights solution for our clients so they can stay ahead in these times and understand the rapid changes that pose new challenges to us all. Recently, we added a layer of new insights with respect to the coronavirus pandemic to our database. Do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to be inspired and try our World of Glocalities tool to boost empathy, creativity and improve your return on investment in connecting with audiences.

Martijn Lampert

Research Director

Martijn Lampert

+31 20 589 83 70

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