Empathy, What is it Good For?

Absolutely everything! Empathy, as a business concept, is emerging out of human centered design principles in the tech development world. We at Maru/Matchbox see empathy as a core pillar of the future of market research. Ready to hear why?

Great – let’s first start by defining what empathy means – “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” This definition is sourced from Google, where you can also observe a trend of this word being used more frequently.

An empathic approach involves a deep understanding of the challenges facing marketers and insight professionals in the 21st century. As technology has disrupted the market research industry over the past 10 years, most of the innovation has led to research that met demands for speed, but too often lacked strategic value. At Maru/Matchbox, we focus on retaining the speed benefits of technology solutions like insight communities, while adding outcomes-focused strategic value through sector-specific consultants that know how to apply these solutions to business questions.

It is important that the adoption of empathy to carry through to analysis and interpretation of data, so that the insights produced are based on a solid understanding of human emotions.

But, if empathy stopped there – it would all be for not! Perhaps the most important application of the empathy principle is in how the people that fuel our industry are treated. While many know these people as ‘respondents’, we like to simply call them people. People matter.

Our Chief Research Officer, Andrew Grenville, presented something of a manifesto at a recent industry meeting hosted by Netflix in San Jose. His findings point to what matters most to people participating in research is the participation experience and the value they derive from their time.

People’s expectations seem rather intuitive – they want an experience that is optimized for their device, respectful of their time, while being treated like an old friend (not a first time encounter on every survey). As researchers, we’ve naturally collected a lot of data to prove this is true, but adopting a principle of empathy and putting yourself in the shoes of a research participant will make these points obvious.

Meeting those expectations are table-stakes, to drive true engagement and collect meaningful data, researchers need to look beyond a monetary transaction. Meta-analysis on web research participation shows that a change in monetary incentive has little impact on participation rates. Our own research on our Market Communities’ (Springboard America and Angus Reid Forum) show that people participate for these reasons: to make a difference, be a trusted advisor, learn new things, be part of a community, and be a good citizen. This is at the heart of being empathetic – understand these desires, and then make sure every action you take leads back to delivering this to people willing to participate in research.

To wrap it all up – why is Empathy good for everything? Understanding people, whether they are research clients, consumers, or research participants, leads to better outcomes – better partnerships, better insights, and greater participation. The race to “fast and cheap” has left many researchers in a vulnerable place where the strategic value of deliverables is questioned and the quality of sample is questioned. The solution lies in being more empathetic in all that we do as researchers.