Rob Volpe on the danger of too much empathy [Part 1 and 2]

Rob Volpe, CEO, Chief Catalyst, and Empathy Activist at Ignite360 and author of the book, Tell Me More About That: Solving the Empathy Crisis One Conversation at a Time, recently joined our podcast. He spoke with us about empathy, not only covering the importance of being empathetic and its various aspects but also the dangers of empathy. He ties the concept back to brands and how consumers are looking for empathy from them – through both talk and action – and how brands can find the touchpoints where they can interact with their consumers on this level.

He starts by reinforcing that performative empathy from brands is not enough – people want authentic, genuine empathy that shows they are understood.  “It all boils down to the fact that people want to be seen, they want to be heard and brands have a role in helping people feel that way.” He gives some examples of how brands can show empathy through various actions, like marketing campaigns, customer service, business practices and more – but cautions that there must be a balance between making audiences feel supported and doing what is best for the business.

In one brand empathy example, Rob talks about the recent Bud Light campaign featuring influencer Dylan Mulvaney. He says, “they're emphasizing being true to yourself, something that resonates with everybody - being authentic, being real, being your true self that.” We actually invited Rob back onto the podcast for another episode to talk more about this ad after the beer company pulled it due to backlash. He covers several more brand “empathy” examples during our chat, including ones that had unexpected consequences, noting that there are dangers that brands will overstep and alienate or disappoint some of their audiences. He notes that harnessing empathy in a constructive way can be tricky, but that empathy is absolutely necessary for success and to remain competitive. NOTE: When we recorded this episode, the Bud Light inclusivity campaign was still in market. Soon after we released this episode the campaign was pulled. We then recorded a follow-up episode to discuss the matter further. The episode is below.

He talks about some research that his company has done surrounding consumer concerns and how they rank the challenges/issues they are facing today. The data showed, in part, the appearance that empathy is on the decline or at the very least that those who are empathetic are not taking the spotlight. This led into a deeper discussion about Rob’s book, empathy is severely lacking in the world right now, the appearance of it anyway. He talks about the five steps he covers in the book including: Dismantle Judgment; Ask Good Questions; Actively Listen; Integrate into Understanding; and Use Solution Imagination. He talks in detail about these steps and what they mean.

As for market research, it has a big role to play in this conversation. Rob says as a researcher you have to practice empathy on multiple levels: with your stakeholder – such as your marketing manager or company leadership – and also with the consumer, overcoming barriers that are keeping you from empathizing with them. Researchers can utilize the five steps as tools to see where the disconnects might lie.

We close out the conversation talking about balance between being respectful and authentic with being overly empathetic. He talks about considering conducting an “empathy audit” and see the role of empathy as compared against the business needs and business situation/challenge. Rob says, it is “really important for brands to have honest conversations internally with themselves, ask their agency partners ‘how are we doing’” to make a start toward creating “a culture of empathetic understanding and connection.” It is critical that audiences feel supported, heard and helped in order to build loyalty.

No Comments Yet

Let us know what you think

Subscribe by email