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Practicing Empathy Marketing

(October 2012) posted on Tue Sep 18, 2012

"You must be able to recognize that customers often don’t fully understand their own needs simply because they don’t know that alternative products and procedures exist."

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By Craig Miller

Innovating solutions
Customer misdirection is perhaps most apparent in the tradeshow industry. Not too long ago, most large tradeshow booths were built from plywood-skinned, wood-framed “hard wall.” If you were going to go after a customer’s tradeshow graphics business, then your role was to print vinyl that covered the walls. The hard-wall booths were not only expensive to build, but weighed a ton, which meant exorbitant costs for shipping and storage.

Then, about 15 years ago, industry innovators empathized with tradeshow customers and developed a more cost-effective solution – and the first fabric-tensioning systems were born. With aluminum tubing used to form the shape, fabric was tensioned to create solid-looking walls. The booths now cost less to build, to ship, and to store. Walk any tradeshow floor today and tension fabric is everywhere.

For a recent customer that regularly ships booths to Europe, we developed a system to rent truss in Germany, England, and France, and then developed fabric-tension systems for the specific truss configurations using CAD drawings. Now, we ship that customer’s booth graphics by air in two plastic bins for only a few hundred dollars – not hundreds of thousands. The graphics arrive in days, not weeks, and look great. We have reduced their total costs of European booths by up to 80 percent. Why didn’t they just ask for this in the first place? Because they didn’t know the option existed.

Empathy pays off
The best reward from utilizing empathy marketing has been that our favorite and long-term customers have come to depend on and seek out our empathy – separating us from our competition. We’ve become a part of our customers’ planning teams for events and projects. The process has also completely eliminated bidding from the sales process because we’re no longer selling a commodity – we’re selling solutions.

All of our staff members now know the importance of studying the customers’ business models, and they always ask questions and listen regarding the customers’ experiences with digital printing, marketing, and display graphics. We encourage our staff to read the trade magazines, go to the tradeshows to see what is new in the market, and to set up meetings with manufacturers of media and equipment to stay knowledgeable about their latest offerings. Our staff also makes it a habit to suggest new products and service offerings to our company principals when they become aware of a customer’s needs. When all of these elements are in place, our team can effectively apply empathy marketing, improve our customer relationships, distinguish the company from competitors, and grow the business.

Craig Miller is a principal shareholder in Las Vegas-based Pictographics, ( where he is also director of military and law-enforcement projects, the company's defense-contracting division.