Let’s admit it: branding strategies can be silently unethical. At some point in your branding process, you will be doing audience research, and more often than not, this revolves around emotional exploitation – tapping into their pain points or desires and using it to your advantage.
No matter the emotional intent when you envisioned your brand, it has to support the business it represents and the subsequent bottom line. The very act of branding uses intimate research to pander and empathize with a target to keep books in the green and the brand ego intact.
In psychology, empathy means being attuned to the thoughts and emotions of other people. Now, empathy combined with the 'dark traits' of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, is characteristic of the personality group called Dark Empaths.
Dark Empaths are able to understand emotions like an empath but are not emotionally affected by them. Having this combination allows one to get a grasp of others’ needs while at the same time, be able to exploit this information for their own purpose, without feeling conflict within their own beliefs.
That just seemed to perfectly describe what branding is. But it doesn’t sound so bad, right? It’s business as usual.
Convincing your consumers to spend their hard-earned money on your business entails an understanding of their specific attitudes, behaviors, and needs. Consumers want to feel that their identity and intentions align with yours.
To create this kind of connection, some brands might just ‘manufacture’ an image of themselves that is more strategic than genuine. Ultimately, brand building is centered on manipulating human psychology, creating perceived needs in consumers’ minds.
But building your business on something as temperamental as human emotions can make your brand unsustainable, if not forgettable. What might make consumers buy your products in a fit of passion today might have little impact on their sense of trust and loyalty for your brand.
In our years of brand work, we have yet to meet someone who envisioned their brand with the goal of exploiting consumers. More often than not, business owners genuinely believed that their brand provided a much-needed solution to a consumer problem.
Branding gives consumers the ability to make a clearer distinction between competing products and services. An established brand identity also makes room for responsibility and accountability over the quality of the brand, giving an insurance effect. Branding CAN benefit consumers.
At the end of the day, you are still putting in the effort to understand the thoughts and emotions of your target consumers. How you use this information is what draws the line between exploitation and being truly empathetic.
The fact remains that it’s highly effective for your business to build a brand that can empathize with your consumers.
Brand empathy goes beyond ‘understanding’ consumer needs and wants. It all goes back to establishing real connections – being able to show compassion and build relationships with your consumers even before and, way more so, after a sale. It requires a conscious effort to engage at every step of the consumer journey.
Ultimately, it’s the consumers that make or break your brand, and the earlier you acknowledge this and truly listen to them, the better for your business. Consumers today seem to have developed a stronger BS detector. While you can indeed use psychology to maximize your branding strategies, always remember to catch yourself if you’re starting to fall towards the path of the Dark Empath.
Starting a podcast sounds fun. Until the silence rolls in. Let's unravel where I went right and where I went so so wrong.