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There is an untapped opportunity to connect with your audiences now more than ever – and psychotherapy can help

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There is an untapped opportunity for brands, advertisers and marketers around the world right now: connecting with an audience that is still much wary of 'getting back out there' and to their old lives.

We've been living in a much more closed-up world for over a year, wary of our surroundings (well, most of us) and looking forward to the moment when things would open up again. Except once that moment came, here we are still – doubting that things are still as safe as they should be out there. This is the chance for brands and agencies to step in and start a conversation – to instil trust and positivity back in their beloved consumer bases. But what can brands do exactly to achieve that? And what does psychotherapy have to do with all this?

We reached out to Milan Kendall Shah, Senior Strategist at Wolff Olins, to learn more about such an intriguing topic for the future of marketing.

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Getting out there: What brands can learn from psychotherapy

For the past 18 months, people have been living much smaller lives, but as restrictions in many countries begin to ease, and the virus becomes less deadly, it seems that people’s appetite for ‘getting back out there’ hasn’t been as ravenous as expected

People live smaller lives when they’re in a negative headspace, and it’s no secret that our mental health has been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

More people are finding themselves with a world-view clouded by mistrust and apprehension. They tell themselves that the world isn’t worth the effort. Worse yet, that it’s stacked against them. 

Most consumers are still making tentative steps back out there, and a quick look at some principles of psychotherapy holds clues to how brands can encourage people to reintegrate, re-socialise and adventure once again. 

The opportunity for brands 

On the basis that spending time outdoors is good for our health, that meeting up with people face-to-face leads to more meaningful relationships, and that trying new things sparks our thirst for life. We must ask ourselves: how can we help people to get back out there? 

And more specifically, what can brands do - as influential and affecting forces - to help nudge people beyond the comfort and insularity they’ve become so accustomed to.

Lessons from psychotherapy 

1. Empathetic listening 

The concept of empathic listening is a great place to start. This technique involves structured listening and questioning that helps build relationships around a deep understanding of what is being conveyed, both intellectually and emotionally. As stated by author Stephen Covey, the problem with so many of our daily interactions is that “most people listen not with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” 

The implication here is that brands should be making less noise, and should instead spend more time and effort to understand how people are feeling. Just as people don’t like being lectured by others, brands should avoid the temptation to bombard people with calls to try and buy new things; guilt-tripping us into getting back out there.  

One of the world’s most prolific brands, Coca-Cola, credits their enduring success with listening to the customer. Justin De Graaf, their former Director of Data Strategy and Precision Marketing, captured this focus succinctly: “consumers do a great job of sharing their opinions with us, and that allows us to hear their voice and adjust our approach. We often talk about why we have two ears and one mouth – it’s better to listen more than we speak.”

By tuning into real-time sentiments, it’s easier to identify how products and services can genuinely help meet people’s needs; either on a micro level in terms of tailoring existing propositions to individuals in a way that’s best suited to them, or on a macro level in the form of new avenues for innovation. 

2. Thoughtful action 

By itself, empathetic listening often isn’t enough to help improve people’s psyches. Thoughtful action, however big or small, is a great tool for showing others you’ve been thinking of them and that they matter to you.

Rather than tokenistic discounts and promotions, brands should instead think about how to use the data at their disposal and their relationships with customers to provide an enhanced, thoughtful experience.

A brand that does this well is Spotify; who have recently been using their deep understanding of people’s musical preferences to send users personal messages from their most-streamed artists, including special invitations to attend their upcoming live concerts. 

Thoughtful actions make customers feel acknowledged and valued by brands, and can make the world feel a little more accessible.  

3. Incremental exposure 

People who experience psychological disorders need to ease back into life incrementally. Rather than facing an unnerving situation all at once, incremental exposure therapy ensures people can handle change at their own pace, leading to long-lasting psychological recovery. 

This is evidenced in the way that virtual reality has been increasingly used to help people with severe social anxieties to face their fear of social environments. The ability to control every aspect of a virtual world enables psychotherapists to design progressively more intense experiences; an approach proven to be significantly more effective than traditional methods. 

A brand that has done this well is Trading 212; one of the first platforms to open financial trading up to the mass market. Their ‘demo account’ feature allows new users to experiment with virtual money to understand the platform’s functionality, and experience the realities of trading first-hand without any risk. They also promote their ‘autoinvest’ feature which automatically invests a certain amount of your money per month on your behalf, to minimise stress and volatility. 

The lesson for brands is to give people more opportunities to dip their toe in the water. Encourage people to give your product, service or experience a go on their terms, in a way that they feel comfortable with. Then show them a little more. You might just be grateful in the long-run. 

With many still feeling clouded by the events of the past 18 months, brands have a huge opportunity to help nudge people back towards activities that once added value and meaning to their lives. Better yet, with empathetic listening, thoughtful action and incremental exposure, they can open up consumers to new experiences that will help reignite people’s thirst for life.

Milan Kendall Shah is a Senior Strategist at Wolff Olins.

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