A Top 10 USA Business & Marketing Podcast
The Growth and Significance of Empathetic Marketing in Today's World

November 17, 2020

The Growth and Significance of Empathetic Marketing in Today's World
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In today's episode, host Ryan Alford and guest Mike Weston, Radical's Creative Director, chat about the growth and importance of empathetic marketing.

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Happy Tuesday, and welcome to another episode on THE RADCAST! In today's episode, host Ryan Alford and guest Mike Weston, Radical's Creative Director, talk about the traditional side of consumer relations and understanding your audience.

This episode highlights the importance of understanding and relating with your audience. Having a solid relationship with your audience is pivotal for marketers. Tap into the emotions of your audience. This doesn't mean make them cry. Empathetic marketing is bigger than that. Walk in the shoes of your audience, relate with them, and share content and information that will benefit them.

If you enjoyed this episode, share it on Instagram and tag us @the.rad.cast | Do you want to hear more from our host? - Give him a follow @ryanalford on Instagram. | Have a great week and we'll talk to you soon! #theradcast 


“It has to start somewhere. It has to start sometime. What better place than here? What better time than now?”

“You’re listening to the Rad Cast. If it’s Radical, we cover it. Here’s your host, Ryan Alford.”

Ryan Alford[00:00:23]Hey guys, welcome to the latest edition of the Radcast, an episode two years in the making, I might add. Mike Weston, good friend, creative director here at Radical. What's up, Mike? 

Mike Weston[00:00:37]Hey Ryan, it's a pleasure to be here. Finally. Took you long enough.

Ryan Alford[00:00:38]It's an open invite at all times, Mike. It's just a matter of fitting you on the busy Radcast schedule! 

Mike Weston[00:00:49]That's right. Because we're really busy on the Radical side. 

Ryan Alford[00:00:56]So how's life been treating you? 

Mike Weston[00:01:03] Good.Been really busy. A lot of stuff on our plates. Holidays are coming up, trying to get work done in advance of that. So we're fortunate, I know, in these times to be busy. A wacky, wacky world we live in.

Ryan Alford[00:01:20]So I know we're going to talk about and we joked a little bit pre episode, about how some things and marketing change, some things stay the same, but empathy and marketing and we'll get to that. But Mike people are starting to show us that our subscribers want to get to know Radical and our team and we certainly talk about some of the work. But I think it would be a good perspective to just start with. Like, let's do some bragging about some of your experience. I mean, let's talk about you in the ad business. You've been in the game a long time. We both have. You're beating me, but, 

Mike Weston[00:02:01]I'm still alive to be able to, 

Ryan Alford[00:02:03]But no, but for people listening, let's walk through your background in the ad business. I have been fortunate enough, at least I've been fortunate enough to work with you in a few agencies now. But, let's give people that perspective. I know you've been in the game a long time and you've seen a lot, done a lot and worked on some pretty impressive stuff and still doing it here at Radical. 

Mike Weston[00:02:28]Well, thanks for that. But, my career started in my hometown. I'm from New York City, born in the Bronx, raised in Westchester, and I attended the School of Visual Arts, graduated with a degree in advertising. And I was really, really fortunate to have landed that with an iconic agency, BBDO. It was a great place to start my career on Madison Avenue when a lot of agencies, BBDO, Doyle Dane, were still located on Madison Avenue. Now it's pretty much a word used to describe the business overall. But I was actually there and I was able to work on some really iconic brands early on. But I think the one that I'm probably most proud of being part of was Gillette. I was part of the Gillette team and understand teams were lots and lots of people because these accounts are so huge. But we were actually the team that developed and sold to the client and produced the early stuff for Gillette, the best a man can get. And we developed that saying ‘the best a man can get’ that they still use to this day. And I got to admit, I mean, it's been, I hate to say it, almost thirty years, but they're still using it. And that's iconic. And, I still admit, it's not that great. Honestly, it's not the greatest creative work in the world. 

Ryan Alford[00:04:22]But it's an iconic American brand. 

Mike Weston[00:04:24]And you say to people, Gillette, you're like ‘the best a man can get’. I was there. I was there. So I'm very proud of that. But I left BBDO after about four years. It's a long story. New York City was probably where it's at right now. A lot of people wanted to get out because it wasn't a great place to be. And I was offered a job in Detroit by WB Donor, which is another pretty well known agency, a lot of retail, a very intense environment, some would say sweatshop. It was, for me at that point of my life, single young. I lived for the business. That's all I wanted to do. And I didn't mind putting in the long hours and being able to produce an awful lot of broadcast, because that was my goal at that point, I wanted more broadcast. In a very, very short period of time, I had every intention of returning to New York City. But love intervened. And I met my wife who was a Michigan girl and who was also in advertising, did not did not want to return or did not want to live in New York. So since then, our journeys have taken us from Detroit to, believe it or not, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I worked for an agency called Lawler Ballard, which is a really great creative shop at the time and it was bought by Earl Palmer Brown. And then from there, we ended up in Louisville, Kentucky, at the oldest independent ad agency in the country. Even to this day, they're still independent, called Do Anderson and at Do Anderson, I was able to touch Maker's Mark, which is another great brand, but primarily Valvoline and specifically Valvoline. It's an oil change. And I was able to do a lot of really good work on that. After that, I was lured down here to Greenville, South Carolina, and I had a look on a map like that once. But I was pretty sure when I was a kid going to Florida on the west coast of Florida, I pretty sure we spent the night once in Greenville, 

Ryan Alford[00:06:33]Somewhere on the way to Florida or maybe close to Myrtle Beach. 

Mike Weston[00:06:36]Yeah, that's right. I was recruited down here by an agency called Irwin Pelman, which is now called EP and Co. and is really doing some really great work for some national brands. But that is where I met Ryan Alford. He was a young account exec on the Verizon account at that time. 

Ryan Alford[00:06:59]True statement. 

Mike Weston[00:07:01]True. But I was hired to work on a variety of other accounts that were not Verizon. Verizon was the huge account and Ryan was part of that team. And I was heading up as a Group Creative Director. I was heading up your tires, some other Michigan brands. And, it was great. It was a wonderful town. I think the city really attracted us. And Joe Erwin and Alan Bosworth and Gretchen Irwin were all really, really cool people. Honestly, I admire them to this day because they really started from nothing. They had all come from New York. Joe was from here.And Gretchen was from Lexington, Kentucky. Allen was 

Ryan Alford[00:07:52]He grew up in North Carolina. 

Mike Weston[00:07:53]I think it was Michigan. Yeah. Anyway, very smart people. And they were able to grow this agency into and into a player in the southeast. And I was there for about seven years and moved on to a couple of other shops. And then Ryan went on to return to New York. He did his stint in New York City, worked on Verizon and worked for Hill Holiday. Pretty crazy. And then fate would bring us back together. And we both worked for another shop for a little while down here. And then when decided to go out and start his own gig and we probably all know that story. But, I'm happy to say we're reconnected. We didn't work together much at Irwin Bauman, but we knew each other and stayed in touch. And now we've got this little, this agency called Radical, it's kind of gaining some momentum and, uh, hopefully will grow. And, I look to the Irwin Penland model because, again, Joe and Gretchen and Allen really grew that thing. And hopefully we do the same thing here. 

Ryan Alford[00:09:03]Yeah, I think we're headed in the right direction. And I think the work's been good. I think Mike has come on full time and is nurturing the team. And I think we're seeing the fruits of that with the work and the quality of it. We're working with small, medium brands, but those brands are growing both in number and size which I think a lot of agencies start in that model. 

Mike Weston[00:09:28]You start small and listen, we want our stake in the stand to be like a lot of agencies, hopefully, creative that makes a difference and stands out. Not necessarily wins awards, but gets results. And that's huge. It took me twenty five plus years to realize that it's not about the award book. It's about creating success for the clients. When you create success for the client, a great success for everybody in the agency. And then life is good. 

Ryan Alford[00:09:56]In this day and age. I feel like those worlds can coexist. The work being good and the clients being successful It may not always be as provocative as you want it to be potentially. But with social media and other channels, it's given, I think, fresh life to pushing the envelope a bit.

Mike Weston[00:10:16]I think so, too, and there's so many more tactics out there now to get the message out. But, again, it's like I've had to forget everything I learned in the first 25 years of being in this business with the advent of digital, basically being the medium of choice for most marketers and certainly most of our clients. But one thing has not changed. I'm convinced of this, and that is you still need to have a strategy. We still need to have a roadmap. And creative is still important. Again, I tell people this all the time, that the average consumer is exposed to over 8000 ad messages a day. If you live in a major metropolitan area, probably 10000. We don't even realize we're seeing ad messages, but they touch us all the time. And it's still a matter of breaking through that clutter. How do you break through? And creative is a big part of that.

Ryan Alford[00:11:10] Itis a huge part of it. And I think what's starting to come back to, I think people recognized it. And I've said this a lot, that the greatest denominator of success is the creative. It's like a lot of things are of the tactics are table stakes, but the creative is what ultimately breaks through and drives it. But I think where you're seeing a marriage is the creative has to come quick. That is not just because AEs like me, who used to bug the shit out of you. But it used to be not just because the AEs was being anal and wanted to get it done and want to please the client. And now it's because attention is so fleeting. The channels are so fleeting. 

Mike Weston[00:12:01]It's amazing. Everyone's got the attention span of a gnat, myself included. Yeah, it's very hard to get anybody to stop and really spend time with your messaging. And that's true for I think that's true for most agencies. I mean, of course, again, I mentioned the media tactics. You still have television. Although I discovered that the younger generations, my kids included, barely watch TV. I can't believe it. I cannot get my kids to sit down and watch something on Netflix with me. And they want to go upstairs and they want to lay in their bedroom. They want to look at their personal devices and do tick tock and everything else that their generation does. It's amazing. They don't read newspapers. Right? I mean, I know I still to this day, although I get most of my news from my news feeds on Google and Apple. I still love to turn a newspaper page, to read a paper, to read the printed word, the rustling of the paper. I still love that. But I recognize that there are very few people like me out there. And most of what we do we're not reaching them anyhow. 

Ryan Alford[00:13:13]Well, it's actually a good transition to kind of the topic, the juror, I think you've seen this bubbling up. I mean, in your LinkedIn feeds and you hear it within the industry is a buzzword, I think we'll talk about momentarily. In a way, it's the way brands should always be thinking. But this notion of empathy and marketing, especially with covid going on and everything that's happened that's really thrown, everyone's life is different -- thrown it for a twist from moms. They have to stay at home to dads that to stay at home to two kids being home all the time to just the realities of the economic impact, the social impact, the events. We can go on and on and on. But it has become more important than ever that brands think this way about their messaging. But what's been kind of your overall perspective on seeing that dynamic and I know you've you've seen the buzz word creeping into a lot of discussion. 

Mike Weston[00:14:14]Yeah, that's the other thing that's changed about this business is more buzz words. And I can keep track of the content. Content with it tends to be creative. Didn't there's not creative content, copywriting and an art direction design come together to create the concept content, content, content. I get it. It's much more than that. But, empathetic marketing is interesting. And I joke that I think we used to call it customer relations. You want you as a marketer, want you want to dwell in the hearts and minds of your customers and your audience. Right. And empathetic marketing should be ingrained into all your business strategies you want. It's not philanthropy, but it's certainly empathy before profit. It's connecting with customers on a positive level, not just because you want them to buy.

Ryan Alford[00:15:06]And so I think what's interesting, we were both, having done this a long time, somewhat cynical with the buzzwords, because it's at the end of the day as a brand and with anything that you any messaging or strategy is how do we want consumers to think, feel and act? If you're thinking through that lens, then in a moment when the consumer is in this, it's what's the insight about your target and what act and action do you want them to take? I feel empathy. Marketing Bisbal for the empathetic notion belongs in the insight of the consumer. Moms and dads are home. If you're Zoom or if you're a product that plays perfectly into this, the insight is the fact that people are home, they're using their house more like that's the insight as much as anything. 

Mike Weston[00:16:02]Yeah, it's funny. American greetings to did a really nice effort. It was essentially for Mother's Day. Obviously they sell greeting cards, but it was a job interview and it was people interviewing for the toughest job imaginable. And that job required that they work 24/7, that they work nights and weekends. These people were interviewing for this incredible job and they were serious about it. As it turned out, they were interviewing for a job as a mother, right. In American great as being apathetic towards moms. And we know what the hell you go through. You have an incredibly tough job and the spillover effect there is that kids make sure she gets at least a nice card on Mother's Day. 

Ryan Alford[00:16:49]Yeah, I love that. That is truly the brands that I think that are breaking through or the ones where the difference to me is the pandering, empathy versus the insight like what you just said there is the emotional tug of that of like playing into their mindset and being thoughtful in it. What I can't stand is, is the brands where you feel like it's complete pandering or like complete. We've suddenly taken on this cause like cause marketing, like that's not empathetic marketing. That's like I just see through that. Yeah, yeah. 

Mike Weston[00:17:25]No, you're absolutely right. It's funny because it reminds me -- I've worked on Scott Paper of BBDO and my partner and I back when we worked all the time as our director copywriter tips came up with something from Scott paper called Helping Hands. And now looking back on it, it's kind of like every time you buy a roll of Scott paper toilet paper, we're going to donate X amount to a child, a children's charity. I can remember what the charity was at this point. But now looking back on it, it was very disingenuous. Because it wasn't there wasn't a specific organization. We're just going to donate money to children's charities. And it seemed like a ploy to me, again, in hindsight to sell more toilet paper. So I think about something that's truly empathetic marketing that worked. And it wasn't that long ago, and I think it was this summer, Delta Airlines hundreds of flights were delayed because of storms. All right. And passengers are stranded on runways all over the place in Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Ohio, Kentucky. And Delta took the opportunity to actually order pizzas for I don't know if it was all the passengers on all the flights. But again, and certainly some of the markets, they had pizzas delivered. I don't know how they got through the TSA. Yeah, but they had them delivered to the planes. 

Ryan Alford[00:18:53]I love that.

Mike Weston[00:18:53]And they serve them pizza. And here's the thing. So apathetic marketing, customer relations back the day, whatever the heck it was me, it took literally days and weeks for that to get out. But this was getting out the news of Delta's benevolence. Or at least taking care of their customers got out immediately because of social media. Yeah, it was out there in a heartbeat. It was big news and a spillover effect. There is you know what? Not all airlines are uncaring and callous. 

Ryan Alford[00:19:32]I saw it is funny. You bring up Delta. I just read this last week. And I don't know if it was done by marketing or demand or whatever, but they are literally handing out the flight attendant's personal handwritten specific notes to everyone on the plane, like for flights that were over like three hours or something like that. The flight attendants were writing like, Mr. Harrison, I want to thank you for flying today. They are our service, our industry has been impacted heavily. You don't know how much we appreciate your willingness to continue to fly and how much it provides for our livelihood. I mean, go figure personal note,

Mike Weston[00:20:12]That demonstrates a company, Delta in this case or whether that 

Ryan Alford[00:20:16] Itwas Delta, same company, 

Mike Weston[00:20:18] Beautiful.Going above and beyond customer service, which again, you don't necessarily expect from airlines. 

Ryan Alford[00:20:23]But Delta has been there's always been, I don't know, higher kill for me. 

Mike Weston[00:20:32]They have. But they're demonstrating. They're empathetic side by truly caring for the customer. And that's what empathetic marketing is all about. 

Ryan Alford[00:20:46]And I think that's really the point that I think for consumers is like, there's certain things that we've talked about this on a few other episodes, like convenience rules, like a pack of gum in the line. Do they do sympathetic marking or how much money they gave to charity, or is it just convenient cuts in the store line? There's certain purchases. They're less considered than others, right? But for most things, when a brand truly cares is going out of the way, we all know we're in a capitalist country like people. No brands are in business for money. Go figure. I mean, after last looks and we might be headed for companies that although But anyway, the the point being, I think consumers know when when brands are making a true effort, 

Mike Weston[00:21:40]When it's genuine or when it's disingenuous. People are not fools. They absolutely know 

Ryan Alford[00:21:48]If you were a small business or brand and you might be listening or something like that, are there things or ways that you might would you feel like for I don't know, from someone in the creative side of things like that, they should I think about or consider in trying to do this more or better? 

Mike Weston[00:22:09]Well, I think first of all, they have to pay attention to their feeds. Yeah. And they have to act quickly and decisively when they do get a complaint or criticism. I mean, I've since I've seen some clients, some markets or some products who have clearly, clearly been slammed. And there's been no response whatsoever. Yeah. And I think that's the worst thing you can do. Airbnb to remember this, there was some discrimination. Some somebody had been legitimately discriminated against because of the color of their skin by somebody who was a doctor. That was suppose it was earlier this year, Airbnb. They had reserved a place. And the owner of the space, the room, the apartment discovered that they were African-American and they basically scared 

Ryan Alford[00:23:06]That shit even happens anymore!

Mike Weston[00:23:07]Yeah, it's disgusting. It shouldn't happen on the stage anyway, so. The guy consequently was refused his booking and he reached out to Airbnb and Airbnb, they could have sent him an error and moved on. But what they did is they not only got him another room, another place to stay. They also created an open door policy, basically as a result of this. So it's much bigger, just the one guy, because I think they're smart enough to realize it's probably happens a lot more than we think. So they can't change the minds of the person who refused the booking, although they can probably kick them out of Airbnb if I did. Hopefully. But when a guest faces discrimination, Airbnb is going to place them in another listing or paid for hotel on them. 

Ryan Alford[00:23:56]I love it. And they could have easily written it off. And I think back to what you're saying, like listen to your customers. And I think that's for me for the future whether small, medium, large brand, whether it's customers like you have to have a pulse on your customer base. There has to be some kind of feedback loop. They're going to come to you through social media, like you just said, one way or another. And if you're either listening or you're not, but whether it's surveys or like it and I know you see some of this like incentivisation, but you've got to be having a lever that you can pull to know how your customers feel because in this day and age, if you don't, they're not going to be a customer for long. 

Mike Weston[00:24:37]No, you're absolutely right. From a creative standpoint, I think there's a lot of opportunity, certainly to listen. That pizza thing, Delta, it wasn't a creative team that came up with that. It's a simple operational. One of the things I like about radical and one of the things I've tried to incorporate other industries and I've been at or that the the opportunity to lead teams was that a good idea can come from anybody, even an account executive? Well, I do acknowledge that. In fact, one of the best headlines I've ever been a part of was written by a print production guy. 

Ryan Alford[00:25:15]so I think that's big with empathy. Marketing, if you will, is a company embraced the notion or brand or an agency or whatever. Those ideas can come from anywhere. You're going to get those broader perspectives because your customer base is so wide and large. And so Sally and in H.R. operations or H.R. accounting or account executive or Robby, who's doing operations, whatever that is, they have a perspective that perhaps the people that would typically be the idea people or the marketing people might not have. And so how do you bring that perspective? 

Mike Weston[00:25:54]Yeah, that's a great point. I mean, there are opportunities for creatives to to actually develop what we do, create spots, create stories and video. For example, another airline, JetBlue. Etiquette is something that is going to be sorely missing on flights. Yeah. Especially now people refusing to wear face masks, people getting into fights. I mean, it's absolutely crazy. And I remember seeing JetBlue. I created a whole series of flight etiquette videos. It was just hilarious. But they bang the the point home in a really creative, memorable way. 

Ryan Alford[00:26:32]What's on your radar, as Radical is growing, brands are paying attention to in general, other where do you go for I mean, creative energy. Where I mean now it's like I know with social, I mean like social kind of the answer for everything. But is there something that feeds your spirit? 

Mike Weston[00:26:57]So obviously there's the agencies I absolutely admire, like Martin and Goodbee and Droga five and still BBDO of course I'm partial there, of course. But sure. There's still agencies whose work I'm constantly checking Widney Kennedy. I mean, there's just so many really great agencies out there doing so much great stuff. And I like to tell my designers and copy our designers and copywriters here that guys, you need to spend time with those, be inspired. Don't rip off the ideas, but be inspired by what you see. And I hope because it's again, it's breaking through that clutter. There's there's there's there's so many messages out there and they're all vying for your attention. They're all waving their hands, but no one is standing out. So certainly agency websites are a great place to go. I like to go to places like Vimeo and some really great creative stuff on Vimeo. So I like to spend time there, too. But there's influences everywhere, I think, thanks to the Internet. I remember we used to have to wait for the latest edition of CA Advertising to come out to get to see who's doing the greatest work. And now with this Internet machine, it's at your fingertips. So, yeah.

Ryan Alford[00:28:23]I love it. I think recapping and things like that. I think if brands are if you're thinking about this and you're either working with a brand or you're a small business or something like that, I would challenge you to get more in-depth with your strategy and understanding your target and less about, I think, calling yourself in. We're doing empathy marketing this month or whatever. Like I think, don't make empathy marketing a buzzword, make it a referendum on understanding the customers that that service that come to you that you serve and building that into the insights for why you're doing something. And then I think, like leveraging more of your team and more people and all those avenues and perspectives to bring in a broader understanding. 

Mike Weston[00:29:19]Yeah, that's a great point, because I used to jokingly say everyone's creative. It's just as some of us do it a lot better than others. And yeah, I'm creative. I can draw, I can write, but everyone is empathetic and everyone can have an idea when it comes to empathetic marketing. And as I said before, it should be ingrained into any company's business strategy. 

Ryan Alford[00:29:48]I love it. Mike, really appreciate you coming on. Let's keep doing it. I appreciate you being here. Hey, man, you don't know how much I appreciate you being with me on this ride and likewise being part of Radical. And, if you keep up with the Radcast, but with Radical, you're seeing some of Mike's work is either touched or built or created. So we appreciate having them. Yeah. And we'll see you next time here on request. 

Mike Weston[00:30:15]Be empathetic. 

“Yo guys, what's up? Ryan Alford here. Thanks so much for listening. Really appreciate it. But do us a favor. If you've been enjoying the Rad Cast, you need to share the word with a friend or anyone else. We'd really appreciate it and give us a review at Apple or Spotify. Do us a solid, tell more people, leave us some reviews. And hey, here's the best news of all. If you want to work with me to check with you, to get your business kicking ass and you want Radical or myself involved, you can text me directly at 8647293680. Don't wait another minute. Let's get your business going. 8647293680. We'll see you next time.”