Consumers are people too

by Peter Harrison, Innovation Manager, BrainJuicer® Labs

“Empathy, which literally translates as in feeling, is the capability to share another being’s emotions and feelings” (Wikipedia). 

Creativity means balancing direction and freedom to achieve relevance and originality. To be creative we need to be in touch with our rational brain and our emotive mind. Traditional research, in particular quantitative, is very effective at providing sustenance for the rational mind enabling us to identify people and judge good ideas versus bad ones. However over reliance on the quantitative seldom provides a springboard for creativity and prevents research from telling human narratives. Rather than enabling you to feel what a person is like, it attempts to describe them by assigning labels. Researchers need to rebalance the emphasis to include a more intuitive understanding of the people under study.

We call this an ‘empathetic understanding’ and it is something many of the top actors use, although they would call it ‘getting into character’ or method acting. Consider Hollywood great Jack Nicholson who improvised one of the most famous lines in film history when he thrust his head through a door and shouted “Here’s Johnny!” in The Shining. This moment was entirely unscripted but both the quote and the image of his deranged face have become iconic symbols ever since. This is a perfect illustration of how an empathetic understanding can inspire extreme levels of creativity.

There is a lot we can learn from the acting profession about how actors get into character and channel this understanding into their creativity. When designing a new marketing initiative or writing a new insight, wouldn’t it be great if we were able to tap into what it means to be a particular person to inspire more exciting and relevant ideas?

For many quantitative researchers, graphs are a virtual second language that they rely on to communicate their findings. This has its place but can limit researchers and the actionability of findings as they are straitjacketed into communicating a factual message rather than delivering an empathetic understanding. To access a deeper, more human understanding of people we should help clients to get into character through pictures, videos and audio clips all of which provide a more emotive and less ‘rational’ portrayal of our target audience. The same applies to qualitative reports that are often decks full of bullet points.

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