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Making real connections

January 30, 2009

I just read Richard Huntington’s latest blog post, and yet again he’s got me thinking.

His latest post concerns the topic of empathy and how we are marketers can become better at it.

The stimulus for Richard’s thinking was a trip he took to London’s School of Life to learn more about the topic.

In his post, Richard’ refers to the Oxford Muse, something I knew nothing about until I took a look at the web site and spent 20 minutes on it browsing around and learning as I went.

An organization that describes itself as “a foundation to stimulate courage and invention in personal, professional and cultural life”, deserves much more than a glance.

I was struck by two great ideas that are featured on the foundation’s project page.

1. Conversation Dinners

A Muse
Conversation Menu listed 24 topics through which they could discover
what sort of person they were meeting, their ideas on many different
aspects of life, such as ambition, curiosity, fear, friendship,
the relations of the sexes and of civilisations.”

These are dinners Muse organizes- they’ve done them at the World Economic Forum for example where they paired up complete strangers and gave them this conversation menu. Not only is this an intriguing concept on a personal level, one can only imagine how much richer would our conversations be with consumers if we adopted a similar approach.

This isn’t a bad starting point for re-thinking the focus group and atypical qualitative research.

2. A Portrait of a Business

Muse’s main focus is to get individuals to create self portraits of themselves. It’s a complex process and is the outcome of a conversation that they have with a “muse”. There’s added complexity because they asked to explore themselves across 24 different aspects of their lives- including; ambition, friendship, solitude, curiosity, fear, love, compassion and destiny. Subjects are given the opportunity to use all, part or none of the framework if they so chose. The idea is to enable people to sat what they want the world to know about them. The purpose is counter impersonality and superficiality in relationships to get a deeper and broader understanding of people.

Muse put this into action for 
Yard Remedies
, the British company making aromatherapy, herbal,
homeopathic and flower remedies and natural body care products. They helped them to create individual portraits
of management and staff, to help better understanding between employees and connect better with their customers.

A couple of things come out of this for me.

1. We could work harder to get beyond the superficial to really understand people’s feelings, thoughts and to understand what drives them. Obviously, to do this successfully, we might have to share our feelings more directly with them. Instead of being the cold, objective observer, what if strike up a real conversation for a change?

2. With the requirements for more openness and transparency in the business world, companies need to find their humanity. They need to discover who is best placed to be at the front-line of the customer relationship and how to open themselves up to conversations. “Being human” should be a phrase in a marketing handbook, it needs to be lived and breathed and acted upon everyday.

It gets me thinking.

Could we get our clients to create self-portraits of themselves, the CEOs of their companies, their front line employees and their loyal customers?

What would we do with them once we have them?

I am interested to hear if anyone has had experiences with Muse or directly attempted  to put some of their techniques into practice.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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