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What is your brand's "Fast Car?"


If you watched the Grammy Awards last Sunday, you saw an audience moved by Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs performing a duet of "Fast Car." Or dial up the YouTube and watch her 1988 performance at Wembley Stadium where the unknown artist was asked to fill time when Stevie Wonder's set was delayed by a technical malfunction, and watch that song quiet a massive and restless crowd.

Why? Because "Fast Car" touches the marrow of our universal human experiences and needs. It's an example of the power of truly understanding people, and the risk of not.

Recently, pundits and politicians have been scratching their heads, puzzled why people don't agree with the data that shows the strength and resilience of the economy. To me, this is just another example of not seeing the people behind the data (in this case, the daily reality of working-class people and towns that Tracy Chapman wrote about).

Empathy is a powerful tool for marketers to better understand people. There are many research methodologies we can use to understand human context by exploring attitudes, values, and mindsets.

There is also the unparalleled value of first-hand observation — venturing into the customer’s world, standing in their shoes, seeing life through their eyes to find authentic ways to demonstrate how your brand sees and hears them. (When I worked with Ford at WPP, I admired the commitment of the Ford Truck team to spend time at rodeos, races, job sites talking with people, getting to know them and their needs. It is little surprise that the F-150 is America’s top selling vehicle.)

Each time I teach the Rehumanize brand growth system at UC Irvine and Loyola Marymount, or in workshops at companies such as Genesis Bank or Bastion, one of my first declarations is that empathy is a squishy sounding growth strategy — a way to form tighter bonds with loyal customers; inspire new products and services; understand an increasingly diverse marketplace.

Which brings me back to Tracy Chapman’s song.  Is your brand strategy grounded in an honest and empathetic insight? Can you describe your customer's world as intimately as you could that of your oldest friend? Does it tap into their hopes while also understanding the barriers they confront?

What is your brand's "Fast Car"?