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I came across a blog post recently about the Empathy Museum and was intrigued. A museum for empathy. What’s that all about?

Founded in 2015 by Clare Paty, it doesn’t have a permanent home, but describes itself as a travelling museum with a series of participatory art projects centered around storytelling and dialogue. The museum has exhibited across the UK, Belgium, Ireland, the US, Australia, Brazil and Siberia.

All of the projects are dedicated to helping visitors see the world through other people’s eyes and demonstrate that empathy can make a real difference to our relationships and global issues such as prejudice, conflict and inequality.

“A Mile in My Shoes”

One of my favourite projects is called “A Mile in My Shoes”.
From the outside, it’s a giant shoe box – inside it’s like a shoe shop, that holds a diverse collection of shoes. But not new shoes – these are other people’s worn, loved, used shoes. Visitors are invited to literally walk a mile in a pair of these shoes while listening to the original owner’s audio story through headphones. There are stories from a Syrian refugee, a sex worker, a neurosurgeon and a war veteran amongst others. All of them talk about various aspects of their life from loss and grief to hope. Many of them are very touching. All of them are enlightening and broaden your perspective of humanity and our world.

Empathy in business

What a brilliant example of participatory storytelling. I think the marketing lesson here is absolutely profound. One of our most critical roles as marketers and brand storytellers is to create and demonstrate empathy for our prospects and customers.

The more our prospective customers feel that we “get them” and understand their issues, the more effective we will be at creating a strong connection with them. There’s an ancient Red Indian proverb that I love. It says that you can’t get to know someone deeply until you walk in their moccasins for at least three  moons.

Harper Lee, author of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird” puts it like this.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Relating that to business marketing and storytelling, we need to start by practising deep story listening. Taking the time to listen carefully to the stories our prospects and customers are telling. Both in person and online through social media and blog forums. Try and get as close as possible to the coalface and don’t just rely on commissioned research, as that’s not always reliable.

Can you write a page in their diary?

The key is to get to know what drives your customers so well that you could write a page in their diary. How many of us could really claim to be able to do this? Deep listening can be transformative because it not only helps us understand their pain points and objectives, but it also gives us a deeper insight into their hidden emotional drivers (the real reason they buy) and the language they use. Being able to communicate with customers in their language, and understanding the phrasing, analogies and metaphors they use, is critical.

Over the last 30 years, I’ve seen many marketing campaigns flop when the messaging was ‘on point’ but the language, tone of voice and execution missed the mark.

The magic of stories

Finally, the Empathy Museum is a great example of why good storytelling is so effective. In this case, participatory storytelling, where visitors get physically involved in the story by walking in other people’s shoes.

Stories are powerful because they disarm cynicism and judgement and recreate the emotional state of curiosity present in children. In simple terms, when we listen or actively participate in storytelling, we drop our guard and are more open to new ideas.

Deliver your new product strategy to your team in a boring fact-filled PowerPoint presentation with no imagery and your team is likely to disengage. Tell it as a dynamic story and get them participating in the process and they’ll listen, take it in and probably remember it.

You can check out the Empathy Museum website and listen to the stories here: