The Character Trait of Every Great Marketer


Over the past 15 years I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best marketers in the country—and if I haven’t worked with them, I’ve reading about them or studied their work. I’m often asked by college instructors and new grads, “What makes a good marketer?” and though there are a host of answers there’s one character trait that I seek out and have identified above every other: Empathy.

I know that sounds soft, fluffy and invokes eye-rolling by Type A personalities… but if you understood it’s strategic importance to an organization you would know why it’s a remarkable quality to look for when hiring.

Empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference. It’s the ability to understand first and act second.

If you think about it, a marketer’s primary role is to be an expert of your ‘market’. Your market is made up of customers and consumers that purchase your products/services in exchange for money because there is value for them. A good marketer needs to understand the nuances of buying behaviour and motivations from the perspective of many different people, in many different circumstances, in order to create conclusions and insights that ensure exceptional value. These insights can lead to better decision making in pricing, product improvements, distribution, brand and promotional strategies.

Sure, data helps provide marketers with a wider, more objective picture, but it’s ultimately their empathetic insights on the behaviour the data reveals which leads to a marketing breakthrough. Empathy is a character trait that is developed early in life and is extremely difficult to train which is why you need to hire people who have this trait to begin with.

Here are three (3) behaviours I look for in a successful marketer:

Imagination. This is the creative spark that good marketers need and I like to see how people visualize events, purchases, and experiences from the customer’s perspective. Can they imagine seeding wheat for 14 hours in Saskatchewan only to have their air seeder plug? Can they put themselves in the farmer’s shoes and fully grasp their frustration (and more importantly the solution)? Data can’t describe feelings and experiences but imagination and empathy sure can.

Giving. The ability to look, feel, and act beyond one’s own self interest. The best remedy for selfishness is giving. It’s important that I see people giving of their time in charitable endeavours—not because it looks good on their resume or they want the PR benefits of it, but—because it’s the right thing to do. Giving is soulful weight lifting. It prepares you for better decision making down the road.

Relationships. Empathy is a key requirement for positive and lasting relationships. I love to hear about school friends, family relationships, co-worker relations, and especially relationships with their previous bosses. Someone who jumps from job to job is never a good sign, but most importantly, it’s the relationships that are left that I’m most interested in. How did they leave? What are the relationships like with those people now?

Every marketer, no matter their current level of empathy, can grow deeper in this matter of the heart. From where I stand, I see this character trait as something we all need to work on. And yes, in my business, if one truly desires to move forward in the field of marketing empathy needs to be a leading attribute.

Have a great day!