Beer & Empathy: The New Currency of Innovation
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Beer & Empathy: The New Currency of Innovation

October 7, 2014

Esther Thomas

While we are all wired for empathy, we as marketers and researchers often suffer the "game dynamic" which prevents us from being empathetic when we need to be. For brands that practice an empathetic design and research structure, transformation in how the internal marketing and product teams think about their consumers occurs. This has ultimately allowed them to develop new insight-driven ideas and fill their pipeline with innovative products that are not just focused on optimizing, but also keen on connecting with the human who will eventually be enjoying them.

The baseball stadium is packed.  Bases loaded.

The batter steps up to the plate.  The pitcher releases the ball.

The batter swings.

You can hear the crack of the bat, and the hum of the ball.  It’s a line drive darting back to the pitcher’s head.

(TWACK!)

You can hear the shock from the audience as the pitcher hits the ground.  The ball ricochets from the pitcher’s head toward third base.  Instinctively, and with zero hesitation, the third baseman fields the ball and swiftly throws it to first base.

The batter is out.

This was the jaw-dropping video clip shown at the 2014 CRC Conference during a presentation called Beer & Empathy: the New Currency of Innovation.  Ensuring an attentive and captivated audience was not the only reason Ben Feeney (MillerCoors) and Emily Grogan (SEEK) began their presentation with this startling video.  They were communicating that although we are all wired for empathy, sometimes we suffer from the “game dynamic” which prevents us from being empathetic when we need to be, especially as marketers.  In seconds following the trauma, there were clear sympathetic (and sometimes empathetic) reactions from the audience – the shock and awe in their gasps, and the discomfort and disbelief visible in their faces. Some spectators clutched their heads as if they themselves had felt the force of the ball, imagining the excruciating pain the pitcher must have been feeling in that moment.  But the baseball team’s reaction was distinctly different.  It was rhythmic and routine. There was no hesitation, no consoling, and no time to internalize how the injured pitcher must have been feeling at this moment. There was only a habitual, nearly instinctual, need to keep playing the game as practiced. Their job was to execute the out, and no matter what, they got their job done.

This “game dynamic,” as Ben and Emily expressed, is not limited to the competitive sports arena, but often finds itself surfacing among internal marketing and product teams.  This cutthroat psyche is what makes it more challenging to remove the product design or marketing “hat” and put on that of the consumer.  Empathy is a crucial component of understanding and connecting with consumers on an emotional level, going beyond understanding consumers to really seeing things from their point of view.  In today’s marketplace, brands are being tasked with the challenge of developing products for increasingly diverse users, cultures, and environments. When brands can alter their lens to see the consumer viewpoint and allow this to inspire them, it can truly transform the brand, the products, and even the organizational structure.

For MillerCoors, activating an empathetic design and research structure has transformed how the internal marketing and product teams think about their consumers.  This has ultimately allowed them to develop new insight-driven ideas and fill their pipeline with innovative products that are not just focused on optimizing those 12 ounces of liquid deliciousness, but also keen on connecting with the human who will eventually have their feet up, enjoying them.

Certainly walking in the shoes of your consumer is not a terrible thing when there is a beer in your hand.

Esther Thomas

Senior Director, Insights & Strategy

With a passion for creative investigation and a rigorous background in quantitative and qualitative methods, Esther brings a rare mix of sharp analytics and infectious personality to her role as...

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