Scrape away all the market research, product development, advertising, social media, and big data mining, and successful marketing boils down to this: empathy—the ability to understand and respond to the feelings of others.
A dark stain in American history, or a badge of honor?
Empathy is why Kodak didn’t sell film, it sold “moments” (back when it sold anything), or why Apple—which did not invent the computer, the mp3 player, or the cell phone—sells tens of millions of each by understanding how people feel about great design and the desire for the next cool gadget.
A business that does not see things from customers’ points of view, or that can’t articulate customers’ needs or problems—and solve them—will not be in business very long. The need for empathy extends not only to a company’s customers, but to all of its stakeholders: employees, local communities, and elected officials, just to name a few. The challenge for businesses is this–needs change over time and the point of view of one stakeholder group can sometimes conflict with the needs of another.
Which brings us to a certain professional football team based in Washington, DC with a name that to some recalls a dark stain in American history and to others recalls proud tradition and a “badge of honor,” according to team owner Daniel Snyder. Certainly 80 years with a team name does represent tradition, but professional sports teams change names (and cities) all the time and the turnstiles keep turning. In fact, the Washington football team used to represent Boston and used to be called the Braves. New traditions replace old traditions.
On the other hand, words change their meaning over time, and words that were once considered innocuous are rightly shunned today. During World War II, American newspaper headlines routinely declared what the “Japs” were up to. Just a few decades ago, “mongoloid” was commonly used to identify people with Down Syndrome. Efforts to discourage the use of “retard” are still underway. In this context, it seems silly, at best, to watch Daniel Snyder twist himself into knots defending a word that was originally conceived for the sole purpose of dehumanizing Native Americans.
A little empathy is in order. It’s time for Washington to pick a new name. Perhaps Mr. Snyder and the NFL can ameliorate the end of one tradition with the mountains of cash generated through new merchandise sales and marketing opportunities. Everyone understands that point of view.