To Feel is to Know



I go to yoga every Sunday morning to decompress from the week. Each session begins with a prompt from the instructor to focus on an intention—a reason for being in the moment. My intention varies each week, but it is my own, an opportunity to understand my motivations without judgment. The room is sometimes filled to the point that I’m practically touching mats with the person next to me, but I am reminded we are all here for different intentions and our experiences vary depending on their context.

It is our job as brand designers to understand how context and experiences vary from one person to the next. We may share the same space at one time, but we interpret the surroundings differently. If we want to truly connect on a deeper level with our customers, we need to understand their needs, wants, and desires—in other words, empathy needs to be at the forefront, influencing every decision a company makes, big and small. In a world of competing brands, and brands competing for attention, empathy is critical to making an authentic connection.

Empathy isn’t just feeling compassion for the customer. It is about understanding and anticipating their needs, interpretations, and setting aside your own assumptions in order to gain real insight and develop a brand that is meaningful and useful. In a recent article from Forbes Magazine, Glen Hartman says, “Empathy provides the context for a customer’s experience, which is where the brand can really connect.” But how do we understand context for each of our potential customers? It might seem nearly impossible to understand every motivation of a customer, yet successful companies are working to gather pertinent data to craft individual experiences that provide value beyond making a sale.

So what do you need to know to build empathy within your brand?


This is more than surface research—getting out into the field and connecting with your audience will require time and understanding, but you may uncover motivations and perspectives that can’t be seen with a bird’s-eye view.


Once you understand how your customer sees the world, you can begin building a relationship with them. Connections stem from recognizing emotion and communicating the understanding of that emotion. If brands are crafted from an emotional viewpoint, customers will come back again and again because that brand gets them, and they want to be associated with that brand.


Every day the world becomes savvier and less trusting thanks to years of fake advertising. Consumers want the real deal—no more airbrushing, unrealistic storytelling, and lofty claims. Just last weekend, I was at Target and a lifesize poster of a woman with visible stretchmarks modeling a swimsuit caught my eye. I paused, and immediately teared up. In that moment, Target sent a message of understanding, connection, and realness.


Your brand can’t resonate with everyone, but it should resonate with your target market. Your brand is not what you say it is, but what your customer says it is. If you can foster an understanding of your customer, you can create a brand story around their needs, understandings, and contexts.

Just like my fellow yogi’s, we all have different motivations that drive us to make decisions and engage in certain activities and brands. It is a reminder that we should always help our customers achieve their goals in the moment—by cultivating empathy with every interaction and every move.

Picture of Alysha Smith
Alysha Smith is the chief executive officer and creative director at modern8, a strategy focused design agency in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The execution and world deliverance of your brand that is produced with intention with thriveability for the future of what can be and beyond.