Better insights start with E for empathy

Creating a marketing strategy to sell the newest toothpaste is one thing. But, changing addictive or life-long behavior in public health requires a more specialized and deeply integrated form of marketing strategy. And, whether or not you work in this field there’s something every marketer should be aware of—ACEs.

I’m not talking about an ace in the hole or Ace Ventura. I’m talking about Adverse Childhood Experiences. It’s the not-so-new-but-you’re-possibly-just-hearing-about-it focus in public health.

Here’s the 101 on ACEs: When a child experiences something traumatic (e.g. abuse, divorce, poverty, neglect), it affects their developing brain. Each traumatic event counts as one ACE. The more ACEs a child has, the more likely they are to experience risk behaviors and negative health outcomes later in life.

And, guess what? In Wisconsin, more than half of all adults have one ACE in their past. So, this isn’t a “them” issue—it’s an “us” issue. Now, you are probably wondering why this term matters in marketing.

It matters because ACEs are a powerful reminder for marketers to not just consider where your audience is at, but where they’ve been. It encourages us to understand our audiences better, and with greater empathy.

It’s the reason that Robin Matthies from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services trained our entire KW2 staff on the topic. We learned a very powerful lesson: there’s something deeper to uncover in every customer interaction…every internal business meeting... and every single interaction between you and another human being.

ACEs remind us to approach our audience and every human interaction with empathy. Instead of thinking “What’s wrong?”—think “What happened?” This includes interactions with our colleagues, and includes how we define our intended audience. What happened to this person to convince them that they are incapable of quitting smoking? What happed to this person to make them believe that our brand is not for them? Even if the question is not rooted to public health, ACEs remind us that we can communicate more successfully when we know more about our audience. So keep asking. Keep thinking. Keep empathizing. It will move the needle.