How to Demonstrate Empathy in Marketing

A Conversation with Mike Norland, Senior Director of Demand Generation at Hired

In our latest content series featuring conversations with B2B leaders, our VP of Marketing, Jonathan Koo, recently had the opportunity to sync with Hired’s Mike Norland to discuss how marketers should incorporate gratitude and empathy to connect with their audiences and teammates. Listen to their conversation here!:

Editor’s Note: The transcript of their interview is below. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jonathan Koo: Hello and welcome to Thnks’ new series of conversations with B2B leaders. My name is Jonathan Koo, and I’m the VP of Marketing at Thnks. Today I’m super lucky to have my friend Mike Norland here. Mike is the Senior Director of Demand Generation at Hired. 

Mike, thank you for joining us. Tell us a little bit about your background and yourself, and what you and the team at Hired are up to.

Mike Norland: Thanks Jonathan. I appreciate you having me on the show today. So, my background is a little unique. I started out in finance, moved to traditional marketing in non-tech companies at Burger King and Heinz Ketchup.

And then, for the past eight years, I’ve been working in demand generation, growth marketing, and B2B marketing for high-growth tech companies. I’ve been at Hired for three years. For those that don’t know, Hired is a marketplace for technical talent, like software developers and product managers and, basically, knowledge workers.

We help companies access vetted, quality talent that’s ready to move jobs right now.  

Jonathan: That’s great. I think what Hired is doing is incredible, pre-vetting all of these, knowledge workers and really helping companies improve the way that they’re hiring technical talent.

So that’s great to hear. Given the environment and given everything that’s going on, marketing in that kind of recruitment hiring space, I’m sure it has changed. How have you and the team been adapting either your marketing tactics or your messaging to be more empathetic given the current environment and trends?

Mike: Yeah, it’s a really great question. It’s the question of the day, and I’ve talked about this with a lot of other marketing and sales leaders as well. From a broad perspective, any company in their messaging needs to address what’s happening right now, whether that’s, in your marketing messaging or if your AEs or SDRs are communicating out.

Really equipping them to have the right conversation as well. And the way I think to do that is, one, you can’t ignore it. It’s not business as usual. One from everybody is, literally like their work life is completely different. But two, most industries have been impacted in some way by that. And so the key is to really understand at a deep level how your audience has been impacted.

How are their priorities changing? What are things that are a concern for them, and what are the new opportunities for their field or role or company as well? And how are they looking at that? You needed to adjust your message for that. And so for Hired specifically, we’re seeing two things that we need to take into account:

The first is the reality of our audience. We speak with a lot of people in the talent acquisition and HR function, and so the reality of those roles are, they’re either in a world where they’ve done layoffs or are worrying about doing layoffs. Or perhaps even had to let go of members from their own team, or they’re in a world where if they are hiring, they’re needing to completely revamp all their processes and figure out how to do that remotely, from the initial phone screen all the way through, bringing them onto the business and getting them ramped up and ready to be a contributing member of the team full-time. So it’s really tricky. 

So one, you’ve got to have that empathy and understanding, but two, we’re in a position to help them see what other companies are doing to meet that opportunity to promote hiring.

Jonathan: I think that’s a great point and I love your stance on how you really need to understand, at a personal level, what each one of your audience and each one of your personas is going through. I know at Thnks that’s something that we’ve tried to understand and being in the gratitude space, we try to put a positive spin on things and focus on the good.

And that’s really resonated for us. I’m sure in your space, there’s a lot of tough challenges that people are encountering, but it seems like Hired is helping your clients get through that in unique ways. One of the things that is always an interesting dynamic is, working not just with your clients and your market and your different personas, but in a leadership position, working with your team and your stakeholders at a company like Hired.

What are ways that you’ve been adjusting to this new environment, this remote environment, and employed empathy in the different workflows and interactions with your team and your stakeholders? 

Mike: Great question. You know, with the changes that are happening, it’s not only happening with our audience, but it’s happening within our own team as well.

And so, you know, I think there’s a few things that are important. Number one is again, that empathy. I try to think about how I’m feeling right now, and apply that out. I feel a mixture of gratitude for still being actively employed, still being happy and healthy, and same with my friends and family.

But I know that’s not the case for everybody. And so, having that realization that, however you’re feeling, not everyone is going to be in the same boat. Another example is people are on different spectrums with how they handle remote work. I’ve heard feedback from, especially extroverted people, that I work with that it’s particularly tough on them.

You also hear things like Zoom burnout being real, and, I don’t know if you’ve ever felt it Jonathan, but if you’re back to back in a day, you at least used to have a moment where you would get up out of one room and move into another to like reset on that context. And now it happens in a split second as you jump out of one video call and into another.

So, I think the fatigue is real. And of course, I think some people, even taking it further than that, like either they’ve been impacted severely by the COVID-19 world, or if they haven’t, at the very least, there’s a mental tax and a guilt around that of, “Hey, I’m doing relatively okay, but I know other people aren’t”.

So it’s a tricky time. What I can recommend from a team perspective and what we find ourselves doing is we’ve moved to fifteen minute morning standups. We used to have a broader regular standup, but we found a lot of value in just syncing that much more regularly. A lot of times we’ll talk about what we’re doing that day.

Sometimes we’re like, “Let’s take a break and everyone share what they’re going to do this weekend or what they did on Memorial Day.” And the reality is, I think we crave that human connection and that water cooler chit-chat or even just⁠—you know, at the Hired office, we have an open floor plan⁠—when you might have a day-to-day conversation, right when you first get into work with one of your colleagues, and you miss that right now.

So that’s important. I think the last thing, too, is people are not always taking days off the way they would. A lot of times people had vacations planned for the summer and those plans have been canceled because they don’t feel comfortable traveling. Or maybe they had the plans canceled for them if the venue was not available for whatever the reason.

People aren’t taking those breaks in the same way. And I think you come to that guilt of, “Hey, in a world where we’re approaching 15% plus unemployment in America, I still have a job here. Who am I to feel like I can take a day off from just being home?” 

But I think it’s important to encourage the people around you, your colleagues, to make it okay to take that time off the same way they would have because we all need a little bit of a mental break. It’s tough being on Zoom calls all day and there’s fatigue associated with them. 

Jonathan: I think those are both incredible points. I mean, to your first point of the fifteen minute standups. We’ve done something very similar where every morning at 9:30am, the team will hop on a Google Hangout just to have that human connection.

It’s kind of our way of trying to simulate that kind of morning cup of coffee with everyone. And like you were saying, a water cooler moment, and we found it to be incredibly beneficial and just keeping people close and connected. 

To your second point of burnout and breaks, that’s definitely a very real issue as we work in this remote environment. I’d love to build off of that and say, just having the trust in your team to manage their own time and their own schedule effectively, is another very important point. Understanding that because we’re working from home, sometimes someone might need to help their child with schoolwork or go for a walk.

Just to take a break between those Zoom meetings, and having the flexibility to do that throughout the workday, I’ve found pretty important for myself personally, but also for colleagues of mine. So I definitely hear your point of being empathetic to each one of your team members, your colleagues, and understanding their different needs and the need for taking a breather and taking a break.

To switch gears and pivot back to marketing, what’s maybe a tangible takeaway that you can give to other demand gen marketers out there looking to make their campaigns or their programs more empathetic, or resonate in this time?

Mike: Great question. So, you know, I think we’ve talked a lot about empathy in your messaging and how do you acknowledge that and strike a balance, but if other marketing teams are like ours, you know, there’s emails, there’s ads, there’s pitch decks, there’s helping with outreach sequences.

And then there’s the actual day-to-day of the sales team themselves and the support teams themselves. So, I think what marketing leaders need to acknowledge is it’s not enough to just say, “Hey, you need to be empathetic.” You need to be really specific with what that looks like.

I think there’s a few ways to do that. I think the first is to have an open conversation and say, “Hey, like these are the things we’re going to be reviewing as a team and getting a second set of eyes on.” Most companies have a way to do that currently. You need to look at that process and say, “Hey, are we going to put another layer in just to make sure we do a gut check?”

At the very least, what you want to empower your teammates to do is just remind them of, is listening to that little voice in the back of your head. If you’re writing something that maybe feels like you’re not sure if it strikes the right tone that you want to strike, get a second opinion, get a third opinion.

It’s not always top of mind when you’re not sitting right next to somebody, but you need to take the time to do that and listen to the little voice in the back of the head. I think when problems arise is when people get that voice and they ignore it because, “Hey, I’ve got a deadline to hit.” And so make it okay to do the right thing, even if it means being an hour or two late with something. 

I think the second thing is it’s really important to highlight good examples of showing empathy. In a world where everybody’s getting a message from, you know, their CEO, that’s being sent out, or, you know, “Here’s how we’re helping for COVID-19….,” it can be a lot of noise if everyone’s doing it and you run the risk of maybe striving for empathy, but what you’re actually getting is some watered down platitudes. 

Usually those are ignored, but at worst, it can actually come off the wrong way and have the opposite effect of what’s intended.

So I think it’s really important to share with your team and then have them share with everybody and have a way of saying, “Hey, I saw this in the marketplace. I thought this was really good and this really resonated with me and felt like a striker on balance, and here’s XYZ reasons why.”

Both externally, but also if somebody on your team is doing a really good job navigating what that message is and striking the right balance and really hitting the nail on the head for your audience, highlight that example up for the entire team too. There’s nothing like that type of positive reinforcement to get more similar behavior.

Jonathan: I think that’s a great point, and highlighting those key examples is a great way to demonstrate to the rest of your team, your colleagues, your coworkers, what the right tone is in your campaigns, in your marketing, in your sales outreach, whatever it may be. I think another piece of that is also being genuine in that empathy.

Like you said, every company under the sun has sent something like, “Hey, we’re here for you”, but most of them come off as just talk. So taking the time to really craft that message, hone it, utilize those copywriting skills to really ensure that you’re being genuine in that message, is super important.

Thank you for sharing that. One thing, every time I have conversations with B2B leaders that I’d love to hear from is, what’s maybe one piece of career advice that you would give to someone looking to get started in marketing or maybe yourself, five years ago, that you’d love to share?

Mike: Great question, Jonathan. When I think about my career, I’ve played a lot of different roles across marketing, across a lot of functions too, and I think that’s really helped me in my career, both in understanding where my marketing teammates are coming from, but also being able to better support finance, or sales, or product as well with their initiatives, and just being a better partner.

The reality is modern marketing is extremely diverse. You have content, you have creative, you have paid ads, you have operations, you have product marketing, and that’s just to name a few. And really they’re very different skill sets. So for a marketer that’s just starting out, what I would recommend is trying as many of those as possible.

At the very worst, what you’ll be able to do is find the specific section you’re really passionate about and at best, what it will help you do is just be a better partner for those marketing functions as you progress in your career, whether that’s in leadership or a specific marketing function.

Jonathan: I think that’s a fantastic piece of advice. I mean, starting off in my career, back in the days when we used to work together at AdRoll, in my early days, I tried to do everything and anything and say, “Yes.” I learned later the right time to say no, but getting that exposure, that experience, is hugely beneficial, especially as you’re just starting out in marketing. So, that’s a fantastic piece of advice that you shared. 

I’d love to finish on a couple of rapid fire questions, if you are willing to entertain me. Does that sound good? So quick, one-to-two word, maybe one sentence max answers to these, but we’ll keep it fast. 

What is your new favorite piece of marketing technology? 

Mike: Ooh, I’d say Data Fox, which is an account scoring tool. 

Jonathan: Fantastic company. A favorite quarantine series that you’re now bingeing?

Mike: I’m rewatching Sopranos with my wife. 

Jonathan: That’s a great series. I continuously come back to 30 Rock, but very different vibe there. 

A marketing leader that you wish more people knew about?

Mike: I’m gonna go with the leader that’s actually not in the marketing function, but I think, thinks a lot about, go-to-market for his business, and that’s Jack Altman, who is  the CEO of Lattice. I follow a lot of his content on Twitter, and he speaks very knowledgeably and thoughtfully around both his business, but also the nature of work.

Jonathan: Awesome. New York or Chicago style pizza?

Mike: New York. I’m an East coaster. 

Jonathan: That’s the right answer. 

Last question. Is a hotdog a sandwich?

Mike: Absolutely not. 

Jonathan: Alright. Michael, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. It’s been a pleasure connecting with you and sharing your insights. 

Thank you for joining us, everyone, and we’ll catch you next time.

Saying Thnks can help you incorporate empathy in your marketing initiatives. Within seconds, users can send gestures of appreciation with professional connections by searching for an expression, creating a customized note, and sharing it via SMS or email. Interested in learning more? Sign up for a demo, or click here to learn more about expressing gratitude in business!