How to understand your audience on an emotional level by Abigail Dixon

By Guest Contributor Abigail Dixon

Author of The Whole Marketer, Abigail Dixon, explains what it truly means to be a Whole Marketer, understand your customers emotional needs, and how it can help you have a fulfilled and successful career.

What’s the foundation of any great marketing? First and foremost, it is customer insight.

If we don’t develop deep-rooted emotional understanding of our customers, we are not marketing. Understanding our customer’s wants, needs, values, attitudes and beliefs is the foundation of every great strategy, service or product proposition, every communication platform and activation plan brought to life.

The ability to mine data to develop actionable insight is a key technical skill for any Whole Marketer and one that separates the best from the rest. And if you’re asking yourself, what is a ‘Whole Marketer’ check out my first blog which explores this holistic approach to excelling as a marketer in today’s industry. In my second blog I explored some of the key technical skills Whole Marketers need to thrive. This touched on customer insight, and in this latest blog I delve deeper into the behaviours and soft skills we need t to develop a deep rooted understanding of our customers, consumers both internal and external.

So let’s dive deeper…



Curiosity is the driving force behind deep-rooted understanding and emotional connection with our customers.  It is the catalyst for understanding human behaviour – not what is happening but why it is happening.

We are all born nosy. However as we grow, sometimes our natural curiosity starts to slip. As marketers, we can’t afford to lose this essential skill. We need to understand our customers beyond their job role, age, demographics and what they do at a surface level. To understand why they do what they do, we need to comprehend their thinking, feelings, beliefs and values, and what drives their decision-making.

A Whole Marketer has an unending curiosity about their customers, and continually asks questions about them.

In Chapter 8 of The Whole Marketer we explore the kinds of customer-focused questions marketers should be asking, but there is no one exhaustive list. The key principle is to ask questions that enable you to understand not just what your customers are doing but why they are doing it. What values drive them? What makes them get out of bed in the morning? This is where the insight lies.

It’s also important to ask yourself some questions about your own curiosity. What are you doing to pique your own curiosity? Are you seeking ways to broaden your sources of stimulus to break you out of your routine and force you to be more aware and therefore more curious? How do you stimulate your natural curiosity? These are important questions that will nourish this vital skill and drive your creativity.



Creativity is the use of imagination, original ideas or inventiveness to create something. Creativity is not just found among artists, graphic designers, writers and painters, and in marketing it is not just applied in creating advertising ideas or artwork design. It is a skill that allows you to solve a whole host of problems and make the most of opportunities. As it’s a skill, it’s something you can learn and improve on over time.

Curiosity and stimulus are the two key elements required to improve your creativity. I often say that we are only as good as our last stimulus. Therefore it is vital that your mind is exposed to as many different drivers and forms of stimulation as possible

So what can you do to gain a fresh stimulus? It can be as simple as taking a different journey to work! Be hungry for new experiences. Where can you go to immerse yourself in your consumer/ customers’ world? What media can you absorb to stretch your thinking? What can you do to adopt creative habits and behaviours?

Curiosity and creativity are cornerstones of customer insight – feed them well!



Of course, understanding your customer goes beyond viewing them as research subjects. Empathy is the ability to understand and share feelings with others by putting yourself in their shoes and understanding things from their perspective. It goes beyond understanding or sympathy, which is more about you and your response.

Empathy enables you to better understand and relate to your customer or consumer. Because you are able to connect and relate to them on a deeper level, you are able to communicate on a deeper, more emotional level and create messaging that resonates with them.

Developing empathy means putting aside assumptions, second guessing or applying judgement. Like any skill empathy takes practice. It can also require you to get uncomfortable and uncover some home truths! Ask yourself, when someone shares a situation with you, are you willing and/ or able to see it from their perspective? Do you make the time to listen and understand? Can you understand how they are feeling?

Seeing different perspectives, putting yourself in other’s shoes gives you the perspective to better connect with your customers. This enables you to truly be the voice of the customer.




Being the voice of the customer means influencing others to act with the customer’s interests at heart. Marketing’s role is to identify and satisfy the wants and needs of the customer, profitably. To do this, customers’ needs must be at the heart of everything we do.

The marketers of today must represent the true voice of the customer. If we are unable to do this, if we are not entirely customer oriented we cannot fulfil the core definition of marketing – to anticipate or identify the wants and needs of our customers. Without embodying the customer voice, you lack a core component of a Whole Marketer. But, like any skill, this can be honed.

The Whole Marketer approach supports passionate marketers to take the reins and own their path. If your curiosity is craving more, The Whole Marketer is here to feed it…


ABIGAIL DIXON is an award-winning chartered marketer, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), an accredited consultant, a course director and trainer, and an accredited International Coaching Federation coach.



Suggested Reading

As marketing roles continue to evolve, expand and embrace the complexities of the modern world of business, marketers are under increasing pressure to perform as individuals and teams. The Whole Marketer argues that now is the time to take stock of technical skills required, examine the latest thinking, identify capability gaps and discover how to be fulfilled in a professional context and as a human.   

Abigail Dixon looks at the functions of a marketing team through a lens of personal development. Her rich experience comes from leading marketing teams and training hundreds of marketers at varied stages of their career to achieve formal qualifications. 

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