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Why our hearts bleed for The Empathy Model

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

I love onions - sweet little eschalots, glossy exotic red onions and even the 10kg bags of plain ol’ brown onions my husband lugs home with a grin from Costco.

That said, I've never met a brand onion I liked.

To distil a brand down to fit in a series of concentric circles is to slice off all the shaggy, human edges that make them, well, THEM. But that’s how modern brand work is done.

It is purposely reductive - to convince clients that, Eureka!, a silver bullet has indeed been discovered and has been tidily nailed in a neat infographic. The thunderclap justifies the big bill. And while this approach might work for slick packaged goods on supermarket shelves, it doesn’t serve organisations with a human mission.

So when Jess and I sat down over tea and biccies to start our purpose-driven business, we reverse engineered all our proudest most human-centric campaigns to discover their strategic foundations.

And it turns out none of them started with an onion. They began with conversations, curiosity, cups of tea and care.

After all, when you meet a person, you don’t ask for a compact analysis of them up front. You tease out a story, a preference for dogs or cats, a little bit of background.

It takes time and is richly rewarding.

The Open Arms Empathy Model is a series of questions that guides deep discovery of brands, organisations and the communities they serve. We've laced up our ASICS to join seniors walking groups, huddled in cubicles to talk to people at every level of an organisation we're getting to know, dropped into community meetings discussing employment opportunities for migrant and refugee communities, met teenagers after school to talk about the climate crisis, and had confidential chat to trans youth about their hopes for their future.

In short, we talk to people you never normally hear from.

And rather than being reductive, The Empathy Model expands to encompass all the complex richness of the people whose stories we are gathering. Founder’s sacrifices. Customers' anxieties. Donors’ dreams of a better future. It respects all stakeholders.

And it’s through this immersion that a portrait becomes sharp to us. So we are armed with hard won stories that will connect organisations and their products and services with the people who need them. And drive action as we give communities positive choices.

For us, it turns out empathy is the most effective business tool in the box.

So we are always ready to chat. Armed with a packet of Scotch Fingers and a listening ear.


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