“If I were you…”

But of course, you're not.

And this is the most important component of strategic marketing: we're not our customer.

Empathy isn't dictated to us by a focus group or a statistical analysis. Empathy is the powerful (and rare) ability to imagine what motivates someone else to act.

When a politician or a pundit vilifies someone for her actions, he's missed the point, because all he can do is imagine what he would do in that situation, completely avoiding an opportunity to see the world through someone else's eyes, to try on a new worldview, to attempt to imagine the circumstances that would lead to any action other than the one he would take.

When a teacher can't see why a student is stuck, or when an interface designer dismisses the 12% of the users who can't find the 'off' switch… we're seeing a failure of empathy, not a flaw in the user base.

When we call a prospect stupid for not choosing us, when we resort to blunt promotional tactics to get attention we could have earned with a more graceful approach–these are the symptoms that we've forgotten how to be empathetic.

You don't have to wear panty hose to be a great brand manager at L'eggs, nor do you need to be unemployed to work on a task force on getting people back to work. What is required, though, is a persistent effort to understand how other people see the world, and to care about it.