The Importance Of Strength Based, Trauma Informed And Inclusive Marketing

Kat Kennan is a certified trauma-informed professional and Founder and CEO of Radical Customer Experience™️ – a groundbreaking consulting firm that encourages brands to establish genuine connections with their customers by embracing strengths-based, trauma-informed, and inclusive marketing services. 

Nearly 73% of adults in the United States have experienced some traumatic event at least once in their lives. Despite its advancements, modern marketing still relies on techniques to make their customers feel inadequate, resulting in customer alienation, negative brand perception, and increased customer complaints.

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One thing to remember is that it’s not like the marketer or all of us are gathered around the table thinking of ways to ruin someone’s day.

Transcription:

Darren:

Hi, I’m Darren Woolley, founder and CEO of TrinityP3 Marketing Management consultancy. And welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Now, nearly 73% of adults in the United States have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. Despite its advancements, modern marketing still relies on techniques meant to make their customers feel inadequate, resulting in customer alienation, negative brand perception, and increased customer complaints.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t be this way. My guest on Managing Marketing is Kat Kennan, certified trauma-informed professional, and founder and CEO of Radical Customer Experience, a groundbreaking consulting firm that encourages brands to establish genuine connections with their customers by embracing strength-based, trauma-informed, and exclusive marketing services.

Please welcome Kat Kennan. Hi, Kat.

Kat:

Hi. So glad to be here.

Darren:

And look, I’m so glad you can make the time to have this conversation because when I first heard about what you were doing, I have to say, first of all, I was surprised and then intrigued because when I saw that number, 73% of adults in the United States have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once, my initial reaction was to go to what outside the U.S. is known for, which is gun violence and motor vehicle accidents, and opioid drug deaths and things like that.

But trauma actually is much broader than that, isn’t it?

Kat:

Absolutely, absolutely. And also, just to note like that 73, 75% statistic is pretty universal, including Australia, because I’ve looked at the numbers.

But yeah, I mean, trauma is both physical trauma. Like someone getting in a crash or even like a medical issue. But it can also be adverse experiences in your childhood. And one thing that I spend a lot of time thinking about is generational trauma.

But the science now is actually showing us that we are holding in our DNA and in our bones at least 14 generations of trauma.

Darren:

Wow.

Kat:

Like let that sink in. And also, when you meet someone who you know is actively breaking a cycle, whatever it is, whether it’s poverty or violence or addiction, they are holding back those 14 generations.

And so, like I always give like a special nod. And then for anyone doing that work, you’re influencing the next 14 generations. So, it’s everyone. Absolutely.

Darren:

And the reason I asked that question was because then I started reflecting on my own life. Because I would say I feel relatively privileged, but then I started thinking about I’ve had a younger brother die tragically at the age of 10. I’ve been through two divorces, I’ve had many people including my own mother die tragically young and unexpectedly.

These are all things that do have an impact on you, even if you are not necessarily consciously aware of it.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that is the thing about trauma, is like I always find myself during this conversations I’m like pointing at my solar plexus, because it lives underneath everything. And normally, when someone has a trauma reaction, whether that’s from looking at marketing or advertising or something else on the outside, a lot of times they don’t even know why they’re upset.

They don’t even know that they’re having a trauma reaction. It’s honestly, it’s like if you’re lucky and you’ve done a lot of work, you learn to recognize it. But you might just be really off. You might be like super angry about something and you’re like, why am I so angry? And it’s coming from underneath.

Darren:

Because it’s interesting, as you say, science has really made some breakthroughs here. You think about post-traumatic stress disorder, it is relatively recent, it’s in the last 20 years that it’s really come forward as a medical condition that previously would go largely undiagnosed.

We would say the person had some sort of mental imbalance or they would be labeled as having a problem, but not necessarily acknowledged or treated in any way for that issue.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as far back as like World War I, like we were using the term shell shock, but you’re right. Like there really wasn’t like a formal diagnosis and process. There is a doctor here in the U.S. named Bessel van der Kolk, and he really did some pretty groundbreaking research — he still is doing groundbreaking research.

But in the eighties with military vets, and that’s sort of where the post-traumatic stress or stress disorder, like there’s some movement now about dropping the disorder part of it. And even in the last five years, the research has just exploded.

Darren:

Now, it was actually personal experience that brought you to this topic. It wasn’t something that you just casually thought, oh, this could be an interesting thing to look at, isn’t it? Do you mind sharing that?

Kat:

Yeah. Not at all. I mean, one, I’ve spent a career as a marketer, a marketing leader. So, that’s like that side of it. And then a huge part of my story is that I actually have complex PTSD which is sort of multiple traumas that sort of come together.

And for me, I had something like multiple things that are now considered adverse childhood experiences. And so, that colors your lens for your whole life, and you don’t necessarily even realize it. And then sort of pre-COVID, 2018 and 19, I experienced two back-to-back traumas. And that sort of re-triggered all of the childhood things.

So, that’s when the diagnosis came. And in 2020, my mom died. So, it was like a rough couple of years. But during that time, I realized I was perceiving marketing messages very differently. And then I knew I was onto something.

Darren:

And that’s a really interesting part, isn’t it? When you consider that it’s such a high percentage, three out of four people have experienced some sort of trauma, and as you said, you then potentially react to different triggers in very different ways.

And I imagine it would depend on the types of trauma, and the way that it’s impacted on you, on the way that that would have an impact. I couldn’t imagine it’s universal, that everyone that’s had trauma will respond the same way, because we all have different ways of dealing with those stresses and traumatic incidents.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. So, I just wrote an eBook on empathy in the workplace which talks a lot about this. And one example I talk about is how many times have you or me, or anyone listening, you’ve been in a meeting and someone just kind of flips out? And you’re like, “Where did that come from?”

And especially, maybe you were the last person talking and you just like really are thrown for a loop. But the reality is, is that it more likely than not, they were having a trauma reaction. And in that case, it had nothing to do with you. It had nothing to do with anything that was going on in the room.

And it’s not even as simple as, hey, they had a fight with their partner that morning, and it’s on their mind. It really is like coming like deep underneath, and you don’t always realize why. It takes a great deal of work to be able to recognize.

Darren:

No, it’s really interesting because there are those situations, aren’t they? I mean, some people talk about being triggered, but in many ways, it’s a triggering that’s totally subconscious. Like the person’s not necessarily even aware of what are the things that trigger them.

Because I can imagine sometimes, it could be a combination of two or three things all coming together to drive that trigger rather than one particular pressure point.

Kat:

Yeah, I use the word maelstrom a lot, so it is a lot of things coming together. And again, like maybe you’re watching a TV show, maybe you’re in a discussion with someone, maybe you’re riding the subway and you see an ad that is just like what is happening?

Darren:

So, that’s the next point, was what are some of the things that marketing does — because with your career as a marketer, do you look back on some of the things that you may have done in the past and gone, “Oh my God, I wasn’t aware, but what was I even thinking?”

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think one thing to remember is it’s not like the marketer or like all of us are gathered around the table thinking of ways to ruin someone’s day.

Darren:

In fact, quite the opposite.

Kat:

Yeah, I know. It’s like we’re trying to make sales and get the product and in front of people and hopefully, change lives. But it can be really little things like words matter, imagery matters. And so, whether it’s a campaign or one very non-sexy part of marketing is data hygiene.

But if you’re not cleaning your database, like maybe you are sending an email or even like a direct mail piece that’s addressed to an ex-partner or someone that’s passed away. I mean, unfortunately, like my neighbor’s husband passed away last year, and there’s mail that comes all the time.

And so, it’s really extremely triggering, and that is such a simple fix. It’s just like managing your data.

Darren:

And look, I’m sitting here nodding like crazy because just during the pandemic, I had quite a few colleagues pass away for various reasons, mostly that they stopped getting their regular medical checkups because of isolating and locking down, and so often succumb to the illnesses that they were suffering with.

But it annoys me because their social media platforms still show them as if they’re alive and well, and give me reminders that we’ve been friends for seven years or 10 years or whatever. It’s really quite upsetting because you see people posting things to them that clearly don’t know that they’ve died.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I certainly, on the personal side, I ran into that with my mom. And I sort of took over her accounts so I could handle messages for the few months after. But there were plenty of people that sent messages and I had to reply.

There are settings, whether it’s like on the Facebook site or Google that you can set like your legacy contact. So, permissions go, but it’s just not something people think about. And I mean, I have mine set right now, but it’s based on the experience with my mom.

But you bring up an awesome … I don’t know, I probably shouldn’t say awesome, but you bring up a great point with the pandemic because one, the entire world experienced a collective trauma. And so, that brings that number to a hundred percent.

And in terms of losing people, like it’s like 40% of people know someone that died, and that’s probably just COVID and wouldn’t consider like people that died from other causes. So, yeah.

Darren:

Now, Kat, one of the other things about marketing is increasingly marketers find themselves responsible for customer experience. And one of the big triggers for me in customer experience is call centers, particularly where there may be communication issues or where you’re getting an attitude, you are wanting help or “service” and you’re getting stonewalled.

I find myself getting really frustrated by that because I go into a customer service experience expecting to get customer service, so when I don’t get it, it really triggers me.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the lens I have of customer experience is that it really should be 360 degrees. So, it’s like your sales and your marketing, and it’s your customer service, and it’s your big data and regular data, and even like HR and company culture, it’s all of these things coming together.

But on a good day of that 360 degrees, like on a really, really good day with the perfect weather, we’re maybe at like 280, right?

Darren:

With the tailwind and running down a hill. But no, absolutely. It’s incredibly difficult because there are so many touch points where businesses and marketing interact with their customers.

So, that’s why I’m interested because you talk about strength-based and trauma-informed marketing. Can you give me a sense of what that actually means? What’s strength-based?

Kat:

Yeah. So, probably it fits under probably the larger umbrella, but I think as marketers in talking about doing campaigns in the past, we were all taught fear-based methods. We need to create a sense of urgency. It’s limited time, it’s limited quantity. You have to get whatever like the newest influencer is promoting.

I’m sure I could go to my inbox now and find a dozen or maybe 10 times that many emails that are like only until midnight. And it somewhat related to COVID, but we’re in the middle of like an ever-increasing mental health crisis.

And so, pushing out messages like that, that are fear-based were really psychologically damaging. But it doesn’t have to be hard to do the opposite. You lean into your data, and you just position the messaging a little bit different.

So, instead of limited quantity, you turn it around and say, “Hey, we know these are your favorite products, or the top products,” and you see emails like that too. But essentially, that’s strength-based marketing because you’re leaning into the data to say, okay, these are selling hot, they’re really, really popular.

But let’s position that message that says, “Hey, we know these are your favorites. These are customer favorites,” and suddenly, it’s in a positive light instead of “You better get it before it’s gone.”

Darren:

And also, offering it as in, “We’ve put these aside for you, let us know if you want them.”

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely.

Darren:

Yeah. So, it becomes more interactive. I love that approach because FoMo, fear of missing out has become so much part of our everyday life. Again, going back to social media, the way people curate their experiences, everyone else feels like they’re having a dull life because the one they see on social media is so much more exciting than theirs.

Kat:

Absolutely.

Darren:

And then marketing’s adding to that by, as you say, using FoMo to say, “You will miss out. And if you miss out, that’s a bad thing for you.”

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think about my kids a lot because kids are getting on social media early and earlier, and feeling like a whole different kind of peer pressure with marketing and products, and whatever celebrity they’re following. And it starts so young.

Darren:

Kat, so strength-based and trauma-informed marketing really, I guess, fits under your radical customer experience vision.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. So, that’s what I called by company, or call my company, Radical Customer Experience. But certainly, strength-based marketing is something that I teach my customers or my clients. And then trauma-informed is sort of you graduate, it’s just like it’s one more thing.

But it still doesn’t have to be hard. I think the word trauma is really intimidating, and your immediate gut as like a businessperson or marketer, you’re like, “What does it have to do with me? What does it have to do with my job? What does it have to do with sales?”

And I can give you a couple of examples of like a trauma-informed campaign as an example.

Darren:

That’d be great.

Kat:

Yeah. Like this is like my favorite one, and I experienced it both as a customer and a marketer. So, there are a couple brands here — well, I guess two of them are global at least. Etsy’s done this, Ancestry’s done this. One of my favorites I think just U.S. brands called Uncommon Goods has done this.

But they’ve done a Mother’s or Father’s Day campaign, which is like, “Hey, we know this time of year might be tough for you, click here to opt out of our Mother’s Day messaging.”

And so, if you’ve lost a parent, like getting that bombard, you’re just like, every commercial, every email, every social post — your SMS marketing messages, everything’s coming at you, and it’s hard.

And the first time I saw this was a couple years ago, and I think it was my first Mother’s Day without my mom. And it was Uncommon Goods that … I got that, I have a screenshot of the text message, and I was like, “Oh my God, they understand. They get me, they see me. And just like this deep, felt it so deeply.

But as a marketer, I’m like, oh my God, it’s so smart, they’re just segmenting their data. And it’s little things like that. I mean, I think about holidays a lot because in general, they’re very triggering even end of year holidays, like how many of us actually have or really, really amazing associations with the holidays.

You’re seeing family, there’s family issues, and all of a sudden, you’re like, oh my God, if I see one more like Christmas ad, I might lose it. So, it really is how can you position messaging or push out a campaign that makes your customers feel seen, like really seen.

But it’s also getting you sales. I was sort of a long Uncommon Goods customer, but after I saw that, I’m like I will never get any kind of like gift for anyone without going there first. It’s a different kind of customer loyalty.

Darren:

Well, it’s building an experience where there’s a mutual recognition. I think you used the term you’ve been seen, you’ve been recognized. And that’s so important because we live in a world of mass communication.

I know they talk about personalization, but so often, you feel like personalization is, they’ve just put your name, usually your first name at the top of the email as if that’s somehow you know who I am, because you’ve managed to get my name from somewhere.

Kat:

Yeah. I mean, the best is when you get an email where they’ve tried, but they don’t have your name. So, it really is just Dear blank comma, or dear first name because they forgot to switch.

Darren:

Well, B2B marketers drive me crazy when it says “Dear Trinityp3.com,” because what they’ve actually done is made my name my URL for the company. So, it’s like how dehumanized is that being turned into a URL?

Kat:

Absolutely.

Darren:

Kat, I just want to go back to something you said earlier, which is really interesting because you said that in business, we find it really confronting, dealing with the whole thing of trauma.

And yet one of the things in this conversation I’m feeling is in actual fact, isn’t part of the problem that we all, 73, 75%, a hundred percent of people have actually experienced trauma at some point in their lives?

But as part of our human condition or our culture, we’re inclined to keep a lot of that to ourselves so that when in a business sense, we need to confront the idea of actually acknowledging trauma, it becomes quite personal and revealing, because we’re all carrying around the traumas that we’ve lived with.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I use the term “radical vulnerability.” And whether that’s on behalf of a company or on behalf of a person, we all have it, but there’s so much shame involved in many things that cause trauma that we’re taught to keep it behind closed doors.

Or in the workplace, we’re taught to have a mask or multiple in a mask. And I don’t mean in like the COVID sense, but you’re your work self and you’re your home self, and never shall the two meet. And the reality is we’re just one person.

And one person, whether I’m at the office or at home, and every piece of my life and my experiences come with me. And we carry that trauma with us whether it’s just emotionally or literally in our DNA and bones.

Darren:

Literally in our DNA and bones. But my experience is that when you actually are, what did you call it? Radically vulnerable is that it actually builds greater empathy and in fact, greater connection with others because you find yourself sharing those experiences. And in that, it breaks down that feeling that I am alone in this, that I somehow am the only person in the world that has been through this.

Whether it’s childhood trauma, which often comes with huge amounts of shame, because often, it’s in the context of that somehow, the child has brought that on themselves.

Both my parents have now died, and so for my team, when they have sick parents, and particularly during COVID, a lot of my team have parents overseas — I was able to share huge amounts of empathy and understanding in them going through that and not being able to be there for their parents because my parents were also living interstate, miles away when they passed away.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I feel actually pretty blessed that like my mom passed away at the beginning of COVID, but I was able to fly there because it was right before quarantine, and be there. But I mean, that’s really difficult.

But empathy is so, so important whether it’s in the workplace or the marketplace. It’s just like having that lens and the connection that you form with people again, whether they’re like your coworkers or your customers, creates a relationship that you just won’t have otherwise.

Darren:

Yeah, absolutely. The other the other thing that you’ve developed is that you have the Brand Inclusion index, which is an actionable alternative to Net Promoter Score. Now, I’m going to reveal the fact that I’m not a big fan of Net Promoter, particularly the way it’s often used.

I’ve just finished an online transaction and they want to know, would I recommend this to someone else? And I’m going, I’m actually more interested in the goods and services that I’m buying, than the way that I actually gave you my money.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. Oh my God, this is like me every day. So, like I put together, it’s a brand sensitivity score, but I put that together because with Net Promoter, you’re right, you get that pop-up, “Would you recommend us to a friend” very often after a customer service experience.

And really Net Promoter is telling you on average how your customers feel at one moment in time. So, essentially, it gives you zero information, and from like a polling and assessment perspective, you actually need at least three questions to even be scientifically valid.

So, the fact that Net Promoter is based on one question is sort of ridiculous — come at me. Like that doesn’t mean Net Promoter can’t predict things, but what I’ve put together is … so there’s three main principles. You’ve already heard me talk about radical vulnerability, but also radical empathy, and radical authentic investment.

And then there are a number of questions that come from each of those factors. And it really is like diving in or dialing in, I should say, on how sensitive a customer thinks a brand is in that area. And it sort of works like … here, we would say it works like an SAT, like an assessment test.

Where if you get a question wrong, it gets easier and vice versa. So, with this, it’s like if they answer a question and they find that the brand is less sensitive, then it’ll sort of go in that direction. If it’s more sensitive, it’ll tune into that.

But after the assessment comes, and it can go to both an audience or your email database or your social followers, it will tell you sort of on average like where you are, how you rank against other brands. And as we get more and more data, how you rank against like your industry sector and really be able to divide it by demographics as well.

But it’s like here, you’re doing really well in radical empathy, but you’re really kind of falling down on an authentic investment. And then it provides like very deep insights and recommendations. It keeps it really easy. It’s like do this X, Y, and Z, and it is going to help get that score up.

So, I’m very, very, very excited about it. I’d say I’m in beta, I think we’re still in beta for a few more days, but about to publicly launch and I can’t wait. Like there’s nothing like it on the market. And I really think it’s a game changer, not just as a founder, but like as almost a lifeline marketer.

Darren:

Well, yeah, that’s right. I love the fact that illicit drug sellers and the tech industry call people users. So, as a user, but also as a customer, you have an interest on both sides of that of that transaction.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It would be really cool too, like to be able to put out quarterly trend reports. Like this is what we’re seeing in terms of trauma-informed marketing. Like we know that you, on average, your sales will increase by X percent by implementing these techniques. So, it’s freaking incredible.

Darren:

I also think it has huge potential because the world has become much more aware of the importance of diversity and equity and inclusion, but especially diversity and inclusion. And this actually works across all that, because first of all, we’re all human beings, but the traumas and our responses to it will be hugely impacted by the various cultures that we live in and with.

So, I can imagine that this has in some ways, a unifying view of being able to understand that diversity and measure inclusion, because inclusion’s the one part that many people struggle with. They turn diversity almost into counting the different types of people, which is ridiculous because It’s like a Noah’s Ark, I’ve got two of everything which is not what diversity’s about.

But the inclusion part, this would also give you a measure of how people feel … whether they’re feeling included, because empathy is an understanding and acknowledgement of such important parts of that.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. Like now like DE&I, like we add a B for belonging, which is also like hitting at the inclusion. But all of this that we’re talking about, I really view it as like your external facing DEI. And a part of that is not only trauma-informed or strength-based marketing and your customer experience, but also even like your corporate social responsibility and like your commitment to the environment, and like all of these things.

And even brands that have sort of put their stake in the ground and said like we won’t support X issue. Or years ago, for example, Salesforce said, “We won’t have any customers that deal with ammunition or guns. We just won’t do it.”

And I’ve been really public about it, and all of that really fits under the same umbrella and brands that have really embraced sustainability and issues are much more likely to adopt trauma-informed techniques as well.

Darren:

Yeah, absolutely. I was wondering is there particular categories you think are more likely or that would see more benefit from this approach? Or is it universal?

Kat:

I mean, it is pretty industry-agnostic, although I would say that consumer-facing brands, it makes a little bit more sense. It’s in the easier leap because you’re directly affecting people essentially, with your marketing versus like going and selling to another company.

And for me, sitting in my position, I have a business coach right now, and he always says, “What game are you playing?” And the game I’m playing is changing lives and helping people, but I am doing it sort of one step removed by helping marketers and helping companies.

And then every single thing that they push out and every single consumer that they touch is then benefits. So, yeah.

Darren:

It’s interesting you’d say that about business to business (B2B), because you alluded to it or mentioned it earlier where when we go into the workplace, it’s very common for people to put the mask on, the work mask.

And so, there’s an extra layer to break through to get to the human being because they’ve got —not all people in business, but many people in business do find themselves having to wear the mask to play that game.

I think there is a change. We’re seeing a change, the work from home, greater flexibility, acknowledgement of the needs of parents to have greater flexibility in the workplace, being more open and accommodating for the various diverse requirements of the workplace.

All of this is positive change, but I think you’re right; that for businesses to be able to impact on to their customers directly is a huge opportunity.

Kat:

Yeah. I mean, and I’ve certainly worked for plenty of B2B brands, and weirdly, even before I had sort of put together this framework, was implementing it, because I would always like tell my salespeople, it’s just like who are you actually selling to? Like are they a parent? What are their kids’ names? Where did they just vacation?

Because they’ll usually throw that stuff out in conversation and it’s not to be creepy. We have plenty of creepy marketing, which is maybe a whole other topic. I’m looking at you HubSpot, like sending me an email a minute after I’m on your website.

But I mean it’s still like to pick up the phone and to call. When you’re talking to someone and say like, “Hey, how was your vacation? Like it sounds so amazing.” Like you really are dealing with another human being and the likelihood, it’s like people leave companies, of course we do, like we all get new jobs.

But if you’ve established that kind of rapport with someone when they go to your new company, they’re so much more likely to pick up the phone and call you.

Darren:

Kat Kennan of Radical Customer Experience, this has been a fantastic conversation, but unfortunately, time has got away from us.

Kat:

Yeah, absolutely. I could talk for a lot longer, but you need to keep getting into your tomorrow and I need to get my kids ready for school tomorrow.

Darren:

Well, look, thank you, I really appreciate it. I do have a question before we go, and that is if you were going to point people towards a company that does it really well, who would you recommend?

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