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What Sweaty Armpits Taught Us (No, We’re Not Selling Deodorant)

You’ve prepared for this — working on the presentation with colleagues, anticipating tough questions, even engaging in the semi-embarrassing process of practicing in front of the bathroom mirror. Despite all of that, you’re still nervous. Why? Well you’re the one who’s going to be standing in front of those people — in the boardroom or on a stage — with all eyes on you, as they watch you present. Your coworkers and your own self-esteem are both counting on you to deliver, but you can’t get rid of the pit in your throat, the thumping in your chest, or the dreaded feeling of sweat pooling under your armpits and creeping through your shirt.

Ever experienced that feeling? Most of us, even the most seasoned and savvy presenters, have. Let’s face it, there aren’t many sensations more vulnerable or humbling than delivering a high stakes presentation. That’s why when I worked as the CMO at Prezi, we focused single-mindedly on how we can help our users navigate those stressful circumstances and come out feeling successful.

That’s the impact of tapping into a rich consumer insight.

The power of insights

That sensation is just one example of the multitude of acute emotional reactions we have in our daily lives — at work, at home, or out on our own. I say this because, as a marketer, I passionately believe that our ability to understand these types of emotions is at the core of what enables any business to win the hearts of its target customers.


When it comes to making decisions about which product or service to buy, the heart overrules logic. This is why it’s essential for us to tap into rich consumer insights that help us connect and communicate with our customers. Brands like Dove, Dollar Shave Club, and Virgin America have done a masterful job of infusing seemingly routine purchases like soap, razors, and air travel with an appeal to consumers’ hearts and gut instincts.

The companies that identify and focus on this type of profound emotion, recognize that this isn’t just about marketing campaigns. Rather, they indoctrinate the entire organization into an insight-driven mindset. They make it their mission to mine deeply to discover those kernels of truth about how people feel.

Finding the insight

How do you tap into this level of consumer insight? In my experience, the quantitative market data, while absolutely essential, only gets you part of the way there. It’s imperative to supplement that with interviews with the people you are targeting. Something intangible happens in that process. It often isn’t the content of what these people tell you — it’s the emotion in their voices and their body language that enable you to connect with the underlying “zeitgeist” of the need you are addressing.

In the case of Prezi, it wasn’t until we got out of the office and spoke to people who are presenting frequently in stressful situations — in front of customers, conference audiences, and coworkers — that we truly grasped the degree to which presenting is both terrifying and exhilarating. Understanding those stakes was a turning point in two ways. First, it dramatically heightened the level of empathy we felt for our users, as we were reminded of the stress people associate with giving any presentation. Secondly, it helped us realize the golden opportunity we have to build our business — for the simple reason that people are so heavily invested in presenting. It’s the ultimate “high involvement” category.

How insights impact decisions… and culture too

What comes next? The companies that excel at this level of deep empathy infuse everything they do — including product development, customer support, and company culture — with a deep commitment to solving this user need. Two great examples are Warby Parker, which has shaped its mission and values around making eyeglass shopping easy and affordable, and Dollar Shave Club, which has built a sizable business around addressing the annoying task of buying razors with a quirky, fun alternative. Increasingly, we are hearing stories of successful companies who connect their purpose to the problem they solve for their users. Former Procter and Gamble executive Jim Stengel explains in his book Grow that a clear insight of how a company improves people’s lives is “the only thing that enduringly connects the core beliefs of the people inside a business with the fundamental human values of the people the business serves.”

Building insight into your company culture

At Prezi, we started this process by recognizing that we needed every one of our employees to fully grasp what it’s like to present in front of an audience. As a result, we took a few steps to build empathy:

We started requiring employees to present at company meetings, attend training before conference appearances, and even present to a team of people as part of the interview process. Experiencing our customers’ pain points on a regular basis helps us understand their needs better, which has benefits for almost every aspect of our business, from customer support to product development.

We also invited people who are squarely in our consumer target for fireside chats at company meetings. These events gave everyone — from our engineers to financial analysts — a much keener sense of the real-life experiences our users face every day, which in turn helps them make more empathetic business decisions.

We created posters and brochures that describe our target personas that we put all over our offices. You can’t escape seeing photos and descriptions of those people wherever you walk. This ensures that our customers and the challenges we’re trying to solve for them are never far from our minds.

Being insight-driven isn’t just a gimmick. It’s about infusing your company with a profound level of empathy and building your entire customer experience around that.

Stay tuned for more insights and be sure to follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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