It’s about leading with empathy, compassion, and genuine connection to create meaningful and lasting relationships with both your team and your customers.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Caldwell.
Mike Caldwell is a marketing expert and the creator of the trademarked Empathic Marketing® Strategy. As the author of the Amazon #1 International Best Seller “Empathic Marketing,” he specializes in blending technology and empathy to foster powerful customer connections. Now living off the grid in Canada’s Gatineau Hills, Mike draws from his diverse background as a paramedic and his education in Biology and Management, to offer a unique perspective on building authentic and lasting relationships with customers.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My childhood was about as “white toast” as they come. But here’s a later story that played a pivotal role in getting me here, way before I was anywhere close to being here!
The year was 1990 and I was a Wildlife Biology student at Guelph University, living in a rented home that was pretty much Canada’s answer to Animal House. Yeah, I enjoyed a good time, but there’s only so much a guy can take! On top of that, I had just finished a grueling microbiology exam, and I was feeling burnt out from staring at those little red dots under the microscope for 2 hours.
This particular weekend I just had to get away and escaped to my parents’ house to unwind and relax in front of the TV. Keep in mind this was before Netflix and PVRs and my only option was to watch what was on at that particular time. That’s when I saw David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson running in slow motion down the beach in those rockin’ red bathing suits. It was the Baywatch 2-hour movie pilot, and it reminded me how much I loved being a lifeguard, even if my experience was limited to the indoor pools of Canada.
That’s when it hit me: I didn’t want to spend my life as a scientist staring at red dots in a microscope. I wanted something more, something exciting. But what could that be? Then it dawned on me — working on an ambulance! It had the thrill of lifeguarding but without the skimpy uniforms and all that chlorine.
With my newfound goal in mind, I hit the ground running. These were pre-internet days so I needed to visit the career section of the Hamilton Public Library where I learned that to work on an ambulance, I needed a one-year college diploma. I called up colleges offering the program, and despite being late to apply, I managed to convince Niagara College to let me complete the application on-site the next day. This was the last day they were live interviewing that year’s applicants. I was up against a bunch of fresh-out-of-high school grads with no life experience at all.
In comparison, I had three years of university-level biology education, 4 years of guiding whitewater rafts internationally, and an athletic background racing Olympic distance triathlons. So needless to say, I aced the biology test and requisite one-mile run. When it came time for the interviews, I left such an impression on the professors that they unofficially confirmed my acceptance on the spot.
In just 72 hours, I went from being a burnt-out university student with no discernible career path to starting a new adventure as an ambulance attendant, all thanks to Baywatch and those red bathing suits.
There is more to the story for how I ultimately became a full-fledged paramedic, but had it not been for Baywatch I never would have started my ambulance career and ultimately become the “Marketing Medic”.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
This is a great question! I remember being an avid reader as a child in the 70’s and 80’s and our school had a book club that we could order books from a few times a year. I honestly don’t remember any of the book titles I ordered, but I do remember my favourite book genre. I LOVED the “choose your own adventure” books. If you’re not familiar with these books, the story might involve some kids on some sort of adventure and at the end of the page the reader has options: 1) travel down the dark alley, go to page 16, or 2) enter the abandoned house, go to page 21.
This may explain a bit about my personality and how I was destined to be an adventurer and entrepreneur. I hated having a job where my days were planned out for me. Instead, when given the choice, I’m going to choose my own adventure.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started out in digital marketing, I discovered that I had a natural talent for Facebook ads, despite having no prior experience or training. This was largely because of my empathetic nature, which allowed me to understand what my audience wanted and how to best communicate our solution to them. I also happened to be one of the first Clickfunnels Certified Partners, so I knew how to build effective funnels.
However, I didn’t want to follow the traditional agency model and decided to try coaching instead. That’s when I created my Marketing Medic Apprentice Program.
The amusing “mistake” I made was making my program open to anyone and everyone. Early on, I attracted a dental hygienist who disliked her job and wanted to make money online. She had an idea to sell a program on how to brush your teeth better. My mistake was accepting her into the program.
Now, don’t get me wrong — she was a lovely person, and I genuinely liked her. But the issue was that she didn’t have a legitimate product or service to sell, nor did she have the desire or drive to find something viable to sell and stick with it. It seemed like she had a different idea or plan every week.
My ultimate goal with my clients isn’t to simply take their money; I genuinely want to help them succeed. So when I can’t help them — even when it’s not my fault — it causes me a considerable amount of stress and frustration. That’s why now I only work with about 30% of the potential clients who approach me.
If I don’t believe they have something I can work with and help them grow, I politely decline working with them. Instead, I offer some recommendations on what I would do if I were in their shoes moving forward.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
I’m hoping my book Empathic Marketing® will make a significant social impact by emphasizing the importance of understanding and connecting with customers on a deeper emotional level. It encourages businesses to genuinely care about their customers’ needs, desires, and challenges, leading to more authentic and meaningful relationships. Which ironically, in turn leads to more sales.
By advocating for empathy in marketing, the book promotes a shift in mindset that moves away from solely focusing on profits and transactions. Instead, it encourages businesses to prioritize the human aspect of their interactions and create marketing messages that truly resonate with their target audience. This approach leads to more responsible and sustainable business practices, ultimately fostering a more positive and ethical consumer experience, and again, MORE SALES.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
The most captivating story is likely the one I narrate in the opening of my book, within the “Why Empathy” chapter. In this section, I recount my experience working as a paramedic in Englewood, Colorado, where I was called to help an 8-year-old girl whose hand and lower arm had been sucked into her father’s meat grinder.
I explain that, had I operated as a “robotic paramedic,” I would have simply taken a standard set of vital signs, administered oxygen at 2 liters/minute via nasal cannula, initiated an IV of normal saline TKO, and given a bolus of morphine before loading her onto the stretcher and transporting her to the hospital. If I had managed her case in that manner, she would have likely screamed and cried throughout our interaction, potentially causing long-term emotional trauma.
However, instead of merely addressing her physical injuries and needs, I opted for a more empathetic approach and established an emotional bond with her prior to initiating any treatment. The empathy I felt for her stemmed from my understanding that, despite the trauma she endured, she wasn’t bleeding and wasn’t experiencing any significant pain. Her primary issue was fear. She was absolutely terrified. Although she didn’t directly express this concern, my empathy allowed me to comprehend her fear, which I addressed first.
This lesson frequently applies to sales situations. A buyer’s most prominent concern is often fear. They may be afraid of not securing a good deal, getting swindled, facing judgment from friends for their purchase, or losing status if they make a mistake with their acquisition.
Reading this, I’m sure many of these fears have resonated with you in past purchases. Yet, how often are such fears addressed in a business’s sales and marketing strategies?
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
During my time as a paramedic, I honed my empathy skills by interacting with patients and their families, often during their most vulnerable moments. This experience showed me firsthand the power of empathy in making a real difference in people’s lives. As I transitioned into the world of marketing and business, I began to notice a disconnect between businesses and their customers, with many companies focusing primarily on their bottom line rather than genuinely understanding and addressing their customers’ needs and emotions.
My “aha moment” came while I was helping one of my Marketing Medic Apprentice students online. He told me that what he liked about my training so much was how empathetic I was. He explained how I really took the time to deeply understand my audience and craft a solution and message that magnetically attracted them. Hearing his feedback made me realize that the empathy I had developed as a paramedic could be applied to the business world, helping businesses create stronger, more meaningful connections with their customers.
Inspired by this revelation, I decided to bring my message to the greater world by writing my Empathic Marketing® book. I knew that by sharing my insights and experiences, I could make a positive impact on the way businesses communicate with their customers and encourage a more empathetic, human-centered approach to marketing.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
While my Empathic Marketing strategy and implementation contributed to my most recent client generating over $3 million in revenue within a two-year period, the most impactful story involves a small bootcamp gym owned by two brothers.
This occurred early in my marketing career when I was instinctively implementing my Empathic Marketing strategy but before I was conscious of my process or had even assigned it a name.
When I met the brothers, they were having to maintain the gym using income from their day jobs. The gym was losing money, and they were uncertain about how long they could keep it operational. They were employing the same marketing tactics as their larger competitors, but instead of making a profit, they continued to lose money.
When they hired me, they estimated they had about three months’ worth of resources remaining to keep the gym afloat. My first step was to spend a day at the gym, meeting and interviewing their clients. I discovered that their clientele primarily consisted of middle-aged Hispanic women who sought a supportive, nonjudgmental environment to improve their health and energy levels.
Upon examining the gym’s existing advertising, I noticed they used stock images of muscular men and women, drenched in sweat, wearing torn tank tops, and flaunting six-pack abs. They also promised beach-ready bodies in just six to eight weeks. However, this was not the message that had attracted or resonated with their current members.
Consequently, I revamped their website, offers, and advertisements to accurately reflect the true Difficulties, Desires, Dreads, and Dreams of their target audience. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was applying my trademarked Empathic Marketing Strategy. As a result, we achieved a 36:1 return on ad spend, and within a year, both brothers were able to leave their day jobs and commit to the gym full time.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
First, let’s define the root of the problem. In recent years, we have witnessed a decreasing amount of empathy in our society. This decline in empathy can be attributed to several factors. The rise of technology and social media has led to a greater focus on individualism and self-promotion, and less on understanding and connecting with others on a deeper level. The fast-paced nature of modern life has left many people feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from one another, making it more challenging to form authentic relationships and truly empathize with others.
Another significant factor contributing to this decline in empathy is the isolation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Quarantining and social distancing measures, although necessary for public health, resulted in less face-to-face human interaction. This decrease in real-life social experiences made it harder for people to maintain and develop empathetic connections with others.
Furthermore, the competitive nature of today’s market-driven society often encourages businesses to prioritize profits over people, resulting in marketing strategies that focus more on manipulation and exploitation than on creating genuine connections with customers.
This decrease in empathy has far-reaching consequences, impacting not only personal relationships but also the overall health and well-being of our communities. It is essential to recognize and address this issue in order to create a more compassionate, connected, and empathetic society.
Given the root of the problem — the decline of empathy in our society — there are several actions that community members, society, and politicians can take to help address this issue:
- Encourage and promote empathy education: Schools and community organizations can introduce empathy-focused programs that teach children and adults the importance of understanding and connecting with others. These programs could include activities that foster emotional intelligence, active listening, and perspective-taking. Politicians can support these initiatives by allocating funding and resources to empathy education in schools and local communities.
- Create spaces for meaningful human interaction: Communities and local governments can work together to develop public spaces and events that encourage face-to-face socializing and foster a sense of belonging. This can include community gardens, shared recreational facilities, and cultural events that bring people together. By nurturing environments where people can interact and connect, empathy can be cultivated and strengthened.
- Encourage and support corporate empathy initiatives: Businesses can be encouraged to take the lead in fostering empathy within their organizations and implementing empathetic marketing strategies. This can involve providing empathy training for employees, creating internal policies that prioritize ethical and compassionate business practices, and adopting a customer-centric approach that genuinely addresses customers’ needs and concerns. Community members and society can support these efforts by choosing to patronize businesses that demonstrate a commitment to empathy and ethical practices, further promoting the importance of empathy in the marketplace.
By combining efforts from communities, society, and businesses themselves, we can work together to address the decline in empathy and help create a more compassionate and connected world.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
As a former paramedic and the creator of the Empathic Marketing Strategy, I define “Leadership” as the ability to genuinely connect with and understand the people you’re leading while inspiring them to achieve a common goal. To me, leadership is about being empathetic, actively listening to the needs and concerns of your team, and making informed decisions that benefit everyone involved.
A memory that haunts me from my experience as a paramedic demonstrates this kind of leadership. I was working on the air ambulance helicopter, and we responded to an airport shuttle van rollover on the highway. Flying over the scene, we could see dead and dismembered adult and children bodies, and police and firefighters seemingly milling around without purpose.
Once on the ground, I learned there were two sets of patients from the crash: those who were obviously dead and beyond our help, and those with only minor, non-life-threatening injuries.
As a leader, what I recognized was that a new third group of patients was emerging — emotionally traumatized first responders. I made sure to speak one-on-one with the first responders, sharing comforting words that would help them continue doing their jobs. By empathizing with their situation and offering support, I was able to foster a sense of unity and help them work through the emotional challenges they faced.
In the context of Empathic Marketing, this type of leadership means deeply understanding your target audience, addressing their needs, and guiding your team towards creating marketing messages that resonate with them on a personal level.
It’s about leading with empathy, compassion, and genuine connection to create meaningful and lasting relationships with both your team and your customers.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Be your authentic self: When I first started my career in digital marketing, I was taught to “ethically steal” and “funnel hack.” Basically, I was told to try and be someone else — find someone who I think is successful and copy/clone them. This was taught on a very superficial level. If I really wanted to “copy” those successful individuals, I’d copy the work they put into understanding and crafting messages and offers that resonated with their audience. And since no two audiences or markets are the same, that initial work needs to be done with authenticity and empathy. One of the first funnels I tried to “hack” for myself was Survival Life. I lived off the grid and was convinced by my mentor this would be a good niche for me and a good funnel to hack. I failed miserably…. I didn’t learn until years later that the Survival Life model was to go into significant debt with each client for months before eventually turning a profit on them. That wasn’t a model a “small potatoes” guy like me could copy.
- Don’t ignore the power of storytelling and getting your story out there: I’ve been fortunate in my career in that I was able to achieve such massive early wins. And since I’m more of a lifestyle guy than a money guy, as long as I have enough cash to get by, I’m not actively pursuing my next dollar. But with that mindset, I never put in the energy or effort to build my own “tribe”. This is something that takes time, and looking back, it’s something I wish I would have started and stayed consistent with from the beginning. One time, I hesitated to share a personal story in my marketing, but when I finally did, the response was overwhelmingly positive. It taught me the value of connecting with my audience through storytelling.
- Focus on your smallest viable audience first: Seth Godin talks about this concept in his book “This is Marketing,” and I wish someone had told me about it when I first started. Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, it’s essential to identify and cater to the specific audience that will truly benefit from and appreciate your product or service. In the past, I tried to create marketing campaigns that targeted a broad audience, but they often failed to resonate with anyone. Once I learned about the smallest viable audience concept, I started creating more targeted campaigns that deeply resonated with my specific audience, leading to much better results and stronger connections.
- Stay adaptable and open to change: This really hits home right now. Over the years I’ve worked with businesses in every niche imaginable, but more recently I decided to focus on the non-fiction author niche. The hook I came up with was the growing threat of “copy-paste-publish” Chat GPT Robo-Writers flooding the marketing with AI generated books. So on the surface, it appears that I am AGAINST AI and Chat GPT. But the reality is, AI may be the future but human connection will always be the present. And what I’m doing now is developing how AI can actually be used to develop deeper human connections! Man, what a ride the last few months have been when it comes to adaptation and being open to change.
- Build authentic relationships: Although I wasn’t initially told about the value of authentic relationships, my natural empathy led me to form them anyway. Take my testimonial from internet marketing guru Russell Brunson, for example. I made money for myself and my clients using his platform, Clickfunnels, but with my Empathic Marketing approach instead of funnel hacking. But in my communications with him, I still gave him the credit. In doing so, I helped validate his products and offerings. By giving Russell and Clickfunnels credit for my success, I built a strong relationship with him. In turn, he gladly endorsed me, as it also served as an endorsement for himself.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favourite Life Lesson Quote is actually one I think I coined myself when I wrote my first book V.E.A.R. Toward Success and that is “if it can be done, it can be done by me”.
That book is a motivational/inspirational story about how I used my Vision, Energy, Attitude, and Resolve to turn an abandoned 6,000 square foot sawmill in the heart of the Quebec wilderness into my home and business venue. I had no experience in construction or carpentry or starting and building a business.
But my rationale was, if others could do it, and have done it, why couldn’t I?
This mindset holds true for pretty much every aspect of my life. I just switch the pronouns a bit now when it comes to working with my clients “If it can be done, it can be done by YOU!”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
It may be because I just finished reading “This is Marketing”, but right now I’d love to have a sit-down with Seth Godin.
I believe he’s a true marketing genius who has fundamentally shaped the way we think about marketing, branding, and storytelling in the digital age. His innovative ideas have had a significant impact on my approach to marketing and my focus on empathy.
I’m particularly drawn to Seth’s emphasis on creating remarkable products, building genuine connections with audiences, and developing a tribe of loyal followers. I believe these concepts align well with my Empathic Marketing strategy, and I’d love to discuss with Seth how we can further integrate empathy and human connection into modern marketing practices.
Having a conversation with Seth Godin would undoubtedly be an invaluable opportunity to learn from one of the most influential marketing minds of our time. I would relish the chance to explore new ideas, challenge my assumptions, and gain insights that could help me refine and expand my Empathic Marketing approach for even greater impact.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Mike Caldwell Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.