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Empathy is the New Black

Now, more than ever before, marketers and communicators need to truly understand and identify with their customers. 

Empathy is the ability to share the emotions of others — to feel what they feel and to care about what they care about. In marketing, the humanization of brands has become a necessity to thrive. But so many brands today lack the ability to offer their customers a relatable, personalized experience. 

Brands must be able to feel and intuit customers’ emotions. Empathy in marketing is more than just a compelling brand voice or a “feel good” ad. It has to be a strategic and comprehensive connection from the brand to the customer. 

Emotion is the driving force behind decision-making. And what’s marketing other than varied decisions we’re asking our customers to make? It sounds simple enough, but so many of us struggle to offer personalized, human interactions on a day-to-day basis with our customers. This makes empathy harder to achieve.

Here’s how to use empathy to enhance your marketing strategy and better connect with your customers:

Rely on the research

Research is essential to any marketing strategy. And it’s also required for building empathy. Think about it: Empathy requires putting yourself in another person’s shoes, which isn’t possible without fully understanding what they’re experiencing. No marketing campaign is possible without effective research regarding what truly resonates with your audience. 

The way you look at your customers may need to shift when it comes to understanding empathy. Just because they fall into the same age bracket or location doesn’t mean they share the same thoughts and desires. Your otherwise completely similar customers may even have viscerally different reactions to simple things like changes in copy or color in the brand message. 

Build emotion-driven personas

Break away from fictitious buyer personas that lack emotional drive. While it’s important to know what stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in, don’t stop there. Remember, you’re creating communications for a human. 

Performing in-depth buyer persona research will provide empathetic insight. Pay attention to what your customers are saying and how they respond to more than just your brand. You can do this through social listening, surveys, forums, or even direct feedback from your customer experience or sales teams. 

Dig into what your customers really love about your marketing and your brand as a whole. Why do they keep coming back? Why do they want to change? Learning more about your audience from past and current buyers will help to enhance the empathy in your marketing strategy. 

The goal of this exercise is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes so that you’re making marketing decisions based on empathy rather than assumptions. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions and discover a new perspective.

Empower human solutions

Once you’ve dug into the challenges and obstacles your customers face, you can use content to help them overcome those hurdles. One well-known brand that has done empathetic marketing right is Dove. 

What does soap have to do with emotions? This beauty brand strives to create a positive environment of self-love and support. Their Instagram is home to a variety of content, including photos, graphics, and videos that spread this message. Dove clearly realizes that offering their customers reminders of their worth and encouraging this type of positive fan engagement is worth its weight in gold. 

Another way to look at how you build empathy into your marketing strategy is through storytelling. Sometimes it’s easier to see all the content you create as facets of one overarching story. Your story could come in many forms, including long and short-form videos, photos, illustrations, infographics, or even weekly emails. Strong, empathetic storytelling does the following:

  • Shows understanding of your audiences’ wants and needs
  • Sparks emotion
  • Inspires
  • Celebrates success or growth
  • Remains humble
  • Builds trust

Don’t forget to monitor the success of your content and make adjustments based on customer feedback or other metrics. Empathetic marketing requires the ability to quickly adapt and change course as needed. 

Put customers first

Your brand wouldn’t exist without your customers. Don’t make the mistake of placing your customers second to your brand when it comes to marketing. Empathetic marketing through strong content and a storytelling approach should make your customer the hero of the story. 

Take this example of the customer-hero scenario in relation to a public transit rider. We can easily make the customer the hero by creating a story and messaging that aligns with the choices they’re making. They’re choosing to leave their car at home or not owning a car at all, which saves them money they can spend elsewhere to support their local economy, cuts greenhouse gas emissions, and allows them to more deeply connect with their community.

In your brand’s narrative, your customers are the heroes, and you’re simply a guide — showing them how they can get where they want to go and find the solutions they’re seeking. 

Lifting up your customers instead of talking about yourself allows you to offer a deeper connection to those engaging with your brand. 

About Brittany Schlacter

Brittany Schlacter is the Communications Specialist at The Rapid, the public transportation authority for Greater Grand Rapids, Michigan and a Director of West Michigan Critter Haven. You can follow her thoughts and animal adventures on Twitter.