Empathy in Marketing: Practical Ways to Foster Empathy
In Part 2 of our “Empathy in Marketing” series, we covered some of the best ways to get a better understanding of your audience. Now we’ll take a look at some practical steps to put that knowledge to good use for empathetic marketing.
Maya McNulty, who takes care of branding and marketing at UpTheBiz believes, “Marketers can never truly empathise, but can be empathic in brand messaging.”
Fortunately, empathy is a talent that can be learned, so there is hope for all of us, according to Thilo Huellmann, CTO of Levity.ai. “Implement important factors into your marketing efforts to re-learn how to be compassionate,” he suggests. “Let's face it: most marketing is a waste of time. It isn't interesting, timely, or valuable. It's frequently filled with nonsense that prevents empathising with clients. It's your responsibility to turn things around and set yourself out from the pack,” explains Thilo.
“In the case of our business, empathy is incorporated into years of market research peppered with a collective intuition of what our buyers want,” says Designerwear’s CEO, Ben Wallington. “Even if we cater to a specific market, namely sporty men and children, it takes a lot of hits and misses to finally hone into what this market segment really wants.”
According to KEXINO CEO, Gee Ranasinha, the only thing that matters in the grand scheme of things is the customer. But for many marketers, there seems to be little thought or foresight into what the customer wants and needs. We need to re-imagine marketing in a way that fosters empathy. “What if instead of focusing on customer access and customer attention, we focused on customer trust, customer advocacy, and even customer empathy?” asks Gee.
One thing’s for certain – empathy cannot be achieved overnight, as Coffee Geek Lab Founder Yurii Brown puts it. “One needs to invest time to communicate empathy and in my experience, blogging has helped me establish that connection, loyalty, and trust with my customers,” he says.
Here are some practical steps you can take to foster empathy in your marketing:
- Address Their Challenges
- Create Content that Provides Value
- Find a Way to Resonate
- Tell Stories for an Emotional Impact
- It’s the Small Things that Matter
- Be Accessible and Responsive
- Adjust Your Approach/Messaging Based on Ongoing Events
- Be Authentic in Your Approach
- Remain Transparent and Objective
- Act on It
- Show Accountability
- Support an Important Cause
- Let Empathy Extend throughout the Business
Address Their Challenges
Whether it’s through your products, your messaging, or your content – the most obvious way to be empathetic in your marketing is by addressing their challenges.
According to Eric Rohrback, CMO of Hill & Ponton, “Emotion and motivation share the same root term. Buyers base the majority of their decisions on emotions, which they then backfill with rationality. That's why it's critical to go beyond the product and appeal to the buyer's desired outcomes and emotions.”
“Depending on your product or service, and the grievances of your targeted audience, you can make a strong impact with your branding message if you add the element of empathy in your marketing,” explains Signaturely’s CEO, Will Cannon.
“Getting marketing communications right through relevant content and reaching the right audience at the right time is more important than ever,” says Lacy Summers, CMO of Crush the PM Exam.
Harriet Chan, Co-Founder of CocoFinder says, “You need to revolve your business around the customers by communicating about their needs and problems.”
The better you address their challenges, the more value you’ll be providing.
“Providing value simply means informing them, getting the most accurate format and relevant piece of information,” explains Ludovic Chung-Sao, Founder of Zen Soundproof. “I think many people in marketing try to close too early. It's not providing value to the user; it's just being impatient.”
According to Lily Ugbaja, who founded Dollar Creed, you should start by putting their needs first. “It is easy to make it all about you and your company but that isn't empathy. Look at the benefits your product or service is bringing to them and genuinely let them know how it would meet their needs,” she explains.
Sandra Vukovic of Lunar Strategy says, “Once we know our audience, we dig deeper into the characteristics and behaviour of those people, and from that information, we can easily know what they are looking for and use the proper methods to reach them.”
“Understanding your intended audience's pain points should always guide the content and copy that you write. Popular and trusted brands are those which solve problems for their users,” adds Emi Bagshaw, who handles digital marketing and SEO for Twinkl, the international educational publisher.
“If we stay informed about the issues our users care about, we can be part of the conversation and part of the solution to problems. For example, by providing free access to our educational library during COVID-19 lockdowns to support schools and parents.”
Salvador Ordorica, CEO of The Spanish Group LLC suggests that you ask yourself two questions –
- What are the customer's pain points in the real world?
- What are the customers’ pain points regarding your business?
“The real world, at the moment, is still reeling from the pandemic. That means your customers are missing out on travelling and meeting people and are dealing with isolation and uncertainty. If your brand can step in to help with these activities — such as giving virtual classes or providing entertainment — you'll be able to make a great connection with your audience,” he explains.
This is a very important strategy for Review Home Warranties, a website that reviews home warranty companies. “Our clients are looking for answers to questions on how to manage one of their most basic human needs: Shelter. In order for us to do that, we need to have a certain sense of empathy to address their desires and factor in other considerations, such as time, personnel, and budget, among other things,” explains Founder and Editor, James Surrey.
For the husband-and-wife realtor team, Beth and Ryan Waller, this is a crucial strategy to empathise with prospective homeowners. In fact, unlike their peers in the real estate industry, they don’t use hard sales tactics at all. Instead, they find a way to address the unique challenges that each prospect experiences.
Ryan explains this is important because “Buying a home is an emotional and personal experience.” As a salesperson, he realises that people are tired of being sold to. “They're tired of hearing about quartz countertops and open concept living- benefits that YOU (as a realtor), are trained to sell them on. These things are not considering empathy, or understanding what the customer truly wants or needs.”
He explains, “They want to know how their kids will navigate the home, how convenient the walk to school will be, and if the area has kids for their kids to play with.” So to address those concerns, “Take them on the school route walk, check out the neighbourhood, learn how they will use the home in their day to day lives,” he suggests.
Ryan recommends listening to what your prospects say and picking up clues from their words. “We will often send a client a new home listing that meets something they said was important to them (i.e. the basement access can't have more than 6 stairs because I'm getting older).”
Dan Chan, the award-winning magician also known as The Millionaire’s Mentalist, addresses his clients’ challenges by considering the different price points they’re comfortable with. He then creates a package customised for each client according to their budget. “Doing so has allowed me to more than double my revenue,” he says.
Famous in Real Life Founder, Mike Pasley understands that while we live in a crazy world, people often seek out humour as an escape. So he attempts to address this need through his entertaining T-shirt designs. “I want to make people happy,” he says.
Create Content that Provides Value
Content is a vital tool to empathise with your audience. The content you create should provide value by solving their problems. If you create content about your products, for example, you shouldn’t just talk about how great the features are but how those features help solve certain problems that your audience faces.
“Without empathy, content marketing would only be a guessing game that is inefficient and resource-draining. In this scenario, businesses would have difficulty reaching a break-even from their marketing—or worse, they don’t receive any ROI from their marketing campaigns,” explains Marina Vaamonde, Founder & Commercial Real Estate Investor at Property Cashin.
According to GetVoIP CEO Reuben Yonatan, “Simply acknowledging the difficulty of making consumer decisions often has a positive effect. Yet you have to follow up on this empathy with real content that drives consideration.” He adds, “Knowing your audience's pain points and, better yet, being able to segment that audience into particular needs is key.”
Amber Reed-Johnson, a Copywriting Assistant for Giraffe Social Media explains that “Your goal as a brand online should be to connect with and build a community with your target audience/followers and engage them with relevant content that isn’t pushy.”
“Ideally, roughly 80% of your content shouldn’t be about your product at all, rather showing your industry expertise and providing valuable information to your audience,” suggests Amber.
“People trust brands that can solve their problems, so offer a message that demonstrates how your products address issues that are important to them, using the correct words,” explains Darshan Somashekar Founder & CEO of Solitaired.
“Use your company's blog to construct a story that addresses these challenges. For example, post some ideas and give links to productivity tools that don't compete with your products if your consumers are busy professionals who rarely have enough time every day to get everything done,” he suggests.
For Fig Loans, a lender offering socially responsible financial products for the under-banked, this is a key strategy to empathise with their audience. CEO Jeff Zhou explains, “Because we emphasise this message and provide educational content as part of a content marketing strategy, we are able to inform current and potential customers on how they can become financially independent, reduce their debt and build credit.”
He also adds, “This allows them to consider, sometimes for the first time, the possibility of home ownership, retirement, and education savings for their children.”
Francisco Remolino, a licensed insolvency trustee for Remolino Associates uncovers his clients’ challenges by asking them questions through chat and email first. He then rounds up the most common questions that clients ask and uses them in his blog marketing. Through his blog posts, he provides answers that are as close to their experience as possible, hoping that such engagement will boost their courage to consult individually.
This is the same kind of strategy that PassionWP Co-Founder, Trishan Mehta uses. He first tries to understand the common problems that his target audience experiences by listening to Facebook group discussions on WordPress.
“Based on their shared experiences, I create content on my website that provides answers to their problems,” he explains. “I then let the group members know that they can find in-depth answers to their problems on my blog.”
The Online Degree team also applies a similar tactic. They reach out to students via email, asking them about their struggles and what they hope to gain from Online Degree. “After connecting with thousands of students, we start to see patterns such as the adult students with kids who need to fit college into their busy schedules. We can then empathise with that pain point through content marketing,” explains CEO Grant Aldrich.
Twiz LLC Co-Founder, Christian Velitchkov also recommends creating content based on customer interactions. He believes, “It will make them feel that your brand cares about them.”
Peter Horne, who works for Geoff McDonald and Associates, says that collecting data based on behaviours and needs allows them to be more empathetic with their audience. “This allows us to gain a better understanding of who they are and, as a result, create more empathetic content for them to consume,” he says.
Since the firm focuses on personal injury law, this is very beneficial for them because their clients are hurt and looking for someone to be empathetic and hear their side of the story (as well as help them to get a good conclusion to the situation). “In addition to showing our audience that we can help them, utilising empathetic marketing tactics also helps us to build a stronger relationship with leads, and guide them along the funnel to become existing clients,” Peter explains.
Find a Way to Resonate
To foster empathy in your marketing, your message should resonate with the people you want to reach. This could involve speaking their language, using an emotional tone, or even simply using their preferred content formats.
And this comes from understanding your audience. Sanket Shah, CEO of InVideo says, “For better marketing, you need to know the following aspects about your audience:
- A rough idea about their social habits
- Their extent of affordability
- Their age and gender to determine requirements
- Their religion, culture, and ethnicity”
Plus, you also need to know about the challenges they face, which you can address with your product or service offering.
Once you know where they’re coming from, you should take that into consideration when developing your message or marketing strategy. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a message that’s out of touch and fails to strike a chord.
“If your content doesn't resonate with your ideal customers and potential buyers and help build trust, then it won't have any real impact on your business,” says United World Telecom’s Head of Marketing, Luke Genoyer.
Entrepreneur Mike Kawula gave the example of influencers and business coaches who share supposedly inspirational quotes on social media as part of their marketing strategy to attract newer entrepreneurs. They share quotes about how “it’s all about the journey” and encourage them to “enjoy the journey.”
“When a new entrepreneur is struggling, or anyone for that matter, the last thing they want to hear is ‘enjoy the journey’ because they hear ‘enjoy the pain,’” he says.“It's not coming from a place of empathy and it's really just a quote shared to gain likes and shares,” explains Mike.
To truly resonate with your audience, your message should accurately reflect the pain, struggle, hope, and fear that they experience, according to lawyer and professional mediator, Doug Noll.
He explains that he uses emotional language whenever possible to better relate to the audience. “I use ‘you’ as often as possible. I use active voice only, no passive voice. I speak to what my audience is feeling,” he adds.
“Understanding how an audience feels is essential to connecting with them on an emotional level,” says Fred Gerantabee, CEO of FGX International.
As Ted Liu, Founder & CEO of Just SEO puts it, “To express your empathy, you need to find something in common between you and your client. You need to genuinely feel for them and that’s only possible if you will be using your own experience to know what it feels like.”
“I always go back to the time when my business was not yet this successful. I look back on my marketing strategies and try really hard to remember how it felt like when it was me in the situation where my client is right now,” he explains. Ted adds, “This is the reason why I also select my clients. I don’t just jump at any opportunity because I need to be able to see myself in them in order to help them.”
“To fit empathy into your marketing strategy, find common ground,” agrees Rachel Klaver, Co-Founder of Identify Marketing. “Use examples that your audience can relate to. Once you get their attention, provide them with interesting, engaging, and relatable content.”
She explains, “Being empathetic shows your customers that you understand their journey. You don't need to direct them to buy your products; you just need them to feel that they need to. And then just wait for the magic happen.”
“One of the best ways to market our product/brand to our customers is by speaking their language,” adds Dexter Grima, Founder & CEO of VitaBright.
Tatiana Gavrilina, a Content Marketing Writer for DDI Development recommends communicating with your audience (in emails, blog posts, and presentations) using their own way of speaking in specific words.
This is a strategy that has served the Julie Aragon Lending Team really well. Founder & CEO, Julie Aragon explains, “We actually had our copywriters interview past clients to get feedback directly from the types of people we're trying to engage with our marketing. We then had them use exact words and recurring themes from those interviews in our copy. That way, our ideal clients feel like we're almost inside their head in the way we're reflecting back their thoughts about the process.”
Sometimes, resonating with your audience also involves expressing your understanding of their situation and issues.
“The way I express empathy in my marketing is by understanding what my audience (financial advisors) goes through in a typical day,” explains James Pollard, Founder of The Advisor Coach LLC.
“For instance, one of the things many financial advisors hate most about their day is prospecting time. This could be messaging people online, making cold calls, or sending direct mail pieces. They view it as a necessary evil. So, if I approach it from that angle and tell them that I understand they think it's a necessary evil, they will be more ready to listen to me than if I drone on about how great prospecting time is.”
Showing empathy in your messaging is particularly important for industries like skincare, where marketing has historically been based on fear and making people feel bad about their appearance so they will buy a solution.
Brands like Atolla are changing that – they’re shifting the conversion from fear to empowerment and the focus from skin appearance to skin health. “Our product offering (which is both personalised skincare routines and guidance) is aimed to help our users feel more confident in their skin,” says Co-Founder & CEO Meghan Maupin.
It’s important to remember that resonating with your audience isn’t just about the message itself but how you deliver it – from the channels you choose to the format you use and even the influencers you collaborate with.
“Discover how they communicate and find out the type of information that is meaningful to them,” suggests Amie Thompson, President & CEO of Creative Allies. “Know what resonates with them between informal conversations and brainstorming vs. best practices and industry data. This will help shape how you present information to them.”
“If you employ video, you'll get bonus points, especially if you're marketing to millennials,” suggests Somashekar Founder & CEO of Solitaired. He adds that video is also a great marketing tool for all types of customers due to its highly visual nature.
To foster empathy in your video content, Trevor Rappleye, CEO of Corporate Filming suggests creating videos that help consumers understand and talk to them on their level. “Create videos with tips and tricks to succeed with their product,” he says. Your video should say, “I get it; it’s confusing. We are here to help.”
The MeasureSchool team even creates a custom welcome video using Loom for each new customer. This personalises the onboarding experience and makes customers feel appreciated from the moment they become members.
For Kris Websterof Webstar Universe, who produces content for libraries and schools, it’s all about creating characters that will resonate with the target audience i.e. school kids. He has created robot characters and mascots for edutainment campaigns on social media.
The VinPit team carefully selects influencers to partner with by keeping their audience in mind. “Consumers place more trust in influencers who are relatable than those who are the most popular. So we also collaborate with specific influencers,” says Founder, Miranda Yan.
Tell Stories for an Emotional Impact
“Emotions are a very powerful part of hooking people into considering purchasing from your brand,” according to eCommerce entrepreneur and Famous in Real Life Founder, Mike Pasley.
And one of the best ways to stir up those emotions is through storytelling.
For starters, telling authentic customer stories can give prospects the reassurance they need to choose your business. This can be in the form of case studies, testimonials, and customer interviews.
“Tell stories about other customers. Sometimes listening to other people who have gone through the same thing might help in making them self-assured,” explains Christian Velitchkov, Co-Founder of Twiz LLC.
Eden Cheng, Marketing Director & Founder of WeInvoice agrees, saying, “In order to show up and express major empathy as a brand, you must know how to speak directly about what you can provide to them and tell success stories about other customers.”
The goal is to reassure your prospects and make them think, “If they can do this for others, they can do it for me, too.”
This has proven to be highly effective Wiz-Tec Computing Technologies Inc., which is heavily involved in the point of sale industry for First Nations in Canada. As Marketing Manager, Carla Rodriguez explains, “One of our main ways to empathise with current and future customers is by doing case studies into the before and after of using our system and the personal benefits it brings to these retailers.”
“Using those personal stories is very important to us because we want to make sure potential clients know we care about the success of their business – and we have the case studies to prove it.”
Darshani Wilson, Owner & Brand Strategist of Darshani Creative explains how this type of storytelling has also worked for brands like Proactiv.
“Despite the hundreds of acne solutions on the market, Proactiv worked to demonstrate the empathy they had for their consumers. They showcased client stories depicting the stresses of chronic acne,” she elaborates. “They highlighted what it’s like to try every other product on the market with no success. Because of this, Proactiv stood out in the market, demanding 3 to 5 times higher prices than most other acne treatments on the market at the time.”
Empathetic storytelling is vital, especially for non-profit organisations such as Alight (formerly American Refugee Committee). Communications Director, Chris Kindler explains that they use video content to showcase the stories of the people they interact with. “Through these connections, we are able to employ empathy and relatability that help us grow and encourage more funding.”
In some cases, you can even tell your own stories to better relate to the audience. Stewart McGrenary, Director of Freedom Mobiles explains that this works for one of their clients, who provides financial counselling.
“They delve deeper into the ‘why’ of financial decision-making rather than relying solely on numbers and data. She discusses her own financial challenges and the significance of approaching finances with 'compassionate inquiry' in order to connect with her clients, who frequently feel shame or fear over debt or savings.”
Regardless of the kind of story you decide to tell, make sure it provides value to the customer. You shouldn’t just tell the story of your brand without also highlighting how your brand has changed the lives of people. “Too many marketers consider marketing is all about the brand but in reality, it’s all about the customer,” explains Kerry Lopez, a Marketing Analyst for Incrementors Web Solutions.
“Your marketing should tell stories, and in such stories, your customer is the hero. In your brand story, your consumers are the heroes, and you’re simply a guide, showing them how they can get what they want (with the help of your product or service, of course).”
Laura Fuentes, Operator of Infinity Dish adds, “Using empathetic marketing strategies, we are not only connecting to our customer base better than we have before, but we have opened the door to telling stories through our social channels.”
It’s the Small Things that Matter
Sometimes, fostering empathy in your marketing doesn’t have to be elaborate nor extraordinary. It can be small and simple, as long as it caters to the needs and emotions of your audience.
“When you think of empathy, your mind might jump to an extreme (such as helping out people during a crisis, like COVID) and you might think that your business doesn't fit the bill for some kind of disaster relief,” according to Greg Birch, Senior SEO Specialist for Store Space Self Storage.
“But empathy can be much smaller. It could be just relating to someone that had a negative experience with your business. One isolated incident does not make for a crisis for your business, but if your customers frequently have a similar problem, it's worth addressing,” explains Greg.
Thomas Fultz, Founder & CEO of Coffeeble, suggests that something as simple as following them back could be a great start. “This may be more difficult for bigger companies to keep a track of, but for smaller companies, following your core audience is a great way to see the type of content they are liking, sharing, or discussing.”
This also allows you to actively get involved in their conversations, allowing you to build stronger connections with people.
Be Accessible and Responsive
On a similar note, showing empathy can be as simple as being easy to reach and responding to your customers. It doesn’t matter if you have an elaborate marketing strategy that appeals to the emotions of your target audience. If your customers can’t even reach support when they need help, you’re still lacking the “empathy” factor.
“Customers decide based on their emotions and oftentimes if they cannot feel that your business is reliable, they will not be motivated to avail of your products or services,” explains Stone Wizards Founder, Thomas Vibe.
“For us, we made our business accessible so that whenever they encounter a problem, they can reach us anytime. In short, customers trust the connection you built with them, and as soon as they recognise your effort, they won't hesitate to do business with you.”
According to Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls, being responsive is one of the main qualities that the most empathetic brands share. “They act quickly to address the issue in a genuine way not with a script but with sincerity,” she says.
This is why it’s crucial to listen and respond when your customers reach out to you.
“Nobody likes the average salesman because all he does is talk, talk, and talk some more. But for a change, listen to your audience,” suggests Lily Ugbaja, Founder of Dollar Creed. “Let them feel that you care about them not just how they can benefit you.”
Customer service is one of the most important areas where your business can foster empathy, according to Jacob Dayan, CEO, & Co-Founder of businesses like Community Tax and Finance Pal. “If someone got the wrong order or was not happy with their purchase, empathise with them and let them know that you are there to help. You can help fix their order, provide another item, or even offer if they would prefer their wrong order to be donated to a charity of their choice,” he explains.
“Providing these personal connections will help increase the relationship building, trust, and safety that consumers will establish with you.”
“In my experience, even if they cannot solve the problem, if you feel respected and heard then at least you can say they tried,” believes Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls. “Some problems cannot be fixed but everyone can be treated fairly and with dignity. Exceptional service means you leave with a good taste feeling better than when you arrived.”
Pavel Ladziak, Founder of TheBeardStruggle uses his Instagram account to promote his beard care products. More importantly, he uses the channel to listen and engage with his audience. “I answer their questions directly and gather their comments to improve my business. This regular engagement I believe made my customers feel that they can share what they feel about my products anytime with me. In exchange, I understand better what they are looking for.”
In terms of accessibility, you can also foster empathy by taking into consideration the needs and challenges of people with different abilities as well. “Not everyone will have the same technical ability, so if need be, make your website as simple to use as possible,” explains DealDrop Co-Founder, James Crawford.
Adjust Your Approach/Messaging Based on Ongoing Events
When the pandemic hit, brands instantly switched their gear and went from promoting their products to sharing helpful resources and motivational messages. In other words, they became more empathetic than ever before.
Sayu Labs analysed Instagram posts from 100 brands across multiple sectors and found that when compared to the same period in 2019, they were 250% more empathetic during the first month of lockdown.
These brands realise that current events, industry updates, and market changes can have an impact on the emotional outlook of consumers. So they adjust their communications in anticipation of how their audience might feel or what they might need during lockdown.
Similarly, keeping up with the latest events and industry news can help you anticipate changes in the needs and desires of your target audience. You need to constantly change your approach and test different messages to make sure you’re empathising with the needs and experiences of your customers “right now.”
Dr. Saksham Sharda, CIO of Outgrow.co believes, “This helps us not only empathise with our clients that are a part of that market but also allows us to foresee and prepare our product/service for any troubles that the market (and our client) is going to face in the future.”
Seth Lytton, COO of The Detroit Bureau says, “Because we keep a close eye on the economy, we have the opportunity to pass solid financial advice onto our clients by focusing on their well-being. It's been difficult to find a job during the pandemic, but we give our clients hope by offering them advice on how to succeed in a difficult environment.”
According to Jen Bee of The Busy Bee Agency, LLC, empathy was a huge component in marketing throughout the pandemic. “While we were all sitting at home being bombarded with content, the brands that thrived were the ones that let their audience know that they, too, were feeling the pain of what was going on in the world around us,” she explains.
“The brands that looked to help us overcome what we were feeling, distract us from the insanity, provide positivity and light during a dark time were the ones that stayed on top. However, they would not have been able to reach us on that level had they not understood what we were going through.”
She also explains how the “You can’t stop us” ad from Nike is an excellent example. “The message resonated with everyone around the world because we were all feeling the impact of Covid, Black Lives Matter, and the fact that the world basically came to a screeching halt.”
“To understand your audience, you have to listen and that’s exactly what they did. They listened to what we were saying and what we were feeling and empathised. They weren’t looking for sales. They weren’t looking for anything other than to convey a message that things will get better, that we would be stronger, and give us.”
For ScanMyPhotos.com, understanding the experiences of their customers during the pandemic was a huge component that gave birth to their offering of free photo scanning. “The past year was unlike anything I ever experienced. 40% all customer orders were from grieving families preparing for onlne Zoom memorials. Each customer had the most emotional stories,” explains President & CEO Mitch Goldstone. “The role of a business is to listen and help. That is why we designed free photo scanning to help them, and just extended it as the nation recovers.”
Be Authentic in Your Approach
Fostering empathy, according to Danielle Fernandez, Williams Law, P.A Marketing Director, “is about authentic interaction that inspires advocacy for your products and services, yielding trusted recommendations that are more effective than other forms of advertising.”
“The idea is to be authentic and sincere. Otherwise, your messages will come off as trite, self-serving, and prospects will perceive you as someone who only cares about them until they sign the dotted line,” explains Darshan Somashekar, Founder & CEO of Spider Solitaire Challenge.
“Would you want to deal with someone who genuinely cares about you or someone who is solely interested in earning a profit?”
Alex Magnin, Founder & CEO of Alex Magnin advises, “Try to stay in the conversation with things your customer cares about, but make sure to do it authentically, so they know this means something to you as well, rather than it just being used for social media clout.”
So whatever empathy you decide to exhibit should come from a place of authenticity.
“The difficulty in having forced empathy with your consumers is that people are getting really wise to it,” explains Alex Mastin, Founder & CEO at Homegrounds. “Pride Month is the perfect example, where changing your logo to a rainbow flag is actually being questioned more and more as the community asks, ‘But do you really care?’”
“Instead, it is much smarter to build your own ethos around social and political issues, knowing exactly how you want to support movements through your work consistently, and you will likely get much more positive response,” he suggests.
“There will still be people who disagree with where you stand, but this is a much more sensible route to take than chasing constant avenues to empathise with that you may not fully understand or are just being involved with because it’s popular at the moment.”
According to Harriet Chan, Co-Founder of CocoFinder, youneed to, “Maintain honesty in communication, whether it's offering an apology or responding to a pressing issue, adapt to client needs, and avoid attacks on competitors.”
Honesty is one of the best ways to be authentic with your customers. Julian Juenemann of MeasureSchool says that being honest with prospects in their paid membership registration process has been a “game-changer” for them. “We recently initiated a completely new application-type funnel where users complete an application form to be a part of the membership,” Julian explains.
“Once a user applies, I review each one to understand much better if the membership can actually help them or not. I then give them a custom reply based on their application answers and tell them honestly if the membership is a good fit for them, and if not, what they can work on.”
Since they focus on converting only those prospects who are a good fit for the membership, they’re less likely to see members leaving after just a few weeks or months.
“The quality of our paid members has increased, we are better able to serve the members we do accept, and overall rapport with our most keen audience segment (applicants) has increased,” reports Julian.
Remain Transparent and Objective
If you’re withholding crucial information from your audience, you’re not empathising with their need to make informed decisions. There’s no empathy in aggressively promoting your products without considering the needs and desires of your target audience.
This is why it’s so important to remain transparent and objective in your marketing.
According to Sharon Van Donkelaar, CMO of Expandi, “To exercise empathy with your brand, you need to be transparent to your customers about your good business practices. It will help them see your honesty, and allow them to comment and suggest the practices that you are implementing right now.”
“One of the ways we practice empathy is to provide a pure resource without marketing lingo, advertisements, or a general push towards products or brands,” says Salman Aslam, Head of Marketing at MuchNeeded.“Yes, we use affiliate marketing, but we don’t try to persuade customers which products to buy, or not to buy. We remain as objective as possible.”
Objectivity is central to the EmailToolTester team as well. Founder Robert Brandl says, “Our customer's know that we are putting in the work and time, testing the tools so they don't have to and offering them a factual and unbiased opinion on their purchasing choices.”
“Without understanding their concerns we are of little use in our marketspace, so genuine empathy, without pandering in order to provide them with the best service, is vitally important.”
For skincare brands like Atolla, their goal is to empower users and help them feel more confident in their skin. This makes transparency and honesty central to their marketing. “We don’t retouch any of our images for this same reason, to make our business approachable and focus on real, healthy skin rather than airbrushed perfection,” says Co-founder & CEO Meghan Maupin.
Act on It
True empathy is accompanied by action. It’s not enough to simply say that you empathise with your customers or that you understand their issues. Unless you don’t show it in your actions, it’s not true empathy.
According to Mavens & Moguls Founder & CEO Paige Arnof-Fenn, the most empathetic brands keep the promises they make. “On the packaging, in the ads, on the sales floor what you see/hear is what you get, no bait and switch,” she says.
Shakun Bansal, CMO of Mercer Mettl says that the responsibility of empathy doesn’t end after collecting feedback or surveying customers. “You have to act on empathy for it to be meaningful. We implement all the suggested changes and feedback in the next product releases and send newsletters with the updated product releases to our clients and customers,” he elaborates.
“When our customers see those changes and that their feedback is listened to and taken care of, they are appreciative of it and return to us for products' renewal. Nothing is more confirming of your brand empathy messaging than a returning customer.”
Everyone makes mistakes – even brands. While the mistake itself may show a lack of empathy, what you choose to do after it could turn it around for you. That’s why it’s crucial for brands to show accountability if they want to be empathetic in their marketing.
Radio silence or laying the blame on your audience will not work. In fact, some brands have even seen their stocks drop due to mistakes like this. Instead, show that you truly care about what your audience feels by taking responsibility for mistakes that concern them.
Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls believes that the most empathetic brands take responsibility. “They do not make excuses or place blame they take ownership of the issue and do not pass you around or use threats and jargon, the customer feels heard and respected,” she says.
Support an Important Cause
Another way to empathise with your audience is by showing your support for a cause they care about. According to VinPit Co-Founder, Miranda Yan, “Organisations that care about having a social impact resonate more with buyers than those that don’t. 53% of respondents said they expect brands to engage in at least one social issue.”
For starters, environmental consciousness is a big thing right now as people start to gain more awareness about the current state of our planet.
“Women today are more socially conscious and aware of sustainability, environmental impact, and natural alternatives than ever before,” explains Suzanne Sachs of VintageDiamondRing. “It is no surprise, then, that many consumers are concerned with choosing an eco-friendly product that will show their commitment to the planet even as they make their commitment to each other.”
So it’s high time brands start making choices and changes that are sustainable and eco-conscious. From your packaging to your production process – look for areas where you can improve with the planet in mind.
But as Homegrounds’ Alex Mastin explained earlier, it’s important that you pick causes that you genuinely support. Don’t just support a cause because it’s popular right now or because other brands are doing it.
You can’t go wrong if you find a cause to support based on your core values.
This is the kind of strategy that companies like Brevitē follow. Co-Founder & Creative and Strategy Head, Brandon Kim says, “We put emphasis on our core values in our marketing, which include enabling and supporting each other’s creativity, leading by example, treating everyone fairly in all that we do, and being serious about play.”
“Empathy is a huge component in our values, so we make sure it plays a huge role in our marketing strategy. We believe that our company should not just be about profits, but the community it builds around it and the social good we can do in return,” explains Brandon.
“We’ve donated $150,000 in backpacks to the homeless in New York City during the pandemic and other campaigns that not only bring brand awareness, but establish Brevité as a brand that is socially responsible and understanding of the issues that our customers also care about or are impacted by.”
Let Empathy Extend throughout the Business
With authenticity being vital to make empathetic marketing work for you, it’s also important to ensure that empathy extends throughout the business and not just in your marketing. From your policies to your manufacturing to your staffing to your back office operations – empathy should be at the core of your business.
It’s particularly important to show empathy towards your staff since they’re the ones who deal with your customers. The empathy they experience could extend through in the way they work with customers, handle problems, and communicate with your audience.
“We take this approach seriously and it even extends into our recruiting and staff development,” says Haro Helpers Founder, Brett Downes. “All new and potential hires fill out the Myers-Briggs personality test as this allows us a bit more insight into what makes them tick. Now it isn't a foolproof method, but it helps us choose whether to use the carrot or stick approach for motivation, discipline, and training.”
Similarly, make sure you consider a candidate’s emotional intelligence and ability to empathise during recruitment. According to Tommy Gallagher, Founder of Top Mobile Banks, “Employees that are good at empathising with others are more productive and innovative. This indicates that you should hire employees with great 'soft skills' if you want to boost productivity and broaden the number of problems you can handle for clients.”
John Adams IT CEO, Phil Crippen also makes sure that he trains his employees on the importance of empathy. “After all, without empathy, who are we as human beings?”
Now that you have an idea of what other brands and professionals are doing, how are you going to foster empathy in your marketing?