Empathy in marketing may seem like the new buzzword, the new shiny object to grab our attention. But for me, it has been foundational throughout my career. In fact, I cannot imagine a successful marketing strategy that doesn’t, in some way, tap into empathy.
Empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.Merriam-Webster Dictionary
When we are trying to capture the attention of our audience so they will consider our brand as a viable solution to their problem, we need to show them we understand, are sensitive to their needs, and can put ourselves in their shoes. Maybe it is my background in healthcare. Maybe it is because empathy is #4 in my Top 5 of the Strength Finders assessment. This is foundational to building a relationship with a person you know you can help through your business.
Pandemic and Racial Inequality
Our society is facing times like we’ve not seen before (at least for a good portion of us). And these challenging times are pushing businesses to show empathy in ways they may never have done before – and honestly, may not know how to do in a way that is authentic to them.
Many businesses have sent out emails with statements acknowledging first the pandemic and the nation-wide shut down; and more recently, the outrage over the death of George Floyd. But if those messages are all you’ve done, and you hope that was enough – your audience is going to see those for what they were – a gesture.
Empathy in marketing
Empathy in marketing starts with truly understanding your audience. What are they going through? How does the situation make them feel? How can you help? You need to understand your audience, their problems, their feelings, which in turn understand your business, how you solve problems, how your solution works and know how it fits within the circumstances your audience is dealing with at the time they need you.
When I started in healthcare marketing, people often asked me if I was marketing people getting sick? Really?? Why would anyone do that? It was a time when hospitals had not been advertising or communicating directly to their prospective patients or community. Healthcare marketing is empathy-based marketing.
What is empathy-based marketing?
I found this definition on a blog post by a consultancy group called markempa.
- Empathize with your customer’s experience by going into their world to understand.
- Think like your clients when they set out to solve the problem and discover each step they may take to solve it.
- Look for ways you can help your customers make their lives better
- Provide your customers with what they want by understanding what motivates them
- Help your clients identify and solve problems
- Give customers content and expertise that helps them get clarity
- Empower employees who directly touch customers with the resources, training, and tools to help them.
The same post also reminded me of the work of Antonio Damasio – who I had the opportunity to work with briefly while he was the head of neurology at University of Iowa Health Care. He once said, “We are not thinking machines that feel rather, we are feeling machines that think.”
Put in another way, every human decision depends on emotion – every single one. With that in mind, decisions to do business with you (or not) are based on how you make your customers FEEL. That is empathy.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Leadership in this moment: Listen deeply, Unite Widely, Act boldly. Forbes
- Empathy is a marketers most important trait, m4 communications, inc.
- What is empathy-based marketing? markempa
- Is your company actually fighting racism or just talking about it? Harvard Business Review
- Why empathy is one of the most overlooked skills in business, Entrepreneur
- Harvard psychologist: The most emotionally intelligent people have these 12 traits
- Diversity in marketing, episode 49
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