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How To Market With Empathy

Get In Touch With Your Sensitive Side

In years gone by, empathy and business seemed to be the antithesis of one another. Your wannabe Wolf of Wall Street had little time for pandering to others’ needs when there was a quick buck to be made. But the business world has changed and the nature of marketing has progressed considerably from this flash stereotype, to the point nowadays where empathy, understanding and sensitivity are elemental to good marketing strategies for your business.

It’s not just about showing that you’re a bunch of good eggs with big hearts; understanding empathy and how to use it in business marketing is an attentive way of setting your company apart from the countless others and their dated call to action commands.

What is empathy?

-         The intellectual identification with, and vicarious experiencing of, the feelings and thoughts and attitudes of another.

The word empathy has only been in existence for 100 years or so, introduced in 1909 from the German word ‘einfühlung’, which translates as ‘feeling into’.

Without getting too sentimental about things, advertisers who understand empathy will also understand that it’s about entering the conversations that are already going on in a person’s heart. There, we said it. Corny, but true – if you can translate these feelings into content and marketing, advertising campaigns will appear instantly more seamless and effective. People are won over by emotion and instinctive responses to products and services, so advertising with empathy makes it seem as if you aren’t really advertising anything at all.  

It’s not a new idea, but one that marketers would do well to take to heart (we’ve said it again). Empathy exists in the really great adverts – the ones that make you laugh or cry, the real water cooler ads. The John Lewis Christmas ads over the last few years are testament to this. Yes, they’re schmaltzy and nostalgic but it taps into those festive feelings of sentimentality, of home and family, and gets an emotional response; and not just a response, but actually places the viewer inside the advert, in the shoes of another and it is this recognition of a heart-warming family scene so similar to one’s own that pulls at the heart strings. It’s emotive, it’s empathy.

Another example is Google’s ad for dad . Through the father’s viewpoint and the screen of his device’s Google homepage, we are shown a father recording his emotional connection with his daughter through technology; it is the pride and joy and humility that we are shown, and partake in, that causes such an emphatic reaction.

P&G’s ‘Thank you Mum’ for the London Olympics is another example of empathetic advertising, showing how being a mother is the ‘best job’ in the Olympics, leading the viewer by the hand through the day to day rigmarole of loving and devoted mothers raising impossibly cute kids to be the best they possibly can. Just writing about it is enough to make us well up. Pass the (P&G) tissues.

All these ads have one thing in common: indirect selling. It’s not about the quick sell, it’s about getting customers to buy into your culture as a whole. Obviously these marketing campaigns are selling us things – food and goods, a web browser, household products – but it never feels like this. Emotive communications tend to far outperform informative ones.

In 2007 an analysis of 880 campaigns found that emotional ads outsell informational ones by 19%. A follow up study found that out of 1400 campaigns, emotive ads proved even better and performed twice as well as purely informational communications.

This may be why most marketing campaigns these days feel more akin to a Hollywood blockbuster – it’s about getting visually emotive stimuli to entice a real personal investment in what one is seeing. Human emotions are like mirrors. If we see something on screen, we are likely to replicate it ourselves and the same is true for emotions. We share in the feelings that we observe on screen. Ads that understand the need for empathy understand the need to get the customer investing in the ethos and environment of the business, as opposed to simply the latest gadget in itself.

Clearly for small businesses it may be problematic finding the time, ability or means to experience your customers’ thoughts and feelings; in other words, how are you meant to empathise with them? Dr James Patell of Stanford University in the US has come up with an easy formula:

“Our users need a better way to __________ BECAUSE ___________”

It is the focus on the ‘because’ that will give you real insight into your customers’ motivation and attitudes, and thus help you create an empathetic marketing strategy for your business. Your business should aim to be one of those great brands that recognises its customers’ feelings and validates their humanity – they’ll like you for it.

Recent graduate and now interning as content editor, when she's not writing articles Katie can quite likely be found festival-ing, holiday-ing or reading a book (dedicated English student that she is). Follow her @KatieAtSMF.

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How To Market With Empathy Reviewed by Anonymous on Friday, August 15, 2014 Rating: 5
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