Harnessing the Power of Empathy in Marketing

Ever wonder how to make your marketing more human? How to connect with people as people, and not just as marks you're driving towards that all-important click?  

Here's the thing. You could use some perspective...

You have personal and professional biases about the thing you're marketing -- the perspective of a person who spends most of their time thinking about this thing {Made to Stick marketing calls this the "curse of knowledge"}.

Your audience is, I'm sorry to say, likely not quite so dedicated to said thing. So how do you create and sit inside your audience's perspective? What would they know or care about before making the decision you're seeking to influence? Ding ding ding! That's right, dear reader. Empathy.

The two Types of Empathy -- And How to Employ Them in Your Marketing

Did you know there are actually two kinds of empathy? {I didn't either, until the altMBA. But that's a story for another time.} Affective empathy is a shared emotional response. Cognitive empathy is understanding the other’s worldview; the experiences that shape how they look at the world and themselves.

The most effective marketers -- and leaders -- tap equally into both cognitive and affective empathy to create brand stories that resonate with what their audiences believe in. 


empathy creates Better Marketing By Changing Your Thinking About Who Says Yes or No

Developing the two types of empathy for your audience can change how you think about the moment when someone says 'yes' or 'no' to what you're pedaling.

By integrating your intended audience's narratives, stories, world views, emotions, and priorities, you're no longer able to simply write off a 'no' as the wrong decision -- as someone who just doesn't get it. You'll find yourself able to accept and understand what led to that 'no.' You can ask yourself how that marketing didn't align with the people who responded 'no' {by not taking the action you were driving at} -- what they believe, if there's common ground with what we believe.

With our newfound empathy, we now understand when someone says 'yes' to our marketing in a new way. We can ask ourselves how and why our successful marketing practices align with what our people believe in.

Generally, people say ‘yes’ to what matches what they believe in. 

The specifics of the thing are actually less important than the beliefs the thing represents.

To get started injecting some empathy into your marketing, explore what your person believes, what different sets of information your people would have access to, and whether they'd likely interpret the information differently than you would based on their beliefs and knowledge. 

Don't just intellectualize the reasons why someone may use your competitors. Feel what they might feel. Focusing only on the cognitive, you can’t help but develop some affective empathy, but not the sort that would develop if your primary focus were on the affective from the start.

know what your people believe? Ask yourself a few questions:

Before you dive in here, have you created buyer personas to define the types of people who fit your intended audience? If not, I'd do that first. This is more of a deep dive beyond what most personas will offer you.

  • What features, ingredients, safety reassurances, accreditations, etc., would they look for? Do they even know to look for any or all of these?
  • What would they notice about your business -- where it's based, how large it is, who runs it, what it's origin story is, its employer brand, etc.?
  • How much would their direct experience of your business weigh against the personality of the marketing, the physicality and branding of the thing or location, as compared with opinions within their tribe?
  • What obstacles might your people experience on their way to making the decision you're seeking to influence? How might they work through these, and how might your marketing help them to do so? 

You might not be able to cover every detail about your people's journey from prospect to happy customer, and that's ok. You might decide to ignore aspects of the decision-making journey, or focus on one buyer persona only, in the interest of creating something usable in a timely manner. 

make purposeful marketing decisions based in empathy for your people

Now that you can fully sit in your audience's seat, understand from their perspective why they say 'yes' or 'no' to your marketing, you've got some decisions to make. Be purposeful. Don't just go off and change all the stuff that people said 'no' to just because people said 'no' to it. Nothing that's worth anything is created for everyone.

When examining what's falling flat, consider a few things. If there isn't common ground between our beliefs and this audience's, do we need to change something...or does what we believe in simply resonate with one persona but not the other?

Maybe the business is totally viable without the 'no' personas -- after all, all things are not for all people.

And if we need to bring that 'no' around to a 'yes,' we now can employe cognitive and affective empathy to look to tactics, wording, styling, etc, to speak to the beliefs of the ones who have said 'no' in a way that resonates.

And that can only help improve your marketing and expand your mission's reach.