Mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als have feel­ings, too. We laugh, we love, we empathize, and we see in the world what we hope it can be. Our job is to con­nect with an audi­ence in an impact­ful, impas­sioned way. The first step in cre­at­ing those bonds is har­vest­ing the empa­thy that nat­u­ral­ly blooms with­in us and chan­nel­ing that into empa­thet­ic mar­ket­ing cam­paigns.

As a cre­ative type, I’ve always sub­scribed to the old adage, “Write what you know.” What evokes a response from me as an audi­ence mem­ber? Is it a joke that points out my foibles? Or a touch­ing moment that reminds me of my vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties? Per­haps, a patri­ot­ic scene of com­mu­ni­ties band­ing togeth­er to effect change? All of these are prime exam­ples of how empa­thy dic­tates emo­tion­al­i­ty. If I’m moved by a par­tic­u­lar mar­ket­ing cam­paign, then my peers will most like­ly be drawn to it as well. This is how audi­ences are cre­at­ed and expand­ed, and it all starts by tap­ping into your vast empath­ic reserves.

Empathy Is A Two-Way Street

Now that you’ve nur­tured your own inner voice, it’s time to lis­ten to those around you. The mar­ket research skills you devel­oped in busi­ness school helped you iden­ti­fy trends and demo­graph­ics as a series of num­bers in a report, but who are the peo­ple behind those fig­ures? The answer might be star­ing you right in the Face­book feed.

A recent study showed that men with a Face­book account were aware of 8% of the more stress­ful events in the lives of their close con­nec­tions than men with no Face­book pres­ence. That sta­tis­tic jumps up to 13% in the case of women on Face­book ver­sus women who eschewed the social media plat­form.

In my opin­ion, this is the most valu­able mar­ket research imag­in­able — its ram­i­fi­ca­tions are momen­tous.

Every day, we par­tic­i­pate in a nar­ra­tive that unfolds on our per­son­al feed. We feel, we con­nect and we are moti­vat­ed to get involved. These are the build­ing blocks of any great mar­ket­ing cam­paign. Sim­ply apply the same emo­tions you express via social media to your work in the adver­tis­ing world and you’ve estab­lished empa­thy as the bedrock of a much larg­er con­ver­sa­tion.

Empathy In The Digital Age

As a dis­cern­ing media expert, I must also con­sid­er the coun­ter­ar­gu­ment to the above asser­tion that Face­book increas­es empa­thy. Over the past three decades, stud­ies have shown that nar­cis­sism in col­lege stu­dents has risen, which cor­re­lates with a dra­mat­ic plunge in their report­ed capac­i­ty for empa­thy. That spells trou­ble for the ide­al mar­ket­ing demo­graph­ic that we now iden­ti­fy as mil­len­ni­als.

But instead of shrug­ging these find­ings off as insur­mount­able, I choose to dig deep­er. Young peo­ple aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly slough­ing off their sense of com­mu­ni­ty; rather, they are express­ing these ten­den­cies on the new dig­i­tal fron­tier.

In oth­er words: Empa­thy isn’t on the decline, it’s just online.

When mil­len­ni­als reach out to ask for guid­ance, they do so via social media plat­forms and per­haps find the answers from peo­ple they have nev­er met. A whop­ping 70% of this demo­graph­ic report­ed learn­ing a new skill by watch­ing videos on YouTube. And almost half of mil­len­ni­als — 47% — have con­sult­ed the media giant for health advice. And in this age of divi­sive­ness and polar­iza­tion, it was shock­ing to learn that 39% of young peo­ple say they learned to view the world around them in a new light after watch­ing a YouTube clip.

This is mar­ket­ing at its most pow­er­ful, I think, because it elic­its reac­tions at the speed of light. Mil­len­ni­als are empathiz­ing with every click, view and share. It’s our job as mar­keters to keep up.

Con­sid­er play­ing to con­sumers’ empa­thet­ic nature through sto­ry­telling. This can come in the form of info­graph­ics that break down com­plex ideas into eas­i­ly digestible frag­ments, nar­ra­tive-dri­ven writ­ing with char­ac­ter arc, how-tos that act like Jer­ry Sein­feld explain­ing a pear-shaped sit­u­a­tion we’ve all been in and how to rem­e­dy it, or shock­ing sta­tis­tics that direct­ly relate to a known sub­ject that isn’t under­stood com­plete­ly.

When incor­po­rat­ing empa­thy into your mar­ket­ing, there are sev­er­al dos and don’ts to be mind­ful of.

Do under­stand your audience’s needs, wants and con­cerns before con­struct­ing an empa­thet­ic cam­paign.

• Do teach.

• Do inspire good.

• Do use emo­tion — through nos­tal­gia, group men­tal­i­ty, rela­tion­ships, fear and tri­umph.

• Do have a goal.

• Don’t preach.

• Don’t use an obvi­ous call-to-action. Allow your audi­ence to make their own con­clu­sions and allow the pre­sent­ed infor­ma­tion to speak for itself.

• Don’t focus on com­peti­tors short­com­ings. Instead, focus on the pos­i­tive of your brand or your indus­try as a whole.

• Don’t have more than one goal.

No one wants to look at adver­tise­ments any­more and, for the most part, no one has to. Mar­ket­ing in today’s soci­ety is pro­vid­ing val­ue even before a con­sumer pur­chas­es a prod­uct. Cor­po­rate val­ue align­ment guides cus­tomers and keeps brands at the fore­front of their minds.

My ulti­mate mar­ket­ing goal is to break down bar­ri­ers and speak to the largest, most diverse audi­ence pos­si­ble. Empa­thy is the prover­bial yel­low brick road on that quest. If peo­ple can empathize with one anoth­er, then they can coa­lesce around a core mes­sage, a shared set of val­ues and a sense of one­ness.

Case in point: The accep­tance of the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty has seen a notable increase. In 2014, 56% of Amer­i­cans had a strong­ly favor­able view of same-sex mar­riage, up 45 per­cent­age points since 1988. The tra­jec­to­ry is going in the right direc­tion. Empa­thy is on the rise when it comes to LGBTQ accep­tance, and it even marched its way into the mar­ket­ing strate­gies for the 2018 Win­ter Olympics. Sam­sung and NBC clam­ored to include Adam Rip­pon and Gus Ken­wor­thy in their brand­ing ini­tia­tives, and social media approves — to the tune of hun­dreds of thou­sands of eager fol­low­ers.

Not only does it do my heart good to see empa­thy ush­er­ing in a sense of jus­tice, but it also encour­ages me to root for these charis­mat­ic ath­letes. Go for the heart, go for what’s right and go for the gold! Empa­thy is the Olympic torch that will ignite your mar­ket­ing goals.