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.