How brands are using empathy to deliver meaningful marketing strategies in 2020
Updated: Jul 21
With the impact of Covid-19, the BLM movement and calls for Facebook to take greater responsibility, brands have been pushed into the spotlight; to show what they stand for, step up and take positive action. Today's consumers are far more in tune with the brands that they associate with, the stories they tell and the actions they take in support of their values.
But why is this so important, and, after years of pushing ‘automation’ and AI, how do we deliver ‘real’ empathy?
What is empathy-based marketing?
When we talk about empathy we’re talking about walking in the shoes of your customers. Understanding their challenges, fears, hopes and dreams from a perspective which goes beyond just your product offering. Use this deeper understanding of your customers to guide the creation of content, experiences and initiatives that benefit your customers in a more meaningful way.
We talk a lot about transparency and authenticity, and whilst these remain crucial to the brand, they are owned by the brand. Compared to this, empathy is something that must be offered.
Why do I need an empathy-based marketing strategy?
Customers are demanding more from the brands they buy. Today's consumer takes great pride in the products they choose to shop, wearing brands as an extension of their personal beliefs and values. Like them, they expect brands to be socially responsible and care about what matters to them. A 2019 report by Edelman shows that 49% of consumers feel that brands can do more to solve social ills than the government. Meaningful brands no longer brush social issues or world problems under the carpet, rather they take a proactive approach to making a social impact and inspire change gaining trust and respect from today's consumers who are looking to brands to use their impact for the greater good!
An Empathy-based marketing approach can increase brand loyalty and LTV. Done correctly, employing empathy in your marketing creates authentic brand affinity. A study by meaningful-brands.com shows that repurchase intent is 140% higher from brands considered meaningful than for those that aren't. If you can find ways to make your customers’ lives better, support their efforts in creating change and shout about their values, they’ll trust and return to you time and again.
Meaningful brands generate significant improvements on KPIs. The same study by meaningful-brands.com shows that purchase intent from the most meaningful brands is 38% compared to 14% from the least meaningful brands, plus customers are willing to spend more with brands they consider meaningful.
How do I deliver empathy-based marketing?
To be genuinely empathetic you need to identify with the situation of your customers. In this article, markempa.com quote the well-known neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, who stated, “We are not thinking machines that feel, rather, we are feeling machines that think". With this in mind, the emotional connection precedes conversion.
Here are six further ways to apply an empathy-based marketing approach today:
1. Understand your customer
The first step is to get under the skin of your consumer and understand them on a deeper level. Learning the answers to these questions will open up new levels of empathy that you can use to guide your business, marketing and the way you communicate.
What excites them?
What do they truly care about?
What challenges and injustices do they feel strongly about?
What are their dreams, hopes and desires?
Often things considered irrelevant can form a more valuable picture of your customer than you could ever have imagined. Your products and services entwine into their everyday life. The American Marketing Association put it well when they said "if we aren’t keeping in mind their full journey, including their emotional, mental, social and physical needs - as well as the challenges and joys they are facing - we cannot do our jobs well”.
2. REALLY understand your customer
As the great quote goes “if you try to appeal to everyone you'll end up appealing to no one” (Seth Godin). The more granular and segmented your audience, the more your customer will feel like you're speaking to them .
Small, niche brands, particularly those in physical stores dealing with their customers face-to-face, are more able to connect with their customers. Your online D2C presence should replicate this "in-store experience" as closely as possible.
E-commerce and CRM technology today allows you to personalise individual customer journeys and brand experiences at scale. From ads to emails and e-commerce experiences - your customers should only see what is relevant to them personally.
A great way to achieve this personalised approach is to create customer personas or ‘avatars’ for each of your customer segments. These profiles contain everything you know about about your customer, from where they hang out, the language they use with their friends to what they do at the weekend and what they truly value. Pin these profiles to your wall and make it a habit to look at them, they should be guiding your daily decision making.
Share this information with your whole team. Your customer service team can benefit from (and indeed shape) these customer profiles. Your product team can use the insights to deliver a more helpful product. Your marketing team can find the tone and language to deliver communications.
3. Communicate with your customer
The key here is to have 'dialogue' - ensure you're communicating with them, not just to them. Understanding your customer shouldn’t stop at that survey you sent out back in 2018 (yep, at just 2 years old it’s now outdated!) - you need to develop a clear pathway for continued and consistent communication and dialogue.
As new conversations appear on the agenda at a quickening rate, brands that sit back will become outdated fast. Instead, you need to immerse yourself in the conversations and respond regularly. In doing so, you will be constantly educating yourself on your customers, their experiences, challenges and viewpoints, which is vital in ensuring your marketing messages remain empathetic.
4. Create meaningful content
According to Domo, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. Millenials are actively seeking out content that prompts change, in both themselves and/or the world around them. There is no shortage of content. What our consumers need is meaningful content.
Your content should fit into at least one of six roles played by meaningful content - it should either inspire, inform, entertain, help, educate or reward your customer.
Ask yourself what would truly add value to your customer. Consider what they want to know, but also how they want to absorb it - an engaging ebook, a useful blog post, an inspirational article, an uplifting video, within a community forum?
5. Build communities
As customers choose brands like they would their friends, more people than ever are being influenced by social media and shared user experiences from those around them.
It's time to tap into these digital conversations, build connections not only with your brand but between customers that share similar views and experiences. Automated, un-feeling contributions are not making the impact that they use to. Savvy consumers know when they're being "marketed to" so you need to be genuinely helpful and supportive. Get it right and you will never have to "sell" again!
Let's take a look at empathy-based marketing in action...
Dove Real Beauty Sketches
Dove's 2013 campaign doesn't focus on product benefits but instead looks at the challenges its customers face every day - in this case, their struggles with low self-esteem and self-perception.
In a very gentle and engaging story, you see women describing their facial features to an artist behind a screen. Before seeing their faces, he sketches their portrait from their words alone, then he sketches a second portrait of the women from the descriptions of others.
The women are later presented with both portraits and see how much more beautiful they are seen by others than by themselves. The campaign tagline was 'You're more beautiful than you think' and had over 8 million views without a single mention or visual of any of their products.
LUSH How it's made
LUSH is known for using truly natural ingredients, and their customers are incredibly passionate about buying fresh, organic and ethically sourced ingredients. So LUSH's How It's Made campaign in 2017 created a behind-the-scenes video, where LUSH employees showed how their products were made, what they were made from and exactly how they followed the values of their customer.
LUSH knew that their customers valued the product ingredients and ethical production far more than the end results of the product, and through this content were assured that they could consume the brand's products with peace of mind.
Innocent drinks The Good Times
Innocent drinks are referenced time and time again for their meaningful, empathy-based marketing. These guys have really got it right.
Customers buy from the story of Innocent, knowing the brand stand for 'good'. Their recent release of 'The Good Times' targets a number of empathy-based tactics. An incredibly effective empathy-based marketing tactic is education, which they provide throughout their article. Additionally, by taking their customers behind the scenes, they share a human face as well as detailed company insights. By having 'nothing to hide' they instil a two-way trust.
Ready to Try It?
There is no doubt that to compete in todays market, brands need to communicate with empathy. Those that do are creating increased brand affinity and it's no wonder - consumers want to buy from brands that get them!