Communicate Empathically and They'll Listen

Infuse All Your Contact Points With the Understanding That Consumers Are Frustrated and Concerned

By Published on .

Mark Weiss
Mark Weiss
No matter what it is you're trying to sell, no matter what relationships you're trying to build, today's economy and the 24/7 barrage of media attention around the instability of the world's financial markets is changing customers' feelings about how they should spend their money and about what is acceptable to buy.

For marketers, the halo effect of an impending recession or a stalled economy can be greater than the financial data on a particular target group might suggest.

It's imperative, then, that marketers project their propositions empathically, infusing all of their communications with the understanding that the marketplace is grappling with degrees of frustration, concern and even depression. For example, when cash is flowing easily and optimism is everywhere, the notion that sex sells might be all the insight a marketer needs to move products off the shelf or to endear a service to target consumers. But when the economy falters significantly, much of the marketplace, consciously or subconsciously, wants to be persuaded by a rational if not inspiring level of value-oriented sensibility and empathy -- a sense that the marketer "feels my pain."

Cadillac got it right. If you want the consumer to trade up to a Cadillac in today's market, build her a value proposition that is meaningful, sensitive to her aspirations and, yes, modestly edgy. The brand is positioning its new sports sedan as a sensible extravagance, one that, while not cheap, is value-priced such that consumers can rationalize its purchase.

At all levels
Of course, empathic communications should not stop at the top levels of marketing communications. If Cadillac is to be truly successful in its pursuit of brand leadership in the sport-sedan category, especially during the next several years, its empathic marketing must be carried out at all points of contact with the consumer. For Cadillac, people at the dealer level must be equally empathic. They must convey an understanding of and compassion for the host of issues consumers are grappling with as they contemplate the purchase of a Cadillac. They must underscore the features of the car that scream value and will provide a rationale for the purchase decision.

Even when a product or complete product line is marketed around a low-price proposition, well-executed empathic marketing can supercharge the offerings by creating an emotional bias for the wholesale or retail outlet.

By way of an example, Wal-Mart's "Save money. Live better" slogan makes its critical point clearly, concisely and empathically.

Mark Weiss is partner at Harbor Group Communications, a New York marketing-communications and public-relations firm that focuses on corporate positioning, consumer-product marketing and business-to-business communications.
Yes, it shouts out low price, but it also says that Wal-Mart understands consumers' deep desire to enjoy more of what life has to offer by being able to spread their money over more purchases.

Empathic communication knows no boundaries; it must inspire brochures, sales sheets and over-the-desk conversations with prospective customers. And the development and application of empathic communications cannot be formulaic. Research can help determine the words that will have relevance for particular targets and industries. But personal, finger-on-the-pulse experience with the target marketplace and sensitivity to the target's feelings, concerns and trepidations will be the best guide. There's no faking it. You have to be empathic in order to get the most out of empathic marketing communications.
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