That may be the most critical question for marketers and advertisers today. Empathy is the key to emotionally resonant campaigns, and emotional connections with consumers have never mattered more.
Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler said, "Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” This kind of thinking has become more vital in marketing and advertising during the digital age (more on that in a bit), but COVID-19 has upped the ante even more.
The pandemic is an emotional rollercoaster that's forcing brands to confront new questions: What are the right messages when many consumers remain on edge and increasingly weary? What do people want to hear right now, and what turns them off? How do you market well in an environment that seems to change by the week?
Here are four reasons why it's never been more essential for marketers and advertisers to try to step into customers' shoes and understand their wants, needs and motivations.
1. The pandemic effect continues
It bears repeating: As pandemic uncertainty remains the norm, businesses must be hyperaware of consumers' emotional state and lead with empathy in all marketing and advertising efforts.
Companies have been talking about empathy in customer experience delivery for years—it's become a major business buzzword—but COVID-19 has made empathy indispensable. It has become the determining factor in whether a company is perceived as customer-centric.
Now more than ever, empathy is the necessary starting point for understanding customers' emotions and behaviors, and it's a prerequisite for delivering products and services that foster brand loyalty, and in pushing the business ahead of competitors.
This isn't to suggest that marketers and advertisers should be overtly building pandemic-related messaging into all their campaigns. Rather, they need to go the extra mile in demonstrating to consumers, "We get you."
2. The empathy bar has been rising for years
In the digital age, customers are more knowledgeable and have higher expectations and more choices than ever before. To build loyalty, a company must be able to tune into consumers' feelings and create an emotional connection. Are we relating to customers on a personalized, human level—their needs, wants, dislikes and frustrations? Empathy is the only way to know.
The burden has never been greater for businesses to get their campaigns, messages and all their interactions with customers right. The app economy keeps raising the bar on what ideal interactions look and feel like, and consumers have never had lower patience for anything less. Every time Amazon provides a fast and convenient ordering and delivery experience or Instagram recommends just the right shirt, people are trained to expect digital delight
Consumers now remember both positive and negative experiences with greater intensity. That makes it crucial for businesses to exhibit extraordinary levels of empathy to understand the factors that put customers at either end of that spectrum.
3. Marketing influence is growing
Marketing finds itself in an unprecedented position to drive empathy as a brand differentiator.
2020 went down "as the year that marketing was pulled into the boardroom," according to Adobe's 2021 Digital Trends Report, which surveyed 13,000 marketing, advertising and e-commerce professionals worldwide. "Eighty percent of senior executives said the role of marketing in setting strategy has expanded since the pandemic. … This priority has raised the profile of marketing as companies scramble to understand the digital-first consumer.”
According to the report, "Empathy is the future of experience. Customer empathy will be used as a differentiator with brands demonstrating knowledge of their customers and the unique ways they can serve them.”
Marketing organizations should respond by continuing to use data-driven insights to better understand customer trends and behaviors, but not allow data to become a proxy for the invaluable human intelligence that comes from directly listening to and observing customers with empathy.
Fast, constant, substantive human insights keep companies grounded in what customers really care about so they can deliver campaigns that evoke a positive, emotional response.
4. Empathy cuts through the noise
The typical consumer is exposed to thousands of ads a day. How does a company break through that? Nothing is more powerful than messages that show a deep, genuine understanding of customers' needs and concerns. Content and messages that show genuine empathy are the ones that resonate with consumers. This is an opportunity for brands to connect with consumers to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. Empathy wins every time.
In addressing these four realities, businesses need to determine what resonates with customers' psyches. It's important to find effective new ways to know as much as possible about customers and what motivates, pleases and annoys them.
Direct, real-time conversations with customers can confirm theories behind what works in marketing and advertising campaigns, challenge assumptions and uncover new truths.
Got empathy? Companies better embrace it these days, and be prepared to be innovative in doing so.