Is Empathy Really THAT Important In Marketing?


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October 05, 2020

Is Empathy Really THAT Important In Marketing?

Our Short Answer: YES. When you think of things from the customer’s perspective, what challenges they're facing, and their problems, you gain the invaluable opportunity to assess how can their problem can best be solved! Maybe your services are the perfect fit, and if not, you have the chance to be generous and knowledgeable enough to guide them in the right direction!

Empathy graphic for Ability SEO blog

We live in a digital world. A world where the average person spends 5 hours on their mobile phone scrolling down news feeds. The only way marketers can make their voice heard against this white noise of information is by showing empathy. 

Emotion researchers define empathy as the “ability to sense other people's emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling”.


Why Is Empathy In Marketing Important?

Empathy in marketing is not about the feel-good feeling generated by content or marketing campaigns; it is about viewing everything through the perspective of your customers, so you can improve your understanding of their wants and needs. It is this that produces more customer loyalty and more business success.

People usually buy products and services because of the way they feel about them. This is true in both b2c (business to customer) and b2b (business to business) efforts. 

In, b2b marketing in particular, the assumption is black and white bottomline figures play a more prominent role than emotion. However, research from the LinkedIn institute challenges this assumption:

Binet and Field’s report shows that b2b marketing strategies that trigger an audience’s emotions “drive a massive 7x more very large business effects in the long term than campaigns that appeal to them on a rational level. 

Empathy In All Your Marketing Efforts 

Active Listening In Sales

Today,  just with a little browsing on Google, customers can become as knowledgeable about a company's products and services as their sales team. So how can sales people demonstrate their expertise? By showing they understand the world of their prospect through active listening.

John Doerr, president of RAIN Group suggests 4 steps to actively listen to prospects:


  1. “Truly Listening To Your Prospects”: Sales reps are often too busy talking and worried about what they are going to say next to listen to prospects.  Usually, salespeople listen out for a question, word, or phrase that they assume means, "I'm ready to buy!". Prospects’ sense this and think that “this salesperson wants to sell me something, whether I need it or not”.

    If a salesperson actively listens to their prospect's tone of voice and the words that they use, this gives them the ability to put themselves in the buyer's shoes, which fosters trust and commitment.

  2. Feedback what you’ve just heard from your prospect”:

    After a prospect reveals something about the problem or challenge they are facing, the salesperson needs to feed it back to them so the prospect knows they understand their problem. Doerr suggests 3 methods of feedback that a salesperson can use during a conversation with a prospect:
    1. Repeat it to the prospect verbatim: repeat word-for-word to your prospect what they just told you; this allows them to clarify or confirm their statement. Don't overuse this technique, as this will cast doubt on your understanding.
    2. Paraphrase it: by paraphrasing what your prospect said, you can condense it in a more concise form. You also show that you've listened to them carefully enough to internalize what they’ve said to you.
    3. Use your own words to explain what a prospect said: this approach is the most empathetic. By using your own words to explain what you’ve heard from your prospect you are demonstrating that you have the framework for understanding similar situations to theirs; you are also showing that you can empathize with their struggle. It's best to stick to the words your prospect used and to avoid using over technical industry jargon.

  3. Confirm that you’ve heard them correctly”

    Once you have used your own words to explain what your prospect said, ask them if you’ve heard them correctly. If they say “No, you’ve haven’t understood what I’ve said to you”, you should ask them to clarify what they’ve told you. For example, you can say, “Can you clarify for me what I might have misunderstood, or what I might have got wrong?”

  4. Ask a relevant follow-up question

After getting feedback from a prospect that you've understood their problem correctly, ask an appropriate follow up question. By asking open-ended questions, it allows the prospect to share more details about their goals, and their current plans, and their challenges. 

Empathy Is Never ‘Business As Usual’

When your social media marketing efforts are about curating content that strikes a chord with customers, they’ll like it, retweet it, and re-share it with their network. When content is created, it’s not being pushed out, it should address peoples’ needs, and they should feel they want to thank you for it.  

People also use the phrase, “ business as usual”. Empathy is never business as usual, it’s the way business should be done. And it takes more work, and more thought behind it. That’s why it’s hard to get right, but at the same time it’s still achievable.

Empathy In Sales And All Parts Of Your business

The best salespeople know that anticipating a potential customer's needs is key to closing a sale. They also have the ability to demonstrate how the solution they’re offering is the one that solves a customer’s problem. 

If your sales team isn’t aware of customers’ struggles, pain points and fears, this means it will be a more difficult sale. People have a tendency to buy from a person who they feel they know, like and trust. Having an empathetic approach goes a long way to closing a sale.

What’s more important than increased sales, are loyal customers and referrals. By having an empathetic culture throughout your organization, your repeat customers will turn into your biggest fans.

One sector where empathy matters is in the super competitive airline industry. Ryanair’s ‘Getting Better Program’ minimized customer annoyances as much as possible. Ryanair “focused on low cost, then adding more alternative choices for customers, then improved their services”. They made a net profit from 867 million Euros to 1.24 Billion Euros (that’s $1.39 Billion) due to their Getting Better Program.  

Having A Customer First Mentality

Many assume that their customers are saying, “Sell me a solution to a problem”. When you listen more carefully, they’re saying, “What solutions can you provide for me that will solve my specific problem?”. You can’t ask your customers “how can I help, unless you know specifically what they want”

By understanding what your customers’ want and their motivations you are more aware if you have a product or service that will give them what they are looking for. Many businesses make the mistake at making product-centric claims thinking it will impress prospects. 

“Buyer’s base the majority of their actions on feelings and then backfill with logic”. That’s why it’s so important for businesses and their services to speak to the solutions that customers are seeking. 

Empathy In Listening

Empathetic listening to your customers means going above and beyond hearing what they have to say, it’s making them feel validated and seen. The result is that customers will deepen their connection with your company because they feel you truly care. 

This includes things like making sure you respond to their comments and questions on social media. In sales, it’s making sure that the need to listen carefully comes first before pitching a solution that you think meets their needs.  

Survey data is good, but it’s not enough to get a real insight into what customers’ think and feel. To do that you need to step into the world of the customer.

You can do that by:

  • Hopping onto a sales or customer service call: listen to sales or sales development calls with customers; you are sure to glean insights that will open your eyes.
  • Use empathy maps: helps you to visualize and communicate what all your teams know about your customers; what they feel, think, and say. This enriched understanding helps you to make better decisions.

Empathy In Content Marketing

Some businesses ask, how will you create content that will help me to sell. The question should be, “What kind of content will provide high value to readers and attract more customers?” Empathetic content marketing isn’t about just publishing more quantity, it’s about communicating that you understand your customers’ struggles. 

Sure, but you’ll ask, “isn’t content marketing about educating your audience?” I’ll answer, yes, it’s about telling your audience what you think they need to know. 

But an even bigger part of that is creating content that reduces their frustrations and solves their pain points. If you’ll do that, they’ll see your brand as a hero and worthwhile building a relationship with.

How to use empathy in your marketing?

    • Humanize your brand and your content: your ideal customers are real people, and aren’t intangible, or fictitious personas. Of course, knowing where they are in the buyer’s journey is important, but at the end of the day, you’re creating content for a human being.
    • Prioritize research: empathetic content is putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, so it’s crucial not to over rely on educated guesses. Creating an in depth buyer persona, a description of your customer’s challenges, goals, and demography will help you create empathetic content.
    • Remember that all your customer’s are different: bear in mind that even if your customers do the same job, are the same age, there will be differences. They will not all share the same problems or goals. They will also respond to the same content differently.
    • Pay attention to what customers are saying and thinking: this could be monitoring customer interaction on social media or online forums like Quora or Reddit. This could also be paying attention to data recorded by one of your sales team members. Look out for what they like about your brand or what should you change? By asking them for feedback, you can learn more about your audience too.

Our Bottom-line: empathy is critical to every facet of your marketing efforts. By showing that you are creating content that meets customer needs, taking an empathetic approach in sales which builds trust, and placing the needs of your customers first, it builds everyone’s success, both employees and your customers.