Photo: Polina Zimmerman, Pixels

The Rise of Empathy in Digital Marketing

During this time of fear and uncertainty, it's time to connect on a deeper level and demonstrate that you understand and care about your customers.

COVID-19 is, in many ways, proving to be a disease of uncertainty. The disease isn’t a crisis in just one area of the world or plaguing just one section of the population — the new coronavirus is a tangible threat to every single person on Earth.

People everywhere are experiencing higher levels of anxiety and depression as their loved ones fall ill, as they lose their jobs, as they are forced into isolation and as the future becomes even more shrouded in mystery. Businesses, too, are suffering from the disease, as consumer spending plummets and most everyone is driven indoors and online.

During this time of fear and uncertainty, businesses have responded by investing heavily in digital marketing, hoping to capitalize on the throngs of people logging onto the web for work, school, and entertainment. However, not all businesses are investing in marketing to sell their products or services; many are simply producing content to engage with consumers — or to show their audiences that they care.

Empathy is the hottest trend in digital marketing right now. It is almost impossible to read an article about how to manage digital marketing in the age of COVID-19 without finding a few paragraphs devoted to the importance of being compassionate in this time of collective distress.

However, few articles touch on exactly how businesses can accomplish empathy through their digital marketing efforts. What does empathy mean, in terms of marketing language and material, and what can businesses expect in return for empathetic content?


What Is Empathy?

Empathy by definition is, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”

Photo: Polina Zimmerman, Pixels
Photo: Polina Zimmerman, YFS Magazine

It’s important to note that empathy is not sympathy; though the two terms are related, sympathy is merely the ability to recognize or share the feelings of another, while empathy consists of imagining feelings that one might not have. What’s more, empathy is not necessarily compassion, either. Compassion involves both understanding another’s experience and performing actions in attempts to mitigate any discomfort or pain.

Businesses cannot experience what their customers are currently experiencing, and it is unlikely that business owners have the resources to help each and every member of their audience through this trying time. Thus, they need to be proficient at exhibiting empathy — and that requires research and careful content creation.


Empathy Requires an Understanding of One’s Audience

It is almost impossible to feel empathy for someone whose experiences are unknown. Before businesses launch into an empathy-driven digital marketing campaign, they should revisit their audience research, perhaps delving back into buyer personas to better understand how their customers have been affected by this crisis.

This information is critical for producing content that is guaranteed to resonate with a business’s audience; it is also useful for identifying which platforms are in use by a business’s audience, so the business can continue connecting to their customer base for the duration of the pandemic.

Photo: Polina Zimmerman, Pixels
Photo: Polina Zimmerman, YFS Magazine

Businesses that have not yet engaged in audience research would do well to outsource this task to an experienced and qualified digital marketing agency. Compiling, aggregating and analyzing data can demand significant time and effort, and the costs of misunderstanding audience information are high.

What’s more, digital marketing agencies can help develop an empathy-first marketing strategy that will not only help businesses survive these trying times but also thrive as the world normalizes once again. However, before businesses can work with marketing agencies, they need to develop goals for their marketing campaigns — which could interfere with the current need for empathy.


Empathetic Content Shouldn’t Make Demands or Set Expectations

Marketing efforts require objectives; it is how businesses can determine whether their marketing is successful, whether they are seeing a positive return on their investment or whether they need to pivot in their strategy. Yet, empathy is not effective if it makes demands.

Audiences will not feel soothed by marketing messages that ping-pong between expressions of empathy and expectations of conversions. Content that has calls to action like, “buy this product today” or “call our sales team now” will not resonate with a public that is hurting financially and emotionally due to COVID-19; audiences will read this content as insincere and brand engagement will plummet. Businesses need to strive for authentic empathy in their digital marketing.

Incorporating empathy into a business’s digital marketing strategy is easier said than done. Businesses need to connect with their audiences on a deeper level, truly delve into their current plight, to demonstrate that they understand and care about their customer base. Generally, businesses that hope to utilize empathy should partner with an empathetic digital marketing firm to achieve the best, most lasting results and avoid the pitfalls of false empathy.


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