Empathetic Marketing Will Be Vital in 2022 . . . But It’s Not Easy

Empathy has become a hot topic in marketing circles over the past couple of years. The increased interest has been largely driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted the personal and professional lives of millions and wreaked havoc on corporate operations almost everywhere. Seasoned marketers quickly realized that communications with potential customers and buyers would only be effective if they embodied a healthy dose of empathy.

If anything, empathy will become even more important for effective marketing in 2022. So marketing leaders need to make empathy an important focus in their planning for the year ahead.

Why does empathy matter?

Empathy is generally defined as the ability to understand and indirectly experience the thoughts and feelings of another person. It is the ability to put yourself in someone’s “heart and mind” and “see the world” as that person sees it.

Empathy is essential to effective human communication of all kinds, and is especially important in marketing. One of the primary goals of marketers is to craft messages that will resonate with potential customers and buyers, and empathy is essential to achieving this goal.

To create truly empathetic messages, marketers must perform two consecutive tasks:

  • First, they must put themselves in the shoes of their target audience (audience) and see the world through their eyes. This step is often called take perspective.
  • Second, marketers must adapt their messages to fit the mental and emotional perspective(s) of the target audience(s).

In short, marketing messages must be designed based on all relevant aspects of the audience’s perspective in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Why is empathic marketing difficult?

If you think my description of empathic marketing is a bit like “Marketing 101,” you’re right. Understanding potential buyers and leveraging these insights to create compelling marketing messages has been the primary job of marketers for decades. But while empathic marketing is not new, it remains very difficult to do well.

One reason is that empathic marketing requires deep insights into potential buyers, and these insights cannot be derived entirely from the demographic and behavioral data that most marketers rely on. Therefore, marketers are required to provide conclusions about many aspects important to the views of their audience.

For marketing messages to be sympathetic, these conclusions must be reasonably accurate, but drawing accurate conclusions about potential buyers is not easy, even under the best of circumstances. This brings us to the second reason why empathic marketing is so hard to do well.

Marketer bias problem

Remember that empathic marketing requires marketers to take the mental and emotional perspective of their target audience. This means that marketers must be able to put aside likes and dislikes and feelings and embrace the personality of their audience. As insightful Mark Ritson recently wrote:

“…The first rule of marketing is that you are not the market. All of your thoughts and immediate responses to things like advertising, price, and packaging are not just true – they are dangerous… Learning to separate your innate thoughts about you. Feelings derived from actual insights from real consumers are, quite literally, the first thing. A well-trained marketer learns it well.”

Recent research indicates that many marketers have more work to do to master this vital skill. Over the period 2017-2020, Reach Solutions (the advertising arm of Reach, plc, the UK’s largest national and regional news publisher) published the results of four studies that provide a wealth of fascinating insights into the state of advertising in the UAE. United kingdom. I have provided links to the study reports at the end of this post, and I encourage you to read them.

The first study in 2017 found that the importance of branding and advertising had declined significantly in the UK, and revealed that the UK advertising industry was out of touch with the UK population. The following three studies were designed to explore the possible causes of this separation.

Rich’s research has revealed several stark differences between those working in the UK advertising industry and the general public in the UK. For example:

  • People between the ages of 18-40 make up only 35% of the UK adult population, but they represent 84% of the UK’s advertising workforce.
  • Less than a third of UK adults have a university degree, but in the UK advertising industry, “..the degree is the minimum requirement for entry-level roles.”
  • 44% of advertising professionals self-identify as to the left of the political spectrum versus just 25% of the general UK population.

Equally important, Reach has found that people who work in advertising and marketing have no above-average aptitude for empathy. Only 30% have high levels of viewpoints and emotional empathy versus 29% of the general population.

Rich concluded that people working in the UK advertising industry have cognitive biases that make them “literally see and experience the world differently from the modern mainstream” and that people in the advertising industry are “driven by distinct personality traits that are not shared by the modern mainstream”.

Reach’s research was done exclusively in the UK, but if similar studies were done in the US, I think many of the results would be similar.

In sum, marketers must make a concerted effort to set aside their emotions, beliefs, and cognitive biases in order to take the perspective(s) of the target audience(s). It’s not easy to do on a consistent basis, which is why empathic marketing is hard to do well.

Image courtesy of Ian Burt via Flickr (CC).

Reach Solutions Research Reports

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