2021: Meet the New Empathy

The term “2020” has evolved into more than the enumeration of a calendar year … it’s become an adjective.

“Life was great … and then everything went 2020!” 

One positive result of this challenging year has been the strengthening of our collective “empathy” muscles. We’re all feeling the pain. Which brings us to the topic for this month’s blog: empathy.

Empathy, in the world of marketing, denotes interactive programs that offer relevant, personal experiences that speak to a target audience’s shared challenges. In other words, the message is not about features and benefits, or about bottom-line issues; it’s about “we feel (and share) your pain.” 

Ironically, a leading tool that helps create empathetic experiences is Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Modern AI has the remarkable ability to quickly and accurately learn audience preferences and behavior patterns in real time, and then adapt to specific needs and learning styles. 

But AI, like any technology, has the habit of taking over a project, becoming the primary focus of the experience, and overshadowing the actual content or message. Pity the carpenter with the latest tools who cannot successfully build a table.   

Here are four strategies to keep your empathy-marketing on track:

Walk a Mile in their Shoes: Before you brainstorm, actively put yourself in your target audience’s shoes. Talk it out. Take time to fully understand their needs, wants, and challenges … as well as their fears, hopes, and dreams. Map them out. Organize focus groups if necessary. If you lack a detailed, personal understanding of your target audience’s life, your experiential programs will lack the personal empathy they crave.

Back it up with Data: While developing this clear, emotional roadmap, support your efforts with relevant study data. Connections between the emotional landscape you’ve defined and current survey data may suggest experiential frameworks you’ve never considered, and drive your ideation into unexplored realms.

Role Play:  Using the emotional portraits you’ve created, give them a real-world test drive.  How do they make you feel?  Are you addressing their personal needs?  Play different roles. Are you accommodating different points-of-view? Are you recognizing and validating feelings? Is your experience devolving into “all-about-you?”

Outside the Brand:  Cause Marketing is growing exponentially. When you make it easy for your target audience to support an important cause and get what they need at the same time, you are more likely to connect with them on a personal level.

The emergence of Millenials and Gen Z is making it increasingly important to migrate away from brand-centric experiences and toward consumer-centric, empathetic experiences.

To sum up, rather than asking yourself, “What are my target audience’s challenges and how can I help them succeed,” ask yourself, “What is my target audience feeling, and how can I help them feel better?”