Why Empathy is the #1 Key to the Best Marketing

Why Empathy is the #1 Key to the Best Marketing
“It’s very difficult to design something for someone if you have no empathy.”
~Stewart Butterfield, CEO, Slack

What is the single most critical key to marketing that results in more closed sales?


Merriam-Webster defines empathy as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.”

Empathy is not a sentinemtal “feel-good” word. It’s a critical skill not just in marketing, but in all human interactions. It means being able to put yourself into someone else’s place. It’s trying to imagine life from their point of view. Sometimes it means communicating with someone the way they want to communicate, whether it jives with your personal style or not.

This reminds me of a position I held early in my career. One of the people I worked for was abrupt and all-business unless you were part of a select circle. I observed this early and then never tried to engage in any conversation that wasn’t related to the work I was doing for this person. If I needed information, I got straight to the point. No chit chat. It was the way this person preferred to communicate with me, and I responded to that, even though it differed from my typical communication style. We ended up having a very successful working relationship compared to people who had held the position before me.

Our customers are the same way. When we understand and respond to what customers are telling us they want, we will have greater success in our business.

Why Empathy Matters in Marketing

People don’t like to feel like they are being sold to. In fact, many people will completely tune out any kind of communication that feels like a sales tactic. Sometimes, as marketers, we become so focused on our desired outcome (ultimately, more sales) that we forget about the people we are supposed to be helping with a particular product or solution. When you really think about the problem your customer has that is leading them to your service, you shift your focus away from what you are trying to sell and toward the needs of your customer. When you start thinking about things from your customers’ point of view, you become more helpful, which may lead to improved customer engagement and results. The ultimate measurement of marketing that works is more sales. Empathy helps you be a better marketer. It’s as simple as that.

How to Incorporate Empathy Into Marketing

Be human. Your customers are not “prospects,” “leads,” and “conversions.” They are people trying to get through life, just like you and me. Of course for the sake of business, we need to understand where someone is in the buyer’s journey, which is why we use terms like “prospect,” but they are people first. Keep that top of mind.

Understand that everyone is not the same. Your customer base includes many people. Even if your target is primarily a single age bracket, just because people are in the same generation doesn’t mean they have the same problems, concerns or desires. For example, “marketing to millennials” is a phrase that drives me a little batty. The millennial generation includes people three years out of high school all the way up to people in their mid-thirties with families, careers, and mortgages. Are all of those people the same? No. This leads to my next point.

Do your research. As empathy is defined as the ability to put yourself in someone else’s place, in-depth persona development based on fact rather than your "best guesses” is key to empathetic marketing. How can you identify with your customers if you don’t actually know who they are? This is just one of many reasons neglecting or shortcutting persona research is a mistake.

Listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Listen, and even more importantly, listen for what is not being said. Be curious and ask follow up questions. Pay attention to facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, gestures, even fidgeting. Doing so may be the key to uncovering information that helps you truly understand your customer.

Understand that not everybody wants a “meaningful connection” with your brand. In fact, many people just want you to deliver what you’ve promised along with great customer service. Make that your priority and ingrain it in your organization’s culture. Companies like Zappos.com that give their employees some autonomy to make things right not only have happier customers, but happier employees, too.

Empathy Improves All Communication

As my earlier example from my first professional job illustrates, the benefit of empathy applies not only to marketing, but to all kinds of communication. Even tailoring an email for the person you are sending it to can make a big difference. If you know the recipient probably has a jam-packed inbox, include phrases like action needed or info only in the subject line to help them understand your email’s priority before even opening it. Get right to the point. If you have lots of information to communicate, separate it by priority, use bullet points to make it easier to digest, and make it crystal clear what action needs to happen (if any).

Figuring out another person’s communication style can take time. I recently came across an article about PatientPing CEO Jay Desai, who developed a user guide on himself, which he shares with the people he works with. I think this is so smart. Imagine if we all communicated so clearly with one another from the onset. The beauty of the self user guide is not only that it helps others empathize with you, but it demonstrates empathy for those you are creating it for, so empathy becomes a two-way street. What a concept.

Empathy is the key to marketing that works because it is the essence of what we try and do every day - understand our customers. Do you agree? Talk to me in the comments below!

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Posted by Sharon Stanton

Sharon Stanton

Content Producer - As a content producer, Sharon is thoughtful in her approach. She knows the best results come when you have the full picture, so she listens, and strives to make meaningful connections with people. Sharon likes to convey her message in as few words as possible. Sometimes an ironic emoji is all you need.