As a woman with Aspergers, I process the world very differently to most people. Luckily, I am high functioning, intelligent and able to be self-reliant. My energies are largely sunk into decoding social interactions, so I can often appear pretty intellectually average. While it’s not externally apparent how much effort I put into understanding even minor social interactions, a day of contact with even the friendliest of people can often leave me exhausted.
My daily life boils down to necessarily carrying the burden of empathy as a way to make compassionate sense of the world and her people. It’s essential to my ability to communicate effectively. To thrive, I must spend time understanding what it’s like to be in other people’s shoes — both in general, and in terms of how they might encounter me. It can feel burdensome because the responsibility to create channels of communication or to understand or translate is often left to me, as a person in minority.
These dynamics play out in marketing as well. As marketers we often create content for people we know very little about, and what we think we know is gained more through statistical analysis than observation or actual relating. As a copywriter, my job is to create empathic connections between brands and people, using my own words and being informed by strategy. This is where my being Aspie gives me a head start — I am already well-practiced in putting myself in another’s shoes and feeling their life experience from the inside out.
Because that’s what empathy is — our capacity to understand and share the feelings of other people. This innate human quality is imparted onto brands as a result of people, like copywriters (or marketers in general), being behind the content for the experience. We do this with various degrees of success and intentionality, but we cannot escape the trend towards humanising non-human brands and corporations in these ways.
Empathy is at the heart of innovation of any kind, because it’s engaged in solving challenges for others. Design thinkers, product developers and marketers use their understanding of a reality they may not share, identify a challenge within it and apply their craft to provide a solution. Our ability to empathise is in direct relation to our ability to succeed in this venture (up to a point). Whether your craft is product development, design, copywriting or client service, this empathic connection forms the building blocks of the trust that grows between brand and consumer.
Working with empathy…
Empathy is about more than just understanding or feeling someone’s pain; it’s about being able to absorb and relate to their points of view holistically, joys and sorrows included. The more we can experience their worlds for ourselves, the more effectively we as marketers can chart their routes between pleasures and challenges, and then use these insights to inform our campaigns.
Through content, for example, you’re able to demonstrate a brand’s understanding, even sharing, of a common persona experience. This is a long-term strategy that involves more than offering a solution to every pain point — it builds trust so that your persona will choose you over a competitor when a pain point does arise. It’s a fuzzy science (so, technically, not a science at all), but it’s like working on your bedside manner to gain the advantage over an equally competent doctor who, luckily for you, hasn’t worked on their resting bxtch face. Clients derived from these long-form relationships are less likely to churn, because they feel understood and therefore better serviced.
“To empathize, we need to invoke the representation of the actions associated with the emotions we are witnessing.” — Sarina Rodrigues
Empathy is linked to oxytocin released in the brain as a result of a social engagement. This peptide plays a significant part in the cocktail of biochemicals responsible for your feelings of wellness and interpersonal connection. When an empathic connection is established between a consumer and a brand, marketing campaigns tend to perform better.
Your campaign also benefits behind the scenes, as teams engage better working with empathic leaders and you’ll all end up being more productive.
So, whether it’s consumers or colleagues, with empathy behind your campaign you can expect:
Increased action, for example a faster spread of word-of-mouth recommendations or better team productivity
Increased rates of sustainable behavioural change, like customers converting to your brand and remaining loyal
So, what about copywriting?
Emotions drive decisions more than rational thinking, and copy that teases out emotions helps prime readers for your solution. So, the more empathically you write, the more compelling your copy. This is true even in those high-stress moments where the most empathic response you could display would be to simply propose the solution, without first demonstrating resonance with the prospect’s experience of the challenge.
Copy is an important component in any campaign (even its absence is a noticeable statement). It plays a significant part in your ability to share the story of your brand, and story is one of the most effective ways to share your brand’s purpose. Story is a sure-fire way to establish a connection with your customer, and this connection is essential — without it, no subsidiary value can be communicated.
How you create a sense of empathy changes based on your relationship to your reader. For example, the more basic the need state is that you’re addressing, the more your reader desires a reassuring, expert-type solution. This trumps their need for you to display an understanding of their problem. In the most basic, urgent cases, it’s more important to share how to solve the problem quickly, rather than spend time showing you identify with it. Here are some pointers to get you hitting the mark every time:
TIPS FOR CREATING EMPATHIC COPY
Rely on strategy
A lot boils down to data. Use the insights your Strategy and Analytics team can provide, then add your own insights based on your own observations of the human experience.
Persona work is essential
The marketing landscape changes all the time, and our perspectives on how we develop and use personas does too. However, using this framework will never truly go out of style. Your persona docs are a useful springboard into the deeper work of empathic relating. BONUS: Empathy maps are a great way to start getting under the skin of your market.
Know that empathy and introspection are not the same
Beware of exercising unconscious privilege in matters of design and copy. You can’t please everyone, but targeting the majority/norm won’t always serve your aims either, and chances are that your experiences are colouring how you reach out far more than you expect. Imagination is not the same as experience, but empathic connection is as close as we can get. Boldly developing empathy gets us out of ideas of intellectual connections and into our gut — closer to the basics of human experience that lie beyond words, that we all share.
Don’t reduce empathy to a formula
Working empathically turns your brand into a person (broadly speaking) and, like it or not, not everyone will get on with it. Engage with those who could use the solutions you provide and don’t sweat the fact that there’ll always be gripers. Be compassionate in any direct engagement (for example, in responding to social media trolls) but continue to find and embrace your brand’s unique voice. This differentiation from your competition will make your empathic relating really hit home.
Paint with your words
Copy helps convey mood and context to any design and communication in a campaign. Using textural adjectives or emotion-rich words helps plunge your readers into an emotive world that will have them converting far more quickly than any intellectually led argument. Paint images with your words first and then keep your rational arguments handy for the diehards.
Take care of yourself, and then take care of others
Your ability to connect empathically is limited — it’s a form of emotional labour, after all! Working on connecting like this all the time can leave you too drained to take care of yourself or focus on the more analytically demanding aspects of your campaign. Outsourcing to expert creatives will help spread the load and mean you have space to care for yourself first, so that you can then care for others.
Empathy is so much more than a marketing strategy — it’s fundamental to being human and part of functioning society. Taking the time to build a genuine connection, empathically, makes your marketing campaign stickier; but it’s important to keep some energy behind for yourself. If you’re in need of a team that’s mastered the art of weaving strategy into empathic content, look no further.
Mpull creates content that builds genuine connection. Driven by data, strategy and deep insights into the lived experience, we never lose sight of the fact that at each side of every marketing communication is a person. Speak to us about our Content Marketing services today.