How empathy can improve your marketing strategy

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If you’re reading this, you’re likely a marketer who sometimes really hates being marketed to. Chances are you’ve been served annoying ads, sent excessive emails, or simply dealt with being sold products that you don’t like or don’t need. But consider another perspective: Have you ever knowingly or unknowingly run annoying ads, sent excessive emails, or pushed products on customers who weren’t interested in them?

We all know the golden rule: Treat others like you would want to be treated. Yet as marketers, we don’t always practice this. If you wouldn’t want an annoying ad following you around for months, why do it to a potential customer?

Empathy is a virtue in life, but it’s also important in marketing. This especially true as consumers seek to have conversations with brands who can simplify their buying process, not push a hard sell. By approaching digital advertising, branding, and customer service with empathy, you can speak to your customers how they’d like to be spoken to — and drive greater revenue in the process.

Digital advertising: Improve your targeting so your ads are actually helpful

As the only person among my friends and family who works in marketing, I often hear that oh-so-familiar refrain: “I hate ads.” Instead of being insulted, I acknowledge that they don’t actually hate ads, they just hate bad ads that don’t appeal to them, are annoying, or make them worried someone is eavesdropping on their conversations through their phone’s microphone.

When done well and with a hefty dose of empathy, ads can actually provide a wonderful user experience that turns into real revenue. Here’s a real life example: I recently moved apartments and am in full-fledged nesting mode. I have a penchant for traditional rugs, and I desperately wanted one in my bathroom. But I couldn’t exactly use a high pile wool rug as a bath rug — mildew isn’t fun for anyone.

I spent a few days unsuccessfully looking for workarounds for my mildew concerns. And then, I was served a Facebook ad from the online rug retailer, Ruggable. I had never heard of them before, but upon checking out their site, I realized that their product is exactly what I was looking for: Stylish, waterproof, and machine washable. Needless to say, I now have a beautiful Ruggable piece in my bathroom.  

I was genuinely happy that this company served me an ad. But in reality, I wasn’t excited about the ad itself — I was excited that I was presented with a solution to my problem in a non-intrusive or pushy way. As a result, I perceived Ruggable to be a credible company with a great product, so I had no qualms about paying a pretty penny for a bath rug.

There’s an important lesson here: The more empathetic your ads come across to potential customers, the better their perception of your brand, their user experience, and their chances for conversion. When you craft your digital advertising campaigns, make sure you approach your targeting with this kind of empathy. While you of course don’t want your scope too narrow, make sure you do what you can to hypertarget your ads to the people most likely to benefit from what you’re selling. Personalized landing pages can also go a long way in making potential customers feel special after they click.

Of course, there is a very fine line between empathetic and creepy or annoying. But as my rug buying example demonstrates, that line comes down to one thing: Helpfulness. If I look at a pair of shoes I really like online and get an ad following me for two weeks? Kind of annoying and not really helpful (though I may buy them anyway). If I make a joke about a chain restaurant to a friend and suddenly have Facebook ads for that chain? Very creepy and not at all helpful. If I have a home decor dilemma and am introduced to a product that solves my problem? Empathetic, helpful, and just right.

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Branding: Know your customers as people, not numbers

In digital marketing, we tend to forget that there are two kinds of data: Quantitative and qualitative. The analytics and data science side of marketing focuses pretty exclusively on quantitative, but there’s much to be gleaned from qualitative research as well.

In a previous post about whether or not content is king, I mention a qualitative marketing example I heard from Brad Perry, Director of Strategy at Authentic. Perry had a plumbing supply client that was struggling to get anywhere with social media. It goes without saying that plumbing supply sales is not particularly sexy, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for empathetic marketing and creativity.

Perry’s team decided to truly get to know plumbers, from the names of their tools to inside jokes and beyond. Through this qualitative data, they were able to craft social media posts and graphics that resonated with customers on a deeply personal level. The client was able to not only advertise their products, but also establish themselves as a company that understands their customers’ businesses. Their social media posts vary from commentary on plumbing tools, appreciation for the plumbing profession, and of course funny inside jokes among plumbers themselves (like fool’s errands). And if you’re still interested in numbers, this approach saw a sizeable increase in followers and social media engagement, too.

Whether you’re B2C or B2C, get to know your customers as human beings with personalities, emotions, and senses of humor. In doing so, you can inject your brand with empathy that translates to likeability, trustworthiness, brand value, and of course, revenue.

Customer service: Listen to criticism and take accountability

If you’ve ever encountered someone who can’t take constructive criticism or accountability for their actions, you know how frustrating it can be to keep your cool or want to continue interacting with them.

Your brand is no different when it comes to the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy interactions you will inevitably have with your customers. Whether it’s constructive feedback about your product or a flood of support calls during a software malfunction, no brand is immune to criticism or crisis.

But consumers can be more understanding and forgiving than you may think — as long as you accept their feedback with grace and take accountability when things go wrong. In both cases, transparency is key.

When it comes to feedback on your product or service, it makes sense that your team may get a little defensive—nobody wants to be told that all their hard work wasn’t right or good enough. But at the end of the day, creating the optimal version of your product is the goal—and your customers are actually the perfect people to point out your blind spots. When you view them as helpers for your product development process as opposed to just people you need to please, you can better incorporate their knowledge into your work—and they will thank you for the transparency and interest in what they have to say.

Of course, not all interactions with customers will be pleasant, especially in crisis situations where things break or mistakes are made. While your first line of action is to prevent crises from happening in the first place, you should also respond empathetically when they do happen. You wouldn’t be happy if your data is compromised, your favorite app stops working, or your package gets delayed. So meet your customers with that level of empathy and a willingness to make things right. Sometimes you may find that they’re simply having a bad day, and a little kindness will go a long way for resolving the problem and leaving them with a great impression of your brand.

In today’s data-centric marketing world, don’t forget that there are real people behind your data points. By approaching your marketing strategy from a place of empathy, you can craft exceptional advertising, brand experience, and customer service for your business.

Do you have ideas about how best to make empathy an important part of your next campaign? Head to the CallRail Community to connect with other marketing professionals and share best practices.

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