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Empathy Based Marketing

Updated: Feb 27

Everything you wanted to learn about empathy-based marketing, from definition to strategy and books with examples!

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With so much jargon coming in every day, I haven’t been surprised at the skepticism toward empathy in marketing. After all, the business person will justify that a business is just a transaction, isn’t it? Why worry beyond meeting the deliverables as per the transaction?

As someone famously said, “Empathy is feeling with the people”. And when you consider the hawk-eyed focus on compassionate selling, empathy marketing cannot be left far behind.


Empathy marketing definition


As marketers, we look at the end consumers as numbers on a report. Perhaps as a persona on a presentation. Most often as a subset of some segment. No matter which segment or strata of society you are marketing to, you are marketing your project to PEOPLE. And people have FEELINGS.


In a nutshell, empathy marketing is the art of marketing with sensitivity to the customer or consumers’ reality.

Of course, you will do the drill of identifying pain points, seeing which solutions fit best, etc, etc. But what distinguishes empathy marketing is the perceptiveness with which you advertise.


For instance, you are talking about solving bald patch problems for a medical firm. And you advertise great results from past patients. Do you consider how some of those images taken in an unkind manner can be jarring to a consumer’s personal confidence?


Let’s take another example, there’s an earthquake in a certain city. Your campaign launch for a fancy lipstick was scheduled for the same day. Do you still try to sell lipstick?

While these are extreme examples to drive home the point of empathy in marketing, there are much smaller actions that we can take on everyday content creation that reveals empathy in marketing strategy.


Structure Empathy in marketing strategies.


Ever so often, we forget that the relevance of a product to an end consumer is a factor in solving the life problems that they face. While I could go into pages of content on this topic alone, am summarising some of the most common pain points I have seen across industries.

Consumer Pain Point

The problem that the product or service needs to solve

Status

Needs to make the person feel that they have arrived.

Convenience

Needs to make the person not work to get the product or service

Comfort

Needs to make a product or service easily achievable, eg – timely support from hospital staff, proper communication from post-sales service, etc.

Happiness

Needs to be a source of joy and ideally pack in a surprise

Time-efficient

Needs them to not invest time to arrive at solutions

Relaxation

Needs to help consumers destress from the routine, eg Netflix, slick, Zomato, swiggy, tata neu.

Of course, the list is far longer. However, an empathy marketer can start on these lines and then go on to achieve the exact mind map of the end consumer.


Empathy in marketing examples that I absolutely loved


Empathy ads tend to be better remembered (remember Onida – neighbour’s envy, owners pride? Cadbury – kya baat hai zindagi mein? Even the Fevicol Ads or even the ever young – the Amul girl campaigns for the taste of India). Each of these ads have evoked a certain sentiment while communicating the problem they solve. Several researches have shown that everybody loves ads that:

  1. Makes them smile.

  2. Makes them laugh.

  3. Helps them take decisions or actions.

  4. Makes them cry.

  5. Share the content / product / service & look like the cool cat in the group.

  6. Reminds them of childhood / parents / family time / college / first crush (nostalgia).

  7. Reiterates stereotypes.

  8. Creates new stereotypes.

  9. Breaks stereotypes.

  10. Simply shocks (wow or awe-inspiring).

Now that you know what I myself look at, these examples will make sense to you:


  1. Hindustan Unilever’s national award-winning ad to save water. (The ad shocks, as it states hard-hitting facts rather casually)

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Hindustan Unilever ad using empathy

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2. The Maruti Sardar Ad


Maruti ad using empathy

I don’t know how many will remember this Maruti ad from the late 90s or early 2000s. The ad was targeted at a budget-conscious middle class with the aspiration of a car that would give them status without pinching their pockets.

When the father finally tells the kid, “Bas kar chote.” (Enough kiddo)

The enthusiastic young sardar who has been driving his small car everywhere, promptly replies, “Papa ki karan, petrol khatam hi nahi honda.” (What do I do papa, the petrol doesn’t get over.)

This is an all-time favourite of mine for driving the mileage point so beautifully, in a way that the middle classes (the highest purchasers of car) understand the Maruti USP without losing its aspirational value. It’s my classic go-to as far as driving a point with a smile goes.


Empathy marketing books


There’s a whole host of books you can choose from. My picks are:

  • Empathetic Marketing: How to Satisfy the 6 Core Emotional Needs of Your Customers 2012th Edition by Mark Ingwer

  • Marketing with Strategic Empathy: Inspiring Strategy with Deeper Consumer Insight by Claire Brooks

  • Empathetic Marketing by Mike Caldwell


Am sure that there are a gazillion other books worth the weight in time. What would you recommend?


In the meantime, if you are into marketing, I would recommend that you consider empathy marketing seriously. After all, all companies are brands run by people to sell products or services for the people and to the people. And since people are definitely moved by EMOTIONS, it is the marketers job to ensure EMPATHY in marketing as a value on a daily basis. And the chances that your consumer will remember you and your brand well is if it comes from a place where you can show that you understand their reality. Extremely well. Of course, authenticity is a huge part of empathy marketing. But that’s a post for another day.

Would love to hear your thoughts on Empathy Marketing, its limitations and opportunities.


Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Why is empathy important in marketing?

Empathy is important in marketing because it helps the end consumer resonate with the product or service that the brand is offering.

2. What is empathy in marketing strategy?

Empathy in marketing strategy will typically focus on the following:

  • Understand how you make their life easier, better, more aspirational, etc.

  • Have a culture of consumer first – effortlessly

3. How empathy helps in business?

Empathy helps in business by making the business about the consumer and not about the product or the service or the employee.

4. What is empathy marketing?

Empathy marketing is the ability to create communication that makes the target audience feel that they need the product or service because it highlights how the brand is helping them. “How the brand helps them”, is more than words but also a lot of action.



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2 Comments


Pritha Dubey
Pritha Dubey
Mar 06, 2023

This is brilliantly written and explained in such simplistic way. Loved reading through the entire passage Suparna. The examples made the concept clearer.

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Replying to

So glad it resonates! There's a lot of examples that one can refer

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