The Power of Empathy Marketing

Remember those series of commercials about animal abuse with Sarah McLaughlin? You probably do because it tugs at the heartstrings. These commercials are powerful and remain in many viewers memories because of one strategic method: pathos. Pathos is a rhetorical device that, when employed well, evokes an emotional response, a kind of poignancy. Pathos can also be an effective marketing strategy otherwise known today as “empathy marketing.”

Empathy marketing is emotionally connecting with your customers, i.e. using the old adage about putting yourself in another person’s shoes and identifying with their current situation in ad campaigns. This branding doesn’t emphasize instant gratification or a quick fix; rather, it ensures that a company understands its users. Econsultancy differentiates empathy marketing from honesty and sympathy. Empathy marketing, they say, is when something is offered to a user based on the reliability and ubiquity of a situation posed in an ad.

Empathy marketing works because it makes a user forget that they’re interacting an ad. With this strategy, viewers will feel a sense of inclusion towards a product or company.

There are several companies that are currently using empathy marketing strategies. Procter and Gamble, for example, created their “Thank You, Mom” campaign for the Winter Olympics. In this ad (which you can view here) several moms assist their children with putting on athletic gear. The ad jumps forwards to those children competing in the Olympic games ending with the tagline, “Imagine if the world could see what a mom sees.” Pathos is at work here because this commercial evokes a sense of nostalgia for mothers who have raised children. On the flip side, anyone with a mother or maternal figure can relate to this ad by being reminded of the support of their mothers. The way time works in this ad is empathic too since we fast forward from childhood to adulthood. While the majority of us are not Olympic athletes, we can relate to and engage with this ad if we have ever had a supportive adult figure in our lives and if we have ever thought back to our childhood goals in relation to our current livelihoods.

Another company that skillfully uses empathy marketing is Dove and their “Real Beauty” campaign. Dove has been using Twitter hashtags asking women to share their stories and fight against normative beauty standards. Right now, their website features #BeautyBias where women can write about beauty biases that they’ve had to combat. According to Dove’s website, “From an early age women are exposed to statements and cliches, masked as advice, that dictates how we should look if we want to be accepted.” Furthermore, Dove has produced mini-films about real women recounting their struggles with body image. Many commercials from Dove illustrate that there is no one right kind of beauty standard. In one, they film close-ups of a woman’s body and then ask, “Why are you proud of your body?” Their commercials and questions provoke a positive emotional response promoting that women should be empowered by their bodies rather than shamed by unattainable beauty standards.

A great place to start when implementing empathy into a marketing strategy is to think about yourself. What makes you laugh or feel nostalgic? Do you know other people in your life who feel the same way? Then put those feelings into a campaign. According to Forbes writer, Abhilash Patel, many people are looking for empathy online. It makes sense; there are so many forums online that pose a situation looking for empathy from another internet user. Likewise, digital marketing is probably the most efficient route to publish empathy marketing campaigns for the exposure. He suggests that in order to create empathy, marketers should avoid focusing on their competition and, instead, put emphasis on the positive aspects of their brand.

Additionally, AdAge reminds us that empathy is not necessarily a blanket term because empathy will vary from person to person. In this sense, they suggest that empathy marketing can be effectively entertaining. Feelings of empathy often happen after something bad has happened that we can relate to, such as when a friend is going through a hard time at work or with a relationship; we recognize those hard times because we’ve experienced it ourselves. Adage states that empathy marketing can also successfully manifest into a humorous aside or a playful memory.

When thinking about working on a campaign that uses empathetic strategies, you could ask yourself about a time when you felt empowered during a team sport or group activity, a moment when you felt cozy inside on a snowy day, or a funny joke that your coworker told you at work. Thinking about a particular situation or memory, no matter how big or small, can help aid empathetic marketing strategies because likely (though not necessarily always) someone else will feel that same joy or humor or poignancy while remembering a similar moment of their own. Creating campaigns that jog a memory or create a specific feeling will make consumers more inclined towards a business or more likely to respond to a product in positive ways.

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