Empathetic content marketing as a way of establishing an emotional connection with a customer Author Marta Zajkowska Read bio Over the years, the way that users receive digital content has changed dramatically. A modern recipient knows that the main reason for brands’ being on the Internet is to sell their products or services. Brands, on the other hand, should be aware that establishing an emotional connection with customers is a vital point to acquiring conversions. So where did the idea that an emotional connection could help the brand achieve its goal come from? It’s because, in the face of recent events in the world, such as the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, or the global economic crisis, readers need empathy and support more than any time before. From this article, you’ll get to know: What is empathetic content marketing? How does empathetic marketing content influence sales and the brand’s image? How to define the recipients of empathetic content? How to create content based on empathy? What is empathetic content marketing? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, empathy is the ability to understand and be sensitive to feelings. Words with very close meanings to “empathy” are understanding and empathizing. Creating empathetic content requires focusing on the recipients’ emotions, understanding their situation, and willingness to answer their burning questions. The goal of the content that’s based on empathy is not direct sales, but rather to establish an emotional connection with the reader by raising their awareness that the brand sees their problems and is willing to provide the best solutions. One of the most important stages of creating empathetic content is defining who your audience is and what their needs are. It may seem that creating empathetic content is a piece of cake. After all, we’re all humans who can feel emotions. The benefits of referring to real emotions and concerns of the reader seem obvious, but still, plenty of companies are unaware of that fact. That’s why, for those who still haven’t built their bond with the clients but are willing to remain on the market, there’s nothing else to do but to create a strategy, define the values, and plan the communication. A very significant matter in empathetic content marketing is also being aware of the difference between empathy and compassion. A modern recipient of marketing content doesn’t need a brand to feel for him or her without paying attention to their feelings. They require answers to questions that they have raised or a real solution that the company may provide. Why is empathy crucial in content marketing? A reputable neurobiologist, professor Antonio Damasio, made a groundbreaking discovery, which he described in his “Descartes’ Error” book. According to his findings, decisions made by humans are largely influenced by emotions. This theory stands in opposition to the general assumption that the most important decisions made by humans are undertaken calmly. Therefore, it’s very valuable information for content marketers because it proves that incorporating emotions into the content creation process is, as it turns out, essential. Writing a marketing text that refers to emotions allows for focusing on customers’ needs. However, they are not the only beneficiaries of the particular content marketing strategy. The authors of the content are benefiting from it as well. They have the opportunity to fill the shoes of their potential customers and look at the problem from an entirely different perspective. A digital PR campaign that we have created for the European Leasing Fund (Crédit Agricole Group) that offers leasing products to companies is a perfect example. In the campaign, the surveyed people were able to share their vehicle preferences and their vision of a perfect car. Respondents also told us what they know about cars and their impact on the environment and ecology. As a result, the ELF acquired access to a world full of new potential clients, i.e., company owners, freelancers, and people looking for information about financing and leasing solutions. The brand also got to know the beliefs and needs of its audience. The willingness to establish a relationship with a customer is also a way of fighting the “wisdom curse” that lies heavy on a number of content marketers and copywriters. It may prove that empathy helps to break free from the chains of recurring patterns and opens our eyes to the real needs of customers. So what is the effect? A content marketer creates pieces that match the customer’s needs perfectly. It’s also a signal to the recipient that the brand shares similar values and that its approach to the client is sincere without any falsehood. At this moment, an emotional connection between a client and a brand is born. Is empathetic marketing content affecting sales? As we have mentioned before, the main goal of empathetic content marketing is to establish an emotional relationship with a client. If marketers only focus on so-called “hard-selling,” they may be disappointed for two reasons. Firstly, the brand probably won’t notice any rise in sales of the product or service. Secondly, it can even lose potential customers, who, by default, are distrustful and can notice the deception or ill-will of the brand hidden beneath the layer of fake empathy. That’s why you should avoid any attempts to manipulate the recipients through empathy to make them buy a product or service. These actions can negatively affect your client’s trust in the brand, which in turn may be hard to gain back. An example of that can be content creation that focuses on women’s needs by showing superficial compassion and then suggesting or making a statement that only buying and using certain products can help their well-being. In this case, the recipients won’t feel understood in any way. On the contrary, they will feel judged and lesser. They can even feel pressured to buy a suggested product. Narration based on manipulation doesn’t correlate with establishing a positive relationship. That’s why female clients most likely would reject such an offer. Of course, it doesn’t mean that empathetic content doesn’t influence the conversion. It may be quite the opposite, actually. By establishing a sincere relationship with your client, the brand builds a bond based on trust, honesty, and acceptance. When a client receives those signals, he or she knows that they can count on the brand’s support while growing closer and closer to the brand and using whatever it has to offer. As you can see, rising conversions are a positive side effect of empathetic content marketing. A digital PR campaign “Femininity – how do we understand it today?” that we made for Nutridome, a beauty brand, can be a great example. Thanks to it, the brand has shown that it has similar values to its target audience and that it eagerly involves itself in important social issues that are significant to its recipients. Nutridome has taken a crucial step in the process of establishing a relationship with them by giving their audience a voice and by listening to their opinions on femininity and sisterhood. What made the entire campaign authentic, was the fact that the brand invited experts that deal with femininity, psychology, feminism, and social exclusion on a daily basis. What was the result? Getting to the target audience and acquiring reach that surpassed initial expectations four times over! How can empathetic content marketing influence the brand’s image? Growing conversions are just one side effect of creating empathetic content marketing. It also helps to build positive associations with the brand’s image. According to the report, created by the PR Edelman agency, 53% of respondents expect that brands should engage in socially important matters at least once, without any self-interest. Furthermore, 81% of surveyed people declared that they have to trust the brand before making a purchase. These people analyze the values of the brand, observe their actions carefully, how they communicate and how they engage. However, we should remember that to get the client’s trust, you have to work for it by planning an adequate strategy. Why defining a target audience is important in empathetic content creation? The first step in creating empathetic content should be to define a target audience. It’s significant because, without such information, we won’t be able to know the needs of our recipients, what problems they’re facing, and what their expectations are towards the brand. Knowledge is not all, though. Understanding our clients is equally essential. These are key factors of content that will deliver expected solutions to the client. How to create an empathetic content recipient profile? If we’re not sure who exactly makes up the target audience, don’t worry. We can use various tools that help to characterize the persona of empathetic marketing. To do so, it’s worth using the empathy map method, which derives from specialists’ knowledge of the client. Another effective technique is social listening, which is a form of qualitative research. Empathy map Empathy mapping is a technique that helps to define and visualize the needs of the client. Because the process of its development is a form of brainstorming, it’s worth inviting a couple of people to see the problem through a different set of eyes. To create a map of thoughts, we should have: empathy map canvas, a sheet of paper or a notebook, a pen, a flipchart. The empathy map canvas is split into four main areas, each adhering to different but basic behaviors of the client and his/hers internal feelings, i.e.: What does the client see? What does the client hear? What does the client think and feel? What does the client say and does? Source: https://medium.com/the-liberators/use-empathy-maps-to-build-better-software-af65065a7df8 A valuable addition to the empathy map is also thinking about our clients’ fears and needs. By doing so, we’ll be able to see the world through their perspective. Answering questions in this order will help you start the analysis process: what does the client see, what does the client hear, what does the client think and feel, what does the client say and do, what are the client’s fears and needs? Let’s assume that we are creating an empathy map for a client of a beauty brand. Based on data found in Analytics, we found out that the people who visit the website the most are women, aged 25-35, living in cities with over 250 thousand people. Let’s give a working name to a representative of that group – Monica. What does the client see? When we analyze that field of the empathy map, let’s try to define different areas like what our potential persona sees around her, what or who surrounds her, what environment she lives in, how can that affect her, what content she read on the Internet, and what offers can she receive? Our client lives in a big city, much like Warsaw or Wrocław, and works for a big corporation as a senior specialist. Every day, she has contact with plenty of people from the business world. On the Internet, she usually searches for content related to her hobbies, like fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. She likes to get to know and get inspired by the stories of other people, especially women who have become successful. What does the client hear? During this stage, we need to think about what information reaches our persona. What does her family, friends, or influencers she follows say? What does she hear at work, on the TV, on the radio, or on the Internet? Does she base her knowledge on the opinions of the experts or on the opinions of the majority? Whom does she trust? Monica has a lot of friends of different ages but similar appearances. She follows Polish and foreign influencers on social media, who post about subjects related to fashion, lifestyle, feminism, and body positivity. Often, she uses the products that they recommended, or she visits the places they talked about. Monica doesn’t watch TV, but rather videos on YouTube and series on Netflix and HBO. She also listens to podcasts. She likes to know what’s going on in the world by browsing through the most popular news websites. She also gladly listens to experts and forms opinions based on what they say. What does the client think and feel? We now know that our persona sees and hears, what and who she is influenced by, what emotions she feels, and her thoughts. But what does she think about? Are the thoughts positive or negative, and why? What does she think about her experiences? What matters to her? Monica is devoted to her work. That’s why she’s often stressed out when realizing important projects. When she achieves success, she likes to reward herself by, for example, buying something new. She cares about everyone having equal rights and opportunities. What does the client say and do? In the next stage of creating an empathy map, we need to define our persona’s behavior. In which situations does she jump into action, and when does she give up? What habits does she have, and what does her day look like? What does she like to do, what demotivates her, what does she say, and is it the same as what she thinks? Sometimes, Monica has a problem with making a decision. She frequently does anything spontaneously. She needs to analyze the situation first and prepare for its potential outcomes. She likes routine and a defined order of the day. Sometimes, she doesn’t have the courage to speak out loud about what she thinks. What are her pains and fears?? What does she fear? What makes her angry? What does she hate? What or who stops her from reaching happiness or the end goal? Monica is very ambitious, and that’s why she cares about working for her company. She successfully gets promoted, but the competition is growing day by day, so she knows she has to stay vigilant. Monica worries that, as a woman, she might stumble upon more obstacles along the way to reaching the corporate top What are her needs and gains? What does she want to achieve? What makes her happy when she’s excited? What does she really want, and what does she expect? What makes her successful, and what motivates her? Monica wishes to become a team leader or a department manager. At work, she often volunteers for additional tasks. Praise from her supervisors and other people’s success stories motivate her. Monica really likes it when other people notice and compliment her looks – it can really make her day. When we have the answers to the above questions ready and a draft of our persona, we can proceed to analyze the results and think about what we really need to pay attention to when realizing the next projects or which strategy of our brand needs a revamp. It’s worth discussing the actions that can make the user experience better, which way of communication is the most effective, and what can draw the client’s attention. Social listening Another technique that can help us create a profile of an empathetic content recipient is social listening. It’s about listening and soaking in all the information that users share online, for example, on social media, Internet forums, blogs, or comments. Thanks to this method, we can study users’ moods and attitudes towards a particular product or service, but also their expectations. It’s also a good way of getting to know how they perceive the brand’s competition To widen the reach of social listening, it’s also worth using social media opportunities. All we have to do is ask our followers what they think about a certain product or service. Also, it’s worth asking about their opinions on the brand itself and its ways of communicating. Social media gives us a chance to discover the needs of the recipients, what they face every day, and how the brand can help them. This approach sends a direct signal that the brand is open to their suggestions and is willing to listen to and support them. There are a lot of ways of asking clients for their opinion. One of them is publishing a post on the brand’s social media profiles and observing the comment section. Showing that the brand pays attention to the discussion by replying to comments, posting reactions, or asking additional questions, would definitely be seen as something positive. Such an approach can make even more people eager to join the conversation. Another way of giving a voice to the followers is by creating a poll on Instastories. We can also send the poll to newsletter subscribers. Using social media for social listening gives us the possibility of asking the right questions and acquiring valuable answers straight from the brand’s followers, i.e., people that have previous experiences with our brand or are interested in it. How to create empathetic content? Now that we know who our customers are, we can finally proceed to create empathetic content. Before writing the actual piece, we need to remember that empathetic text doesn’t serve the purpose of sales, but rather a text that offers support and suggests a real solution. Both the format and the language of empathetic content should be tailored to the target audience to make it easier for them to understand and identify with the content. Content that answers the problems and needs of the clients To make the process of creating subjects for empathetic content easier, we can use the Venna diagram. Let’s draw two intersecting circles to make a shared space in the middle. On the left circle, let’s write down what our brand deals with, what we would like to inform our customers about, and our brand’s values. On the right circle, based on acquired data, let’s write down the subjects that our customers could be interested in and what they would like to know. The last step is to find common spaces and create a list of subjects that meet the expectations of both sides. Source: https://www.further.co.uk/blog/6-essential-content-marketing-diagrams-marketing-managers/ A proper tone of voice Yet another important factor in creating empathetic content is choosing the right tone of voice in which we’ll communicate with our target audience. Of course, if a brand has different target groups, we might need to adjust it in a way to fit each of them. Whoever the persona is, our empathetic content must be simple and easy to understand. Users should never have any doubts about whether they understand what they read. Different content formats adjusted for target audiences The format in which we plan to reach our target audience also matters. For some, a blog or social media post would be sufficient, but for others, a podcast, or short video would be the perfect format. We can discover information about which content format is the most appropriate for certain users during the empathy map creation process. If we manage to appeal to users’ preferences, there’s a good chance that they will stay with us for longer, eagerly consuming content delivered by our brand. What type of content would appeal to Monica’s preferences, though? On the basis of the empathy map, we can deduce that she would gladly watch a short instructional video, published on YouTube, showing how to do a slight makeup for work by using the products of a certain brand. A sincere and honest opinion and product recommendation of a particular brand by famous influencers would most likely appeal to her, too. She would definitely follow the brand’s profile on Instagram. Conclusions Establishing an emotional relationship between a brand and a client can be compared to a bond between people. Developing it takes time, a lot of patience, engagement, and creativity. That’s why we shouldn’t expect to connect with users instantly after one empathetic content publication. A brand’s target audience comprises real people who feel different emotions. That’s why various content that resonates with them will definitely bear fruits in the future.