Why Empathy is Vital in the Future of Advertising

Empathy is big. We are living in highly polarized times, and marketers would do well for themselves — not to mention doing a favor to the broader culture — to create work that exhibits qualities of empathy. Thinkers like Brené Brown are popularizing their research, which emphasizes that empathy and vulnerability are powerful forces not only for society but for business. (Forbes noted this trend as far back as 2018, but given recent events, it seems even more keenly relevant than ever).

The four qualities of empathy are said to include:

  • Being able to take another’s perspective
  • Being able to withhold judgment
  • Recognizing the emotion another person is expressing
  • Making it clear you acknowledge and understand the emotions of the other person

How could you as a marketer incorporate these lessons into their work? That’s the interesting creative challenge that lies ahead. 

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Mostly, it means putting the customer first, and understanding their pain points and unique needs. It could mean incorporating more open-mindedness into your messaging instead of the traditional top-down approach. It would certainly mean being more sensitive in your messaging, and less reliant on the shock-comedy that many marketers preferred in years past.

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Authentic Content = Empathetic Content

Audiences are craving content with an empathetic focus, especially around the issues that matter most to them, like diversity, equity, and sustainability. You know your user persona better than anyone, so research what your target audience’s value and the words/phrases they use to express them. This is your starting point to devising a script that has an authentic voice.

This next step is important. Once you know what your audience’s value the most, you must buy into it. If you are just using their values and language simply as a sales tool, your audience will smell the inauthenticity of your message. You must show through your video marketing creative that you actually share their values.

Take for instance a recruitment video the self-driving car service brand Cruise used QuickFrame’s platform to create. To show they prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion, Cruise produced a video illustrating their commitment to these values through their internship program. Cruise understood their audience wants to support a company that supports the next generation of professionals. By laying that messaging on the line in this ad, their audience is more likely to see them as a progressive brand that prioritizes equity and inclusion for all.

Empathy in Advertising: The Takeaway

As the pandemic wanes (at least in some parts of the world) we are realizing that we are all connected, and all responsible for one another. Marketing has to reflect this changing zeitgeist. 

The social justice movements spurred by the pandemic are here to stay. Consumers will support brands that align with their values and harshly judge any copy that seems hypocritical, shallow, or tone-deaf. You will need to be aware of consumer beliefs — including an increased emphasis on the environment (driving the so-called green recovery) and racial justice — and your brand will need to show more discernment and empathy. This will need to be backed by substantial action, too, as consumers will demand you follow through on your promises.

If nothing else, when you’re getting the word out about your product, simply acknowledging what we’ve all been through can be a powerful way of acknowledging the experience of your target audience.

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