Let Empathy Craft Your Next Campaign

Simple Psych for Complex Marketers

This blog post is part of a series on how to use what we know about the human mind and its penchant for simplicity to make our marketing better, our designs more pleasant, and our lives simpler. If you’re coming across this series for the first time, you may also want to check out the rest of the content by clicking here.

empathy in marketing campaigns

Let’s talk about planning, building, and running a campaign.

Consider this scenario:

You have a meeting. You sit down. Your boss or your client says, “I want to sell this, and I want to sell more of it, and I want to sell it faster.” 

So you’re like “Sure thing, boss” because you’re a hard working employee who’s paid to do the stuff your boss asks. If you’re anything like me, your mind might start racing. You start thinking KPIs and CTRs and CRMs and SEO and lead scoring and workflows and….

Let's take a breather.   

All of those wonderful acronyms and marketing “best practices” that have been blogged about 1000 times are useful – but not yet. Now, in the baby steps of crafting your campaign and with a fresh clean slate, is the perfect and easiest time to think of the user, or your target persona, or really anyone who will be engaging with your campaign.

This is actually something that Google stands by. In fact, they list it as their number one key practice in fostering an innovative culture, which is a huge factor in their success.

“Focus on the user. Consider the user first and foremost, always, and last.”

- Ben Woods, Director of Channel Sales America at Google.

Google is so user-focused that they find themselves solving problems that no one asked them to solve. Some of their most impressive and influential products have come from just the first five words in a question:

“Whose problem is it if….”

Google decided the answer should just always be “Us. It’s our problem.” Over the course of the last 10 years, Google kept giving themselves their users' problems, and the outcomes are pretty tremendous, hugely important products. 

  • Whose problem is it if the user can’t spell? Out of this question, came auto-correct.
  • Whose problem is it if the user’s internet service is too slow? Out of this question, came Google Chrome.
  • And if the user can’t type? Voice-to-type.

So how do you tap into your user’s problems, needs, and pain points? In the world of social psychology, this has everything to do with empathy.

Empathy is simply the ability to share and understand the feelings of another human.

It’s also not an innate, instinctive capacity. It can be learned and fostered in your workplace, in your thought patterns, and, consequently, in your marketing strategy - it just takes a few intentional practices.

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4 Ways to Practice Empathy and Inspire your Next Campaign:

Speak to your customers - as in, actually talk to them.

This is painfully obvious, but it also doesn’t happen that often for many agencies and corporate marketing departments. Empathy starts with listening and finishes with validating their perspective.

Be a customer

You work for your company, you manage their brand and voice, and you champion their product, but have you stepped in and experienced what the new user experiences? It is crucial to walk in as a new, clueless contact and move through the sales funnel that you’ve so carefully constructed.

Seek out radically different viewpoints

It’s human nature to surround yourself with people who think the same as you; your coworkers probably lean the same way politically as you, you enjoy spending time with people who have similar music and food taste, and your significant other probably likes the same movies you do. That’s an evolutionary trait. We gravitate towards our tribe, as we always have, because it’s safe and comfortable. 

With that in mind, it’s important to broaden your horizons – for your own personal growth, and for the marketing that you’ll be putting into the universe. Spend some time on that grody Trump fanbase Facebook page, listen to the smooth jazz that usually puts you to sleep, travel to a new country. Just make sure you’re seeking to understand and not just spectate. Remember that different does not equal wrong.

Share your opinion (authentically)

Speak a little bit louder and a little more often. Empathy is a two-way street and the goal is mutual understanding. I know it can be a terrifying experience to share openly about yourself, but research shows that it’s not only necessary for connection, but necessary for happiness. Brené Brown, famous researcher of topics like shame and connection, speaks to the power of vulnerability in her hugely popular TED talk

We live in a society that stifles and minimizes our insecurities. Dr. Brown states that our brains can’t just selectively numb emotions, so when we attempt to numb those negative experiences, we also numb any potential positivity and happiness in our lives. So, dig deep, try a little courage, and let your coworker know about that time you royally fucked up launching a campaign, and I guarantee you’ll feel a deeper connection.

At this point, you may be thinking, this is all fine and flowery, but I have emails that need a response, strategies to create, and ROI to prove, but amazing things happen when you work to really understand your customer.

If you’re still not sold, check out these examples of brands who understand empathy and how it can pay off.

The National Autistic Society

Put yourself in the shoes of a child with autism in a busy mall. People with autism experience colors, light, and sound more intensely than people who develop typically. It’s an eye-opening experience.


Dove shines a light on the topic of insecurity in their target market. It makes for a powerful story as we get to see women shedding their own negative perceptions of their body and their beauty.

Final Thoughts

So when it comes time to design a new marketing strategy, don’t let your mind drift to those intensely boring acronyms, and instead opt for a simpler first step. Think of the humans first, always, and last!

Practice empathy and let your user’s perspective guide your thinking.

 What do you think? How valuable is taking someone else's perspective for your marketing strategy? Let us know in the comments.

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