COVID-19. Racial unrest. The U.S. Capitol siege. If any year had a need for empathy, 2020 (and arguably, the beginning of 2021) was it, and it is a need that remains for communicators moving forward.
Organizations must show empathy and create content and communication strategies that speak to audiences of all backgrounds, who experience the world around them in all different ways.
Think about your communication strategies during the past one to two years, specifically as they relate to digital marketing. Have they changed? Have your customers’ needs changed? More importantly, have you checked to see how their needs have changed?
It’s not a new notion that everyone has varying levels of needs and experiences — in life, in a pandemic — but it’s becoming more important for brands to understand that just because something may appear “status quo” for you, that may not hold true for your audiences. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes as you create marketing messages.
Make Your Audience Feel Good
Can your customers resonate with what you’re sharing online? Does your content make them feel good, supported and educated? How do your customers come away from your messaging? Feeling heard, seen and important?
We don’t exist without our customers. As marketers and communications experts, it’s not our job to be transactional, it’s our job to create relationships and build trust. Showing empathy in marketing is customer service in its most basic sense — think The Golden Rule. For instance, if you are a local business and know that your community is struggling with food inequality, consider ways your business can show up to help support programs, provide a percentage of profits back to the cause or simply share information on your social media pages about resources available throughout the community.
Always Read the Room
We don’t always need to be talking about the latest pandemic news, social issues, or community events, holidays and observances happening around us. We do, however, need to realize these things are constantly at the forefront of our audience’s minds. Be respectful of what will impact customers’ brand affiliations, loyalties and expectations. Provide supportive, authentic messaging. Nike’s #UntilWeAllWin campaign, which put a spin on its famous motto “Just Do It,” first involved a series of social media statements urging everyone to stand united in the fight against racism. The one-minute video stated, “For once, don’t do it. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America. Don’t turn your back on racism.” At the same time, Patagonia acknowledged where it missed the mark and vowed to do better in becoming an antiracist company.
Lean on the human side of your brand. Listen. Connect. Engage. Ask your audience members what they want and need. Show your customers that you hear them, always.
Provide What Your Audience Wants
We saw an uptick in social media usage at the onset of COVID-19. During this time, users were expecting brands to be entertaining and creative, provide comfort and connectivity and remain positive.
Audiences were (and still are) looking for brands who were not afraid to address, respond to and be a part of social justice and impact — those who produced cause-based content to show real values and empathy. In fact, Engage for Good, which provides cause, social good and CSR research, showed us that in 2020:
- 85% of Americans expected companies to help address racial inequality
- 89% of consumers said they wanted brands to shift money and resources to produce products that helped people meet pandemic-related challenges
- 72% of Americans said they felt it more important than ever that the companies they bought form reflected their values
Empathy matters. Understanding our audiences’ needs and wants matters. Your messaging matters, in marketing and beyond.
Communicating With Compassion in Times of Crisis
To communicate effectively with those in trauma, Katharine Manning recommends taking these five important steps.
Develop a Plan, Expect Movement
There are things we cannot always plan for, but we can plan for how to set ourselves up for success when presented with unprecedented situations. Your digital content strategy has nothing on the real issues. Each year brands are smarter and more respectful of this, but how do we remain vigilant and organized throughout the digital landscape when we don’t always know which way is up?
Start by using what you know — website metrics, social media engagement rates and email campaign open rates and clicks. Throughout the years your audience has shown you, through their actions, what they love and don’t love about the content you produce.
Set a plan for action. Part of empathy is understanding. It’s sharing feelings and being present in what’s happening around us. Decide what values your organization stands for and how you will embody those values in your digital content. One of the easiest ways to keep this consistent is by using content calendar templates.
As you plan your content, ensure that you:
- Know when to go dark. There will inevitably be times you will need to pull down digital content due to current events.
- Know when to take a stand. These times should mirror your company values; don’t just add to the conversation because it’s the “right thing to do.” It needs to fit your brand.
- Know when it’s appropriate to be lighthearted and make jokes.
- Know when it’s the time to be serious or thoughtful.
Moving Forward With Empathy in Marketing
Meet customers where they are — they control the channels of preference. Omnichannel marketing provides you the opportunity to connect with your audiences at their level, on their time and where they want.
Evaluate your digital metrics often. At a minimum, look at them monthly and determine which channels, messages and cadences are working or not working. Tweak your marketing messages to match your audience.
Gauge sentiment using tools to understand which messages are hitting home. HubSpot has a great list of sentiment analysis tools to get you started. This is an important area of empathy in marketing and can equip you with the right story and insights to bring back to the C-suite as you plan marketing for the future.
Empathy Sets Us Apart
In an interview I did with Write | Werk last year, I mentioned that “[Content] marketing, especially, has always been about conversations. About engaging. About helping. In anything we do, we should always be empathetic.” I stand by these statements and I hope that more brands — more communicators — continue to push forward and humanize their brands and their marketing. Just because we can push our messages out on digital channels doesn’t mean we always should.
Empathy is what sets us apart as humans and can be among our greatest tools as communicators.
Melissa Harrison is CEO and founder of Allee Creative, a content marketing agency in Minnesota. For the past 17 years, Harrison has developed marketing strategies for brands across the globe leading creation, curation and content execution. Her niche is small business, B2B, nonprofit, association, professional services, healthcare and higher education industries. She’s been named a Top Content Marketer and a Top Young Entrepreneur by CMI and Minnesota Business. She also is a four-time recipient of the Hermes Creative Award. Content strategy, processes and timelines are her jam. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram.