Empathy marketing: what is it and how can you apply it?

Empathy is a pretty simple concept - it's the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. People have empathy in varying degrees but I find it's often confused with the word and the meaning of sympathy. The phrase ‘empathy marketing’ has been growing in recent times but the reality is that it's been there all along. In advertising we just called it 'good creative'. But good creative content for advertising and marketing always starts with the ability to get right to the heart of the consumer’s wants and needs. In fact the whole science of marketing revolves around that.

Don't worry, I'm not going to lose you in marketing-speak, I just want to give some context to the next section of this article.

What is empathy marketing?

The best way to explain this is by example, and the rise of the influencer in social marketing is a great example of empathy marketing. People don't want to be advertised to anymore. Powerful social connections are being made every day, every second, every scroll - we are being invited into these influencers' lives and homes and sharing their most intimate thoughts and experiences. So when they tell us that changing their foundation to brand X was 'life changing', we believe them. We may have even been on the journey of acne or scarring or birthmarks with them that lead them to this wonderful product. 

Is empathy relevant to your business?

If your business, product or service solves a problem then you have a great opportunity to have a little dabble with empathy marketing. I'll start with a couple of big brand examples to get you in the mood.

Example 1. MCafé Baby Drive Thru

Emotion rates high on the empathy scale. I bet you can name an ad campaign that has made you 'feel something'. For me it was a recent McDonalds ad that actually made me feel a bit teary. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that BUT in my defence, McDonalds tapped into a situation that many many parents have faced. You can watch the ad here: 

Brand association: McDonalds understands me. McDonalds is open all night. McDonalds serves coffee all day and night. McDonalds is family friendly. McDonalds has great service. There's a McDonalds near me. I can rely on McDonalds to be open when I need them etc.

Example 2. Amazon Prime Now Homeless Delivery

A friend of mine recently shared this video about the Amazon app and I remarked that whilst it was a lovely idea, the cynic in me is sure it's just a PR exercise. Was it created in association with Amazon? The creator says no. But whatever you believe, the video has hit on a whole bunch of emotions here. It was released pre-Christmas (2017) when, as consumers, we are both giddy spenders and wracked with guilt by all we have. This video (...ad?) makes us feel good about shopping with Amazon and also to remind us how easy it is etc. If it was released by Amazon it might not have had the same effect and it probably wouldn't have inspired other people to try it. The sheer amount of brand exposure in this video is a dead giveaway though...couldn't help themselves I suspect.

Brand association: Amazon Prime Now is unbelievably fast and efficient. I can buy anything I want or need from Amazon. Amazon has a smartphone app. Amazon delivers in 1-2 hours. Amazon provides jobs to couriers. Amazon will go out of their way to help you and help the homeless. Amazon is always open. Amazon is the perfect shopping experience for my busy life etc.

Ok enough of the big brands, what are the steps you can take towards creating your own empathy marketing campaign?

Step one

First you must take the time to truly understand your customers. Whether you make an educated guess or actually do some consumer research is up to you. But the end result should be the same. You should know exactly what your customer needs and, importantly, 'why' they need it. When you know the why, you can work out the 'how' - how your product or service can help.

A little note about the word need here. Let’s take ugg boots - the need is not for a pair of slippers, the need is for something to keep your feet warm and cosy on the cold floor during Winter.

Step two

Next you must know the channels you will be using to promote so that you can create content that is appropriate. There is a world of difference between a newspaper ad and a Facebook post. If you're using mixed channels then you must develop your creative to suit each.

Step three

Choose the emotion you are going to tap into. I highly recommend only choosing from the range of positive emotions and feelings as these will create a more powerful association with your brand.

Step four

Decide on the action you want the customer to take and then try and find a way to work this into the creative so it's not too obvious.

Step five

Collect feedback. Feedback can be data - found in the engagement, clicks, sales etc or it can be anecdotal in the comments people make, in the conversations you have, in the user generated content if you can get it.


Finally and really importantly - don't tell people what they need or why they need it.
That is not empathy. 


I know I haven't covered everything I would like to but I want to finish this article by saying that you don't always have to overthink this stuff too. Sure with big brands the stakes are high but maybe you just need to show your customer that you understand them. Once you have locked down that empathy with your customers, you will find content flows more naturally.

Some simple ideas. Be fun, be honest, use real language:

It's so cold today! We have warm soup, crusty bread and free wifi.

We've put all the good sales racks in the back of the shop to get you to come inside. 

Free wrapping in-store...because who has time for that?!


If you’d like to talk about your marketing or social strategy, I’m all ears! You can get in touch with me lots of ways here on my website or simply send me an email erika@macandernie.com.au and don’t forget I give away lots of social media tips via my Facebook and Instagram pages.