How to Create Powerful Brand Empathy

At this point, it’s become a cliche to preface an article with “2020’s been a tough year.” But it’s the truth. For brands, marketers, and their audiences, this year has brought uncertainty, unpleasant surprises, and far too many questions. 

We’re all going through a tough time and the last thing anyone wants, whether they’re an enterprise decision-maker or an end customer, is an extra burden on top. Marketing always holds a level of friction: it’s easier for a customer to do nothing at all, than to act. 

Even in pre-COVID days, this meant that hard-sell approaches often proved less successful. By pushing a prospect to purchase without offering concrete value, hard sell attempts often put prospects off from the brand on the whole, damaging trust and reputation. 

Hard-sell tactics only succeed in situations where the prospect has a need you’re trying to fulfill and the ability and resources to meet that need

In the current environment, neither of those factors hold true. The economic downturn, social distancing, and emotional uncertainty all mean that customers – whether they’re B2B or end clients – have different priorities and needs right now. 

And because of the economic situation, they might not have the resources to buy your product, even if they want to. If you don’t take these factors into consideration, you’ll add to your prospect’s burden and turn them off to your product or brand. 

Instead, understand what they need, and offer that.

And what’s the one thing everyone could really use a bit of right now?


“In times of crisis, people want to be seen and understood, and they are extremely sensitive to tone and motive,” says Olaf Acker, a PwC partner and digital services thought leader from Frankfurt. 

As we head into 2021, empathy is going to emerge as an increasingly important part of any marketing strategy. 

Over the past few years, digital has become the first point of contact between brands and prospects. Because of social distancing, lockdowns, and work-from-home policies, that trend has accelerated over the past year. Consequently, the content on your website, your social media presence, and your ads are what prospects use to build their first impression. It’s critical to incorporate empathy into your content strategy so that potential clients know you see them as human beings and you’re willing to build a relationship that goes beyond the first transaction. How do you build an empathy-based content strategy? And how do you convey that your brand cares?

Reach Out Without Expectations

The standard cold pitch email that you send to potential leads is built with very specific goals in mind: to create awareness and to push prospects towards a CTA. 

Right now, it’s time to go back to your mailing list and reach out to those prospects, but without expectations in mind. Instead of seeing your prospects as rows on a spreadsheet, think of them as people. Ask them how they’re doing, and inquire about the challenges they’re facing. If you approach this conversation without an immediate sale in mind, you can see your leads responding and sharing what matters. Leverage these insights to create content that’s solution-oriented and offers genuine value. 

Your Prospects Have Problems: Answer Them.

People have problems and businesses provide solutions. In pre-COVID times, these problems were straightforward: how do we optimize our digital marketing strategy? How do address supply chain leakages? Your enterprise solutions addressed these specific problems and demonstrated value. 

In these exceptional times, though, many clients are dealing with higher-level, existential problems: how do we stay in business? How do we make sure we’re able to deal with payroll this month? How do we reach clients online?

Often, your actual product or service might only be one part of the solution your clients are looking for and it might not offer value in the immediate term. What your clients are looking for right now is help and answers. They’re looking for ways to rationalize costs while ensuring continuity. And you can help them achieve that through solution-oriented content. 

When building your post-COVID content strategy, think about the high level challenges your clients face and then work backwards to arrive at simple solutions. Be generous with your knowledge and experience: if your clients are struggling to reach new audiences online, create content with actionable insights about SEO and digital marketing that they can implement by themselves. 

The point to empathetic marketing in the post-COVID world isn’t just to sell your product, service, or consulting. It’s to provide value, no strings attached, to establish trust and build a relationship. When things get back to normal (and they will!) clients will remember businesses that were willing to help. 

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