Blog post

Content Marketing Requires Empathy

By Jake Sorofman | October 16, 2013 | 3 Comments

digital marketing

At the heart of any successful content marketing strategy is a vision for something larger than your traditional brand promise. It’s a point of view that represents the deepest interests and aspirations of your target audience. It’s a point of view that lives or dies by one overriding principle: Empathy.

What exactly is empathy? It may sound like a high-minded ideal better suited to pop psychology, but it’s really the essence of good content marketing. Empathy is little more than understanding and sharing the feelings of others.

Any good marketer is tuned to their audience, but it’s typically for the purpose of their own thinly veiled commercial agenda. Of course, content marketers also have an agenda, but they know better than to lead with their brand. Such brand-forward attempts are often rejected like a foreign body in the bloodstream, undoing any efforts to make an emotional connection.

Empathy means putting your audience first.

Pawan Deshpande, CEO of Curata, recently published The Four Steps to Content Marketing Enlightenment which illustrates a stepwise path from ego-centric to truly audience-centric content. I agree with the concept entirely: The best content marketing isn’t only informed by your audience; it’s fundamentally designed for your audience.

It’s about giving to get. It’s about what Ted Rubin calls “looking people in the eye digitally.”

Who does this well?

  • Unilever’s Dove brand shows empathy with its Real Beauty Sketches, which tap into the aspirations and insecurities of its target audience, rendering a series of authentic documentary-style videos that connect emotionally without pandering.
  • Nike inspires its audience to reach for their personal best as athletes and adventure-seekers. It tells us to get off the couch to push harder.
  • Red Bull excites audiences by transporting them to the outer frontier of what is humanly possible with space jumps, bird men and other adrenaline-charged extreme sports and thrill stunts.
  • HubSpot advocates for the modern marketer by providing relevant insights and useful materials to help its target audience in their roles and careers.

Each of these brands has a commercial agenda, but through finely tuned empathy, they’ve learned to put their audience first. In doing so, they transcend their traditional brand promise, building deeper engagement with their audiences. They’ve learned to sell less to sell more.

This translates to preference and loyalty in an age of abundant choice.

And that starts with giving to get. It starts with empathy.

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  • Greg Dierickse says:

    The best examples… include the viral counter-point of Dove Real Beauty Sketches… it’s the male version of the sketches… brilliant!

    Be real, be fun, and be true to your customers. The counter-point nails it. Why… it embraces the differentiation.

    One other example… check-out the Smart Car ads. Why… they embrace what they are not. Brands sometimes are so scary of “leaving out a potential customer”. Smart Cars point out what they can’t do… like all the things an SUV can do. Wait for it, wait for it… ends what they can do. Park easily in an urban jungle. Not an SUV-based real jungle.

    Great content marketing… I argue, it doesn’t start with empathy, it starts with a truly differentiated connection. A connection is key. Start with differentiated contact – unique and provocative, build in a truth (be true to the brand), and have loads of fun… the customers will join in.

    One other, Golden Cannes Awards moment… Google and check out the “Dumb Ways To Die”. Talk about a Content Marketing/ Viral success… Wow!

  • A VP of Sales once told me that the secret to being a good sales person is to empathize with your buyer.

    But as you pointed out, this principle extends to every other role as well, especially marketers, now more than ever.

  • Curtis Rons says:

    Yes, I agree with Pawan…as an experienced client relationship manager, you probe into the client’s needs, challenges and opportunities and understand them, then you empathize with them and then possibly deliver solutions, either yours or others. Originating or curating outstanding content comes from understanding your audience…whether software, process engineered systems or snack foods…it is all understanding, not guessing.