Posted on: May 20, 2020
Blog post by Dr Ana Cruz and Tina Judic
Digital marketers around the globe are now facing unprecedented challenges. It is now up to them to
manage internal communications with workforces as well as external communications with customers
who have gone through a major re-prioritisation of their needs. Major changes in personal and
professional lives have placed many people and organizations into a crisis mode for which many were
The Covid19 pandemic has made us reconsider what is important to us and rethink the relationships we have with people, organizations and brands. More importantly it has made us question where we place our trust. Social distancing has made us realize the importance of relationships, family and human connections. It has made us realise what is important and what makes us human. It has also raised many concerns and uncertainty. With such complexity how can marketers create meaningful connections and relevant content in a time of crisis? The answer lies in a key human ability, the ability to connect though empathy.
Empathy matters in marketing communications
Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions and the skill to imagine what someone else may be thinking or feeling. Empathy is a way to understanding your customers’ points of connection where your brand, product or service can deliver superior value in an effective and relevant manner. In the time of COVID19 and beyond, empathy and creating engagement provide a platform for differentiation by creating connections that go well beyond the pandemic and crisis period.
Getting marketing communications right through the relevant content, reaching the right audience at the right time is more important than ever and so is the ability to step in your public’s shoes (customers, employees, community, etc.) by having an acute understanding of their pain and trust points. The latter are key building blocks to build effective buyer personas to create content that is relevant and that people want to engage with. The buyer persona is a representation of your customer, the process of creating robust buyer personas and defining pain and trust points are discussed in depth in chapter 3 of Digital and Social Media Marketing.
How can empathy be used for better content creation?
Empathy seems a straight forward concept. However, it does have several layers worth considering to develop effective content in times of crisis and in this case in time of pandemic. Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman suggest that empathy has three categories:
Cognitive empathy: is the capability to understand how a person feels and what they might be thinking. This makes us better communicators by allowing us to deliver information in a way that best reaches the buyer persona. This perspective taking engages the mind and is rational, “I know how you feel”.
Emotional empathy (affective empathy): is the ability to share and relate to the feelings of another person. It supports building emotional connections with others. It engages the heart through emotions, “I feel your pain”.
Compassionate empathy (empathic concern): it goes beyond simply knowing and sharing their feelings. It compels us to take action and help however we can. This engages behaviour “I care thus I take action”.
It is not enough to know how a customer may feel if this knowledge is not actioned. For example, in the case of the COVID19 pandemic a pain point may be fear. If pain points are not acknowledged (cognitive and emotional empathy) and acted upon through an effective action (compassionate empathy) then meaningful connections and engagement are lost. This is the case of many celebrities that were mocked and labelled as irrelevant, annoying and out of touch in the time of the pandemic.
Therefore, compassionate empathy is also required in the form of a suitable action to improve trust points and minimize pain points (concerns or problem areas) for example through:
- better content creation
- relevant tone of voice
- rethinking and/or improving processes, products or services
- Take actions that minimize or eliminate pain points for example through using cause related marketing (e.g. donations to a worthy cause or supporting the community).
What can we learn from the COVID19 crisis and beyond?
This was the focus of our first Digital and Social Media Marketing book launch webinar.
Based on Canvas8 a leading authority on consumer behaviour, Tina Judic from multi award-winning digital growth agency Found illustrated how companies are creating empathetic content that reflects pain and trust points. This was depicted in the five stages of how people react to the pandemic.
Tina Judic provided great insight into how large and smaller companies are using empathy to create great content through the understanding of these five phases to create meaningful connections. These principles do not apply only to profit making companies, other organizations or teams like team GB are using empathy to stay relevant and connected.
To thrive during the pandemic crisis and beyond using empathic content Tina suggested:
- DO have a clear plan.
- DO understand and connect with your customers.
- DO stand for something.
- DO be humble and add value.
- DO consider other platforms, channels, audiences and communities.
- DO listen and act.
- DO be willing to adapt.
- DO look to the future and be ready for your new normal.
Thus, it is time to rethink the following:
- Is it still relevant?
- Revisit your buyer persona(s) pain and trust points. Have they shift?
- Is your content empathetic?
- Are you using and acting on the different levels of empathy?
- Revisit sources of trust. For example, if you are using influencers, are they still relevant and credible?
- What sources can add to the trustworthiness of your content?
- Do you need to do more groundwork to further build/support communities?
Planning for recovery post COVID19
The application of empathy in marketing communications and specially in digital marketing has wide ranging application well beyond COVID19. Using empathy can help you thrive during the pandemic and position your brand in a better place for eventual recovery. In time of crisis where we are re-evaluating priorities and sources of trust we need to rediscover a key aspect of what makes us human and reconnect through empathy.
As highlighted by Dr. Nikos Dimitriadis leading neuro marketing researcher, ask yourself how do you want your brand to be remembered post COVID19? As an irrelevant “celebrity”, as a caring brand? The answer to the question will help you guide the strategy, the content and actions required for recovery during and after the crisis.
In a wider perspective, empathy can make us better marketers, better leaders, better parents and better educators by becoming more human kind. For an illustration of empathy in other fields and specially in education through understanding learners’ needs and expectations see a previous blog post on edutainment.
If you are a practitioner and want to learn more about getting content right, reaching the right audience with effective use of digital channels and data see the latest edition of Digital and Social Media Marketing.
Berkley (2020) What is Empathy? [online]. Berkley. [Viewed 12 May 2020]. Available from:
Canvas8 (2020) How behaviours are changing in the COVID-19 pandemic. [online]. Canvas8. [Viewed
12 May 2020]. Available from: https://www.canvas8.com/blog/2020/april/pandemic-shift.html
Dimitriadis, N., Jovanovic Dimitriadis, N., & Ney, J., (2018). Advanced Marketing Management: Principles, Skills and Tools. Kogan Page Publishers.
Goleman, D. (2007). Social intelligence. Random house.