How to own empathy in marketing

What a ridiculous headline – to “own empathy” goes against the very essence of empathy. But this headline was purposeful.  You see, I was being empathetic to you, because marketers like to “own” things, so the headline makes it easier for you to click and read. Was that a genuine demonstration of empathy? Only you will be the judge of that, regardless of my intentions.

So let’s be clear, empathy is something you can never own.

The Oxford Dictionary defines empathy simply as ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’. To put yourself in their shoes. The problem is, as a marketer, it’s not enough to simply ‘understand’ and ‘share’.  You need to take the important and difficult step of demonstrating empathy.

And there are no easy wins with demonstrating empathy.  It’s hard work, it requires courage and no shortage of risk. The risk stems from the fact that your empathy will ultimately be determined by your customers.  They are the ones who will judge your efforts to be genuinely empathetic, or a just hollow effort to get their attention and suck-up. As with most things, it’s the execution of the idea that will determine ultimate success.

It could be the city restaurant that went to the trouble of installing easily reachable USB charging ports at every table for customers to charge their all-important devices.  The event sponsor who focused on what they could do to improve the event for patrons, not the noise they create around the event for themselves.  The media business that published a book to educate people on a subject that may, or may not, result in advertising spend. The airline that bought 700 boxes of pizza for passengers stranded by severe thunderstorms. The car company that let people out of loans within a year of purchasing the car if they can’t make the payments.

These are all examples of actions taken by businesses through their owned assets. The best way to demonstrate empathy is through your brand’s owned media because this is where you can do something tangible and real. Sure you can advertise with empathy and demonstrate that you “get” customers. But that’s akin to telling people you’re funny, rather than telling them a joke. True demonstration of empathy is an action, not a message.

Now, imagine a world where empathy was a line-item on the budget, a layer of every marketing plan, one that had dedicated funds. Imagine if every brand in the world put just 5% of their advertising budget to empathetic actions. That’s US$25 BILLION that could be invested to genuinely make people’s lives better. Imagine the difference that could make.