Giving the gift of empathy: 3 tips for marketers to connect deeply with customers


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This holiday season, brands need to sell more than products.

A recent Iterable survey found that the vast majority of consumers (83%) are more likely to purchase from a brand they have an emotional connection to. With an uncertain economy and tighter household budgets, shoppers want to make every purchase count.

Yet a lack of doorbuster in-person Black Friday events and an increasingly crowded e-commerce space mean brands are struggling to break through the digital noise.

To establish your place in customers’ lives, your brand must transform marketing messaging into emotional intelligence. The key to striking the right tone with your audience? Empathy.

Shoppers are seeking emotional connection

With so many brands selling similar goods of comparable quality and cost, shoppers have developed an alternative rationalization for their purchases: emotional alignment. When it comes to the decision between two seemingly identical pairs of socks, for example, consumers will choose the brand they believe better understands and lines up with their individual beliefs and motivations.

Emotion-driven purchasing behavior has only become more common in recent months. Data we collected in September 2020 revealed that more than three-fourths (77%) of respondents agree that statements made by a brand’s leadership have the power to influence their purchasing decisions.

Additionally, younger generations are driving a shift in tone: 32% of Gen Zers prefer an “empathetic and comforting” promotional tone from brands. As this generation gains more purchasing power, brands will need to appeal to their unique motivations.

Current events have impacted consumer behavior in other ways, too. According to the National Retail Federation, 49% of consumers have made a purchase specifically to support a local small business during the pandemic. Many shoppers are wielding the power of their wallets in an effort to keep their communities afloat.

All these numbers point toward an unsurprising conclusion: Today’s consumers are value-driven. Marketers need to lean into beliefs-based messaging to appeal to these shoppers, especially given how the pandemic has impacted their attitude toward holiday shopping. More than a third (36%) of respondents in our survey said the pandemic impacted their attitude toward holiday shopping “somewhat negatively,” and 27% reported feeling “very negatively” toward the shopping season.

Forging deeper connections with your customers

It’s clear shoppers want to form emotional connections with brands. But marketers are often too cautious with their messaging, preferring safe yet unapproachable communications that feel distant and removed to consumers. With the right strategy, however, you can forge the deeper connections consumers seek while staying true to your brand’s purpose.

  • Recognize the individual. Connecting with your audience on an emotional level requires acknowledging them as diverse human beings, each with their own unique life experiences and beliefs, rather than mere consumers. Avoid blanket statements that assume your customer base is homogenous. Instead, rely on personalization tactics that allow your marketing team to deliver individualized, hyper-relevant content.
  • Be authentic. Even though consumers have become more value-driven, it probably doesn’t make sense for your brand to have an opinion on every social issue. In fact, being too vocal could come off as disingenuous or opportunistic. While there are some broad issues that Americans expect brands to take a stance on, others might not be relevant to your product or service. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and think about the everyday issues that affect them. For example, if your company sells baby diapers, you might want to develop a campaign around improving parental leave policies in the workplace.
  • Convey emotion. It may sound like a no-brainer, but eliciting emotion requires actually showing emotion. Brands that fail to express human feelings — everything from joy to outrage — come off as robotic and uncaring. Ben & Jerry’s does a great job of showing how their company feels through specific product lines, like “Justice ReMix’d” and “Pecan Resist.” Heartfelt and sincere statements from your company, like Ben & Jerry’s detailed and thoughtful statement in the wake of this summer’s anti-racist protests against police brutality, can also appeal to customers.

Ultimately, all most humans want from the people we interact with is empathy. It should come as no surprise that the same desire for emotional connection carries over to the brands we engage with. And this innately human need is especially significant as a global pandemic keeps consumers physically disconnected and wary of spending.

Your brand doesn’t just need to practice empathy to snag holiday shoppers in the current tight economy, but also to truly understand your audience — and deliver meaningful, relevant value across the entire customer lifecycle.


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