Consistent empathy is a challenge even for the best of us. Humans are naturally selfish as a survival tool to delegate our attention.
But for marketing material? Empathy is a foreign concept.
The idea of a brand’s marketing expressing empathy almost seems laughable: Marketing exists to generate money and sales by convincing people to buy stuff. It’s the antithesis of empathy, really.
That’s why empathy in content marketing is critical for content to deliver everything you were promised.
Content is your big chance to connect with your audience by offering something useful, helpful, and valuable – all without pushing products on them.
But without empathy, your content marketing will always fall flat. Like rattling off jokes that never land – an embarrassing thought, right?
You need empathy to make content relevant.
According to Semrush, most marketers say lead generation (79%) and traffic (75%) are their top-two content marketing goals. Well, creating content that delivers lead generation and traffic are also their top two challenges.
Content without empathy leaves you with no repeat visitors, low engagement, bad leads, and abysmal ROI. Like any other relationship dynamic, empathy can’t happen in content unless you actively think about it and plan – and the effort is well worth it.
What does empathy look like in content marketing? How does it even apply? While talking to a friend, we’d prioritize their needs over our own. In content, you prioritize the person consuming it on the other side of the screen:
No one ever said empathy was easy – it takes constant effort. It does, however, get easier to empathize once you learn about your audience, and the effort always pays off.
Consumers haven’t trusted brands for a long time, and things aren’t getting any better. 77% of adults in the U.S. and over 80% of adults in Canada and parts of Europe say it’s getting harder to trust what companies say and do.
That’s why people scroll past Google ads in favor of organic results (if they don’t have adblockers up).
Unfortunately, content marketing without empathy is just marketing. Back in 2018, 66% of B2B buyers told Forrester that companies give them way too much content, and 57% said most of it is totally useless.
Think of how you feel when someone says something completely out of touch with reality. You don’t trust them, right? They might not have malicious intentions, but you wouldn’t take their advice on that topic. You can’t relate to them.
That’s what happens when your content doesn’t relate to your audience. They might know you have pure intentions, but they wouldn’t trust you with their business.
You need to show buyers you’ve been in their place or at least understand what it’s like before they’ll trust you even enough to finish the blog post.
Everyone hates the feeling of someone talking down to them. It seems like they assume you’re stupid or you didn’t think to try the most obvious solutions. Likewise, people who talk over your head might seem elitist and out of touch.
It takes a certain charisma to understand a person’s knowledge level mid-conversation and adapt – or you can just ask. In content marketing, however, you need to source the best knowledge level for an entire group of people so the information you provide is relevant.
What did they read before getting to your website? What insights have they heard already? What’s most useful to them at this exact moment?
If you can empower your audience, you’ll close more sales from happier customers with less regret.
That means your content can’t be self-serving. Instead, take the opportunity to help your audience by offering your expertise without asking for anything in return.
You have 13 of such opportunities during the average buyer’s journey before they choose a vendor. Make them count by asking what you can do to make the buyer’s life easier.
Doesn’t it feel great to read something that feels like it was written just for you? Like you can connect with the writer on a personal level and understand each other despite never meeting?
You don’t need to bare your soul to the world for empathy in content marketing. Instead, improve your storytelling skills. Share relevant details of your brand’s story and your personal life as they fit into the conversation. Think about what you’d say if the reader were in the room with you.
What is empathy? For starters, it’s not presumptuous. Empathetic people don’t assume anything. They ask questions to learn how others feel and see the world.
Empathy in content marketing means exploring every possibility and question someone might have as they’re reading your blog. While by no means exhaustive, you can start the search via Google SERPs in the “people also ask” section as you write each blog:
Empathy ensures every piece of content you create is comprehensive and leaves no unanswered questions.
We relate to people who share our personality. It’s easier to trust that someone understands what we’ve been through and need when they sound and act like us. These are the people we gravitate toward and learn from our differences.
The same goes for content marketing. You’ll earn more consistent engagement and return visitors when your writing style mimics the personality of your audience segments. Think about what blogs and websites you return to week after week – do they share a similar voice?
Although empathy takes consistent effort, it gets easier once you have a strategy in place.
You just need to put yourself in the mind of your audience by exploring certain touchpoints and then translating the findings into your content.
Before making changes, see where your current empathy in content marketing stands. There’s no single answer, but you can evaluate some metrics like:
If people share your content, that’s a good sign it’s relevant and interesting because people are comfortable enough to show it off. Just make sure to track your clicks along with shares so you know people aren’t just sharing the awesome headline (happens more often than you’d think).
Time and returning visitors are two other useful metrics for judging empathy.
People won’t spend much time on your website if your content is totally off the mark. Ideally, they’ll return over the month to seek your insights on other topics or read your new material.
Reading comments on your own content is easy. We love to hear the positive things our friends say and tell those two haters they’re wrong. Using your own content’s feedback just perpetuates the status quo.
Instead, put your ego aside and look at your competitor’s comments. Investigate what people have to say about content from any website if it’s relevant to the topic you’re covering.
What kind of conversations are they having behind the writer’s back? What are people saying on Reddit, where they don’t have to worry about divulging their identities?
This is one of the few times it’s encouraged to read comment threads filled with arguments (the first few dozen comments at least).
You’re getting insight on your audience so you can empathize with them in content marketing with relevant insights. Take some notes on the best accounts, subreddits, and pages to follow for conversations.
As you scour comment sections, heated debates, and tweet replies, ask yourself what websites appear consistently – good and bad.
First, you want to figure out who people already trust as an authority on the topic you’re writing about. What do people like about them? What are their criticisms?
Now investigate the copy. What insights or advice does it offer, and where does it fall short? How do the comments from your audience stack up against the writing?
Follow this same strategy for sources your audience can’t stand. Everyone loves complaining on social media. Complaining isn’t necessarily negative. What does your audience hate-share with added commentary?
Whether the writer talked down to them, didn’t consider a critical factor, or totally missed the mark, it doesn’t matter. You’ll know what’s not relevant to your audience now and why.
Look at everything your audience follows and shares as a whole. What kind of value does the content provide? Ask yourself what the website does exceptionally well. This might include:
Now you’ll have to decide which elements are must-haves in your empathetic content marketing and where you should break out by offering something unique.
For example, your audience may come to expect personalized content recommendations, topic filtering, and other UX but might appreciate some interactive charts.
65% of buyers say they want to see product comparisons while nearly 50% want self-guided troubleshooting and tutorials, so these are worth considering here.
While you’re at it, follow the same strategy regarding the website’s personality, sources, structure, thoroughness, and insights. You never want to copy anyone, but you should understand why your audience trusts them.
Plus, you definitely want to make sure your content’s voice, insights, and stories offer nuance compared to what your audience already reads.
Remember at the beginning where we said people are naturally selfish? There’s a good chance that if you use social listening tools, you’re only tracking specific topics, your brand mentions, and main competitors.
You only have so many hours each day after all. You can’t follow everything.
You should, however, turn to social listening tools for every topic you publish. Use your insights from researching which sources your audience already trusts and distrusts. Keep an eye on the conversations so you’re always tapped into what’s going on.
Think of how fast things happen online. You might think your blog is nuanced because you checked Google News on the topic, but did you see the Twitter beef over the source you used? It sounds silly, but you’ll always look out of touch if you don’t see the conversations happening.
Here’s something brands refuse to do and will never have empathy in content marketing as a result. They refuse to admit when they don’t know something. This is nearly impossible for many people to do, too.
You’re an expert, but the top experts in every field always mention how little they know compared to what’s out there. Make a point to share your shortcomings throughout your content: mistakes, failures, where your knowledge ends, potential possibilities, etc.
People appreciate vulnerability. It signals we can trust someone because they’ve shared their vulnerabilities with us.
Plus, sharing details on your mistakes and where your expertise ends tells people you’re willing to learn and change. People want to see that you’re still building knowledge.
Transparency about your brand and products is also critical for empathy in content marketing. When asked how vendors can make the purchase process easier, most buyers say they want more transparency about product capabilities and limitations.
That tells us most brands don’t have empathy in their content marketing because if they did, they’d want to avoid inflicting the feeling of buyer’s remorse.
Like anywhere else in life, empathy in content marketing takes consistent attention and effort. You can’t know what to offer your audience through content if you don’t put yourself in their state of mind.
Plus, empathy is dynamic. Our needs, knowledge, and expectations change every day. You can only create empathetic content by staying tapped into your audience’s conversations and activity.
But when you do, every piece of content you create will relate to your audience in a way that delivers engagement, shares, and loyal customers.
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