The words “empathy,” and marketing aren’t necessarily naturally associated. Marketing is about numbers and statistics—not gooey emotions. But while appealing to consumers is always done with a  bottom line in mind, it’s nevertheless an extension of a much more basic and universal human consideration: problem-solving. People want things. Marketers point out places to get them.

Empathy is part of the job description by default. By understanding this, you can better capitalize on your opportunities, and reach consumers in more engaging ways. In this article, we take a look at ways you can leverage this important quality ethically in order to better manage your campaigns.

Understanding Consumer Needs

To market ethically and with empathy it is first important to understand what consumers want and need. This is traditionally done by performing market research. While much of this is currently done through hard numbers, you can also connect with consumers through in-person interviews.

Direct communication and consumer surveys do take more effort but they also produce more dynamic and personalized data. Not only does it allow brands to tailor their marketing efforts more specifically to their consumer’s unique needs but they can also ensure that the customers themselves feel seen.

Transparent Communication

Transparency is an important and refreshing approach to business. Consumers appreciate authentic communication as it relates to product information, pricing, and company policy. There is, of course, the obvious responsibility to avoid misleading consumers.

However, in the age of the internet, it is also important to recognize and acknowledge that many people make special efforts to shop with brands that align with their values. Marketers who can communicate brand values are not only engaging with the public ethically, but they are also building valuable relationships with consumers that can translate into higher sales.

Of course, “transparency” is the keyword here. Marketers are not responsible for simply telling the public what they want to hear. Their job is to accurately reflect the policies of the brand they are working for. Consequently, many companies are working hard to implement employee policies (improved hours, better mental and physical health considerations, flexible working conditions, etc.) that they can be proud of.  

Targeting Inclusivity and Diversity

Inclusivity, equity, and diversity are important aspects of ethical marketing. Many companies now focus on ingraining these concepts into their operations by implementing DEI boards. Diversity, equity, and inclusion boards help companies align their actions with their values by putting people from diverse communities in a position of power and influence. They guide companies with policies and recommendations that make their internal and external communications more sensitive to a wide range of people.

Even marketers who do not have the opportunity to work directly with a DEI board can implement inclusive principles by maintaining a diverse team, and by listening to the general public.

It’s important to keep in mind that inclusivity goes beyond mere optics. It’s not even just about doing the right thing. Brands that focus on being inclusive tend to do better than those that do not. Why?

One reason is that they have a much wider talent pool to choose from. The other is that they are reaching a wider audience by recognizing that consumers are not monolithic.

Empathetic Content Creation

Marketing is all about telling a good story. And while the story is ultimately “why you need this thing,” the way it is told can have a big difference in how the world receives it. Ethical content creation leverages empathy to go directly to the heart of consumer concerns.

Empathy in storytelling is all about genuinely seeing consumers for who they are and finding ways to demonstrate how those fundamental qualities align with the products being offered.

There is an ethical component to empathetic content creation— particularly when you align your content creation practices with the principles described in earlier headings. However, it goes beyond that. To write and create empathetically, one must be able to recognize and make use of universal qualities that make up all the best stories.

Prioritizing Customer Well-being

Brands that lead with empathy don’t just focus on making the most sales. They also emphasize consumer well-being. Many successful marketing campaigns over the last decade have been less about selling a product, and more about leveraging an overall experience.

For example, customer service. Often, one brand’s product is virtually indistinguishable from the next. While marketers can spin slogans and emphasize features to create distinctions that might or might not exist, some of the most successful companies on the planet are using customer service as their primary brand differentiator.

This means speedy problem resolution, of course, but it also often means providing customers with a personal touch. For example, tailored social media interactions. Human customer service representatives who make a point of using personalized responses to communicate with customers. Customers put a lot of stock in the experience they have with a brand. Figuring out how to market said experience is a valuable skill.

Engaging in Ethical Data Practices

Consumers are very sensitive about privacy. Responsible data handling is an ethical obligation that will make consumers much more comfortable doing business with your brand. It is also a liability issue. If you’ve ever followed coverage of a big data breach (think Yahoo or Marriott) you might have seen some of the settlement figures for the inevitable class-action lawsuits.

Staggering though those figures may be, they represent only the tip of the iceberg. That’s a tangible cost—what’s harder to calculate is the expense of the ensuing public fallout. People don’t want to do business with brands that don’t respect their privacy concerns.

You can neutralize this concern by giving people choices in what information they share with you. Be transparent with how you handle and leverage their data. Give them options where possible. What information you are forced to retain should be handled with extreme care.

Note that this concern is not exclusive to marketing. Modern data-taking is no longer departmental. Information is shared throughout a business— for the purposes of efficiency, it should be. This makes it much easier to make the most out of valuable information. It also places the burden of responsibility on a much wider range of people.

Companies that aim to take data security seriously must emphasize it from the top down.