The Key to a Top Digital Marketing Strategy: Show You Care

The Key to a Top Digital Marketing Strategy: Show You Care

By Karen TaylorNov 16 /2017

Digital Marketing StrategyThis year, XPLANE updated and re-released its popular Empathy Map. Several years before, the company designed the map as part of a human-centered design toolkit, called Gamestorming. It was created to help teams develop deep, shared understanding for other people. In other words, to show empathy. According to Psychology Today, empathy is the “ability to recognize and share the emotions of another person.” Empathy involves recognizing the other person’s behaviors, position, motivation and feelings, then acting on them.

XPLANE is not the only company with an eye on empathy and its value in today’s business world—including digital marketing. The brand’s dedication to giving the world a better way to think about bringing empathy into any business process, such as digital marketing strategy, is exactly on target for the current zeitgeist.

According to Ad Age, “Empathy is picking up steam as the official marketing buzzword of 2017. The election fueled it, the inauguration sealed it and the Super Bowl was its first big stage, offering a $5 million shot to put your brand’s empathy on display for all America to see and admire.”

Empathy Matters in Marketing

Why is empathy trending now? Consider these two scenarios. Which one is more empathetic?

In April 2017, United Airlines forcefully removed a passenger on a plane. Video of the bloodied passenger being dragged off the plane bounced around the world generating negative comments everywhere it landed. United’s less-than-warm apology did nothing to calm an irate public.

In May 2017, a Delta crew ordered pizza for travelers who had been stranded on the tarmac for hours due to weather delays. Images swirled across social media of the crew delivering pizza to passengers. The images generated significant praise and goodwill.

It’s clear that, of the two, Delta won the empathy award. The staff put themselves in their customers’ shoes and took an action that showed they care—and they generated positive PR as a result. According to experts, exhibiting empathy carries significant power in a world sometimes devoid of caring actions.

Here are some of the many ways exhibiting empathy can have a positive impact on a company.

  • Empathy allows you to write the most compelling marketing materials possible, because you can put yourself in the shoes of your potential clients and speak to them about things they care about.
  • Really knowing your potential clients’ real-world situation allows you to design products and services they would love because you know what they want.
  • When people know that you really get them, they’ll relax and feel safe around you. As a result, you’ll get more honest feedback that will help you improve your business for future customers.
  • Empathy helps teams view problems with a fresh set of eyes in order to “go wide” in the ideation and prototyping stages, with the goal of identifying impactful solutions that resonate with users.

Adding Empathy to Digital Marketing

But what about digital marketing campaigns? How can companies exhibit empathy without looking like they are trying to sell people more stuff? This is a real consideration, especially since companies already may believe they are being empathetic in their marketing. After all, content marketing has empathy already built in, right? We build buyer personas to know what our target audiences care about. We create content with real information and real benefits.

While those points are true, many companies still fail on the empathy front by falling back on old habits of talking about what their companies want to talk about, such as product features. Not convinced? Consider this question: What was your priority on your most recent marketing campaign? Did you start with asking yourself questions such as: What are our objectives? What’s our distribution strategy? What’s our budget? What kind of content will help us sell more?

Or did you start with asking: What kind of content will provide our prospects and customers with greater value?

Here are two examples of companies that leveraged empathy to reach their target customers.

When Slack launched in 2014, the founder had to beg family and friends to use it. When they liked it, they recommended it to their co-workers and friends. That turned out to be a winning strategy. The company has grown into a $4 billion company thanks to marketing that targets workers’ pains and, thereby, supports word-of-mouth referrals when the product solves the pain. According to Slack, “The value of referrals comes from a desire for quality purchases, and a lack of time among potential customers to research and assess the onslaught of information. A recommendation from a close friend or colleague cuts through the noise.”


Over the years, LinkedIn has cornered the market in the world of business connections and communication. During that time, it recognized the power of empathy to drive home its messaging. One way it does that is by educating businesses on marketing by sharing its own “secret sauce”—including insider information about how LinkedIn itself uses its own platform to achieve its marketing goals. LinkedIn wants to empower its audience to do work better (and use its product to do so). Through offerings like this, customers also learn they can rely on LinkedIn as a trusted source to guide them in the right direction.

LinkedIn Secret Sauce

Upping Your Empathy Quotient

If you failed this simple empathy quiz, don’t despair. For one thing, empathy can be learned, according to Psychology Today: “Empathy is learned behavior even though the capacity for it is inborn.” Within the context of digital marketing strategies, there are plenty of actions you can take to up your empathy quotient and become a more human-centered marketer—in other words, to not only care more about your customers, but also show them you care.

Here are several empathy-boosting tactics you can practice right now to boost your digital marketing strategy success.

  • Build and constantly consult your buyer personas. Carefully fleshing out your personas gives you amazing insight into your customers’ struggles and concerns, as well as different ways your product or service could help them.
  • Focus on solving their problems—not yours. When you’re thinking about content, consider the challenges from which your clients are trying to escape and the haven you can deliver.
  • Take advantage of the information stored in your CRM. Your CRM tool can yield fascinating information about customer habits and tendencies. Use this information to craft more personal and effective messages.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your existing content and campaigns to reflect a more empathetic angle for your customer. Change the language on your web pages to address their concerns and answer their questions. Change the tenets of your digital campaigns to put your customers at the center.
  • Think like people, not marketers—and ask yourself the hard questions. When you think you have a brilliant marketing idea, put yourself in other people's shoes. Why would anyone care? Why would they want this? How is this delivering real value to their experience? If you were them, would you believe any of this?
  • Increasingly important in a digital world is the art and science of seeing, listening and interacting in a real-world environment. Modern marketers need to look up and outward to learn what truly matters to customers and buyers in the most human of ways. It is easy to think that “seeing” customers takes place primarily on computers, laptops, tablets or smartphone screens. But direct field observations can reveal profound insights. So, observe the physical and human context of your customers as much as possible.
  • Similarly, spend time actually listening to your prospects and customers. Listening to them engaging in real conversations is where you’ll hear the stories that matter to them. This helps you access deeper insights and deeper meaning, which you can use to create more impactful marketing programs.

Of course, you can also employ XPLANE’s Empathy Map, which gives you an empathy-building tool to incorporate goals that clarify the context and purpose for the exercise; numbered sections to execute the sequences in the ideal order (think: walking a mile in their shoes); a system to generate both observable phenomena and feelings (think: getting inside customers’ heads); and thought-starter questions to make it easier to dive quickly into the mapping exercise. Think of the Empathy Map as a game—one that results in a win-win for you and the customers with whom you can empathize more deeply.PIVOTING YOUR PLAN with Inbound Marketing 

Karen Taylor
The Author

Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor is a professional content marketing writer with experience writing for over 100 companies and publications. Her experience includes the full range of content marketing projects — from blogs, to white papers, to ebooks. She has a particular knack for creating content that clarifies and strengthens a company’s marketing message, and delivers optimum impact and maximum results. Learn more at