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Creativity Marketing Transformation

Empathy Is a Strategy, Too: How to Leverage All the Feels for a Digital Marketing Transformation

4 Minute Read

Everyone wants to feel special, as if the world were designed with him or her in mind. Your customers are no different. Today, more than ever, customers want to feel as though brands “get” them and understand what they’re feeling at any moment in time. With advances in marketing technology, personalization is a reality for marketers. But to create a true personal connection, marketers must understand the role that feelings play. Tap into your customers’ emotions, and your content will get the best compliment social media offers: “This piece gave me all the feels.”

Incorporate Design Thinking

Not sure where to begin making content that touches consumers’ hearts? That’s OK. Start by applying design thinking to your content strategy. Design thinking is a way to create products with a human-centered focus. It’s a mindset that allows designers to step through a consumer’s buying journey so they can see the pain points along the way. The same concept can be applied to your marketing.

With this process, the consumer’s needs come first. The result is empathetic content, or content that specifically taps into the feelings of the consumer. It takes a certain amount of risk to achieve, whether it’s delivered by an email marketing campaign, a new platform, or a brand experience.

Try Roleplaying

Roleplaying is usually the first step in design thinking. This step is all about understanding that not every campaign is going to be linear, especially when you’re aiming to produce one that speaks to people. Content, by that standard, shouldn’t just be a one-shot deal—your video and email marketing efforts aren’t the be all, end all.

In order to expand into the Japanese market, New Balance made a point of understanding its audience in this manner. Through diligent research, they uncovered their consumers’ key behaviors, emotions, and trigger moments to determine who would be most receptive to their content, then they targeted videos to the consumers who were most likely to form an emotional connection with the advertisement. According to AdvertisingAge, it resulted in a 135% increase in brand awareness over the control.

Understand your Audience’s Real Problems

Now that you know what your customers want, give it to them in a way that’s uniquely you. Take IKEA’s recent “Retail Therapy” campaign. The gist of the campaign is that consumers would search for answers to their problems on Google. Then the IKEA website would rename its products so that the most common searches would show up at the top of the page and lead customers to the IKEA product on the brand’s website.

With this campaign, IKEA isn’t promising that your partner will stop snoring or that it can cure empty nest syndrome. But by acknowledging that its customers have real lives (and even if it can’t actually solve their problems), the brand is showing that it knows its consumers and lovingly invites them to partake in the joke. It’s also creating a space for itself on something that millions of people see multiple times a day, every day. Consumers enjoy the campaign, and IKEA keeps itself accessible.

End on an Upbeat Note

You shouldn’t be afraid to tap into negative emotions with your content, but your stories should always end on a high note. Upbeat commercials make consumers feel good and more likely to purchase products and complete the sales funnel, according to a recent study by Yahoo titled “The Receptivity of Emotions.” A brand that’s looking into building an emotional connection with consumers is HomeAdvisor. With its agency of record EVB, it’s spending a total of $100 million to advertise with positive ads. HomeAdvisor also includes success stories on its YouTube channel for customers who might be curious about the effectiveness of the home improvement search site.

Make Content a Reward

One only has to look at Enterprise’s new partnership with LiveNation to understand how this works: By giving consumers inside, behind-the-scenes looks at some of their favorite stars, you’re rewarding them with exciting moments they’ll plan to watch, especially if they’re a devoted fan. This again comes back to research, as Enterprise found that music is important in its customers’ lives. By aligning themselves with LiveNation, Enterprise is building an image of itself as a patron of music, extending that connection.

You don’t have to totally revamp storytelling to reach your customers, just rethink it. When you take the time to research and tap into your audiences’ feelings, your customers (and you) are rewarded with an emotional bond. All the feels will certainly follow.

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I write about design and technology for The Atlantic and Popular Science, about digital retail marketing for Forbes and Digiday, and about art and design for Architectural Digest and Communication Arts. I currently write branded content for Cornell Tech and xAd, and I've written branded content for Adweek Brandshare, Rubicon, Chango, and Autodesk. As wearables advance, I'm interested in how they will affect businesses and culture in the near future. I publish an email newsletter called Alternative Circuit that documents advancements in wearable technology and the business and culture surrounding wearables makers—sign up for bi-weekly letters here: To learn more about me, please visit or follow me on Twitter:

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