In the article we recently wrote for imedia Connection, 6 ways to spruce up your copy, we discussed tapping into the emotions and needs of the prospect. But, I wanted to go further into why really understanding your prospect’s desires and needs is so important in copywriting.

Empathy shows your reader that you ‘get them’.

What is empathy?

A quick entry into the Google search bar tells me that the dictionary meaning of empathy is: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Far too often, we assume that people just naturally want our amazing product or simply know they need our super service. But the truth is that most people only have a vague notion of what product or service they think they want.

What they actually need is to solve a problem – often one that is deeply troubling, stressful and unpleasant.

And there is two parts to empathy. It’s not just enough to understand them, you need to share those feelings.

Why does it work in advertising?

Showing empathy for this deep-rooted problem – not just asking them if they have the problem, but actively empathising with them – is the secret to successful copywriting.

For example, a man may resist using a product on his hair to get it to grow back because, well, he simply finds it hard to accept that he’s losing (lost) his hair. His emotional state is one of embarrassment, a heightened sensitivity to his looks and a feeling that he needs to hide his head (often unconscious).

Many marketers will use the question/response technique to grab attention, but this is unsophisticated and easily ignored:

“Lost your hair? Poor you. Here’s something you can do!”

This merely increases the stress in the prospect. It also gives him a chance to respond with a powerful negative, especially if he’s in denial (“No, I haven’t. It’s not that bad. I don’t need to do anything.”)

→ Incidentally this is why I caution new or inexperienced writers and marketers on using the phrase “why not do/try such and such…?” – it just invites a negative response. The key to great copy is to get your prospect to nod ‘yes’ to everything you write.

Playing the empathy card will get you further – notice the advertisers that use spokespeople do this:

“I used to feel like I had to accept that my hair was thinning and would end up like Dad’s…until my doctor recommended X product. I tried it…and, well, you can see the results.”

You can see that already this person’s empathy (I used to feel like you) works on lowering the stress (and denial) in the prospect. It gets him thinking, “well if it worked for him…”

Empathy lowers barriers and that is key to making the sale. Try it next campaign. List the emotions your prospect faces with their problem and empathise with them. Show them they are understood and that you can help.

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