We write to sell a product, a brand, or a vision. We can sell all the specs in the world – all the high-tech features that make it seem irresistible. You can argue rationally you want, but if it goes against or disregards the customer’s pain points, desires or beliefs – in short, their emotional response to a product or service – they won’t listen to what you’ve got to say. And that’s why empathy matters in copywriting.
The dictionary definition of empathy is: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Pretty straightforward, right?
Far too often, we assume that people just naturally want our amazing product or intuitively know they need our super service. It’s a classic example of “I, us, we” kind of thinking. That’s when you’re so focused on how great you think your product is (service, process, team, organisation etc.) that you’ve stopped thinking about what’s in it for the customer.
When you start with “you” thinking, then you can begin to uncover why the customer might (or might not) be interested in what you’ve got to sell. And the truth is that most people may only have a vague notion of what product or service they think they want.
Generally, they need to solve a problem – sometimes deeply troubling, stressful and unpleasant, sometimes driven by self-esteem, status, and identity (yes, even in B2B selling.)
When it comes to writing with empathy, it’s not just enough to understand your customer and what drives them. You need to share those feelings actively.
So 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 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 can backfire and increase 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, apply caution when using the phrase “why not do/try such and such…?” – it can invite a negative response. The key to excellent empathy copywriting is to get your prospect to nod ‘yes’ to everything you write. (And before we move on, let’s not forget that you need to choose the right prospect before you even attempt to get them to nod ‘yes’; otherwise, all those lovely words are wasted.)
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 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…”
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How to inject empathy into your copywriting?
Empathy copywriting lowers barriers, and that is key to making the sale. List the emotions your prospect faces with their problem and empathise with them. Show them they are understood and that you can help.
Know your audience. Like, really know your audience.
We keep banging on about this, but it’s essential to know your target customer. And this goes beyond the usual demographic factors of age, race, income and location that some marketers get obsessed with. You’ve just got to look deeper.
We frequently recommend our clients focus on ONE TARGET CUSTOMER. Not 3, not 5, not 10. Because then you’ve got to try to communicate 3, 5 or 10 different things. And that is going to dilute and/or confuse your message. Having one persona means you can keep your messaging laser-focused.
“But will I not miss out on those other groups of people that I’d like to attract?” No – because if your message is honed, streamlined and direct, it will cut through the noise and reach exactly the people that need to hear it. Choosing one persona removes the clutter and the excess baggage from your writing.
The other essential practice to knowing your audience is to make it real. Create a real person, not just a list of demographic attributes. Ask yourself:
- What makes them happy?
- What do they hate?
- What do they read?
- What do they watch on TV?
- What are their biggest worries or challenges right now?
- What gets them excited?
- What do they love?
- What are their priorities?
- Do they have high expectations?
- What are their wants or dreams?
- What makes them cringe?
- What makes them laugh?
Answer just a handful of these questions, and you’re one step closer to effective communication with your customer. But remember – even if your values don’t align with those of your target customer, you’re still speaking to another human. Be respectful, and don’t get caught up in your differences. That’s a key thing to remember when it comes to empathetic copywriting.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you should assume too much about how your customers like to be talked to. By being genuinely empathic, you can avoid being insincere or condescending
Tell a story
Now that you know your audience, understand their pain points – and have a product or service that will solve those – it’s time to present it to your customer, and the best way to do so is to tell a story.
When we say story, they may not want to hear another rendition of how your business or brand came about (although there is a place for that). And too much detail of the history of your products or services is also likely to send your customer to sleep. The story you want to tell leads with your customer as the main character. Here’s a good structure to follow:
- Identify your customer’s pain points; their wants, needs and desires; the common problems that your product or service can solve.
- Describe all the ways your product or service solves those pain points.
- Create your storyline. Define a fictional situation that involves your customer dealing with a challenge that your product can solve.
- Inject your story with emotion. When writing your copy, make sure you use words that relate to how your customer is probably feeling. For example, when you think about the pain point, words like “frustrating”, “complicated”, or “exhausting may come to mind. With B2B marketing, this can be fairly easy to apply. Your prospect has a challenge (they need a new website, a new CMS, a new fleet management system) but remember that, while you may have a good solution to their problem, you still need to understand what will make them buy YOUR solution (and not someone else’s). And that means getting in touch with the emotion behind their challenge: they want less stress so they can enjoy work more, they want to impress the boss, they want to look after their team. Often with B2B marketing, there’s a fear motivation: “if I don’t get this sorted, I won’t get promoted, I’ll get fired, I won’t get the approval of my peers.” This boils down even further to the very human emotion of “my tribe are going to kick me out of the cave, and I’ll be abandoned”.
- With B2C, they may be feeling “summery” and not know what to wear (self-esteem, status). They may be feeling that their lives lack excitement or meaning (self-actualisation). Or any of those triggers that lead us to buy stuff that makes us feel better about ourselves. NB, I say that not in a cynical way, but in recognition that my new Oxblood Corduroy Shirt from Folk Clothing made me feel absolutely excellent. Looking good and feeling good is a perfectly acceptable human condition! And perhaps I could have met that need with yoga classes, or an online course, or going to work for an NGO. But I needed a new shirt and Folk Clothing spoke to me.
- Show your customer you understand precisely how they are feeling.
- Present your product or service as the most straightforward and best solution available to solve their problem. It’s also great to show how your solution helped other customers – refer back to our first example at the start of this blog post.
The Search Guru defines a quick way to check in with your writing to ensure your story is balanced and focused on your customer. Count how many times you use: I, we, our, my – or your brand name. And now count how many times you use: you or your. How do they compare? The latter should be much greater. If it’s not, go back in and make a round of edits so that your customer is central to your piece of copy.
How can we help?
After reading this blog, you should have a greater understanding of how to approach empathy in your copywriting. However, we appreciate it can still be a hard task to master. That’s why we are here to help.
Big Star Copywriting has been providing high quality copywriting services since 2005. Our professional UK writers know how to get to the heart of your brand and write content that resonates with your audience. So what are you waiting for? Get in touch today.
This is a great post. I completely agree that empathy is critical in all marketing…as you say, I get you is important to building those great connections with clients.
Agreed. You need to understand where your reader is coming from!