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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Drive customer connection and retention with the 3Cs of empathy marketing

May 22, 2018 | By Peggy Anne Salz, Founder and Lead Analyst – Mobile Groove @peggyanne

Our lives and devices have become inextricably intertwined. Five years ago, mobile devices eclipsed desktops to become the platform that defines our daily routine. Mobile is our go-to for advice, assistance, and access to content and experiences. This attachment to mobile and apps turns up the pressure on brands and content companies to engage with consumers in ways (and contexts) that demonstrate a deep understanding of their needs and a genuine desire to put people first.

Fulfilling consumer demand for content that is relevant, valuable, and in no way intrusive is not a mere courtesy; it’s a business imperative. Mobile has created a strong sense of entitlement among consumers — particularly Millennials and younger generations, which are accustomed to instant gratification with a swipe or click. The outcome is an audience of empowered consumers who want what they want, when and how they want it.

Audience Appropriateness

Mobile also forces companies to obsess around what I’ll call the “appropriateness” of the how, what and when of their side of this two-way conversation taking place on mobile. In a sense, mobile has rewritten the rules of engagement. Mobile is a fiercely personal device that requires companies to ask for consent and earn trust. A major trust factor is showing that they understand and appreciate what consumers want and value most. Missing a step and delivering inappropriate experiences has negative consequences.

Recent research from Forrester suggests that companies lack the skill set- mindset required to meet customer expectations. Despite “skyrocketing” mobile adoption rates globally, the analyst firm observes that most companies “struggle to engage with consumers via mobile.” Specifically, only 32% say they have systematically integrated mobile into their marketing approach, and less than 56% say they use mobile to transform the customer experience.

Underestimating the pivotal role of mobile is everyday life represents a dangerous disconnect with business best practice. After all, mobile is not another screen. It is the screen. The 2017 Mobile Maturity study, conducted by digital media and digital marketing solutions company Adobe and based on a survey of 4,000 consumers across the U.S. and Europe, reveals that over 90% of respondents consider mobile to be their “primary device.”

The Age of Empathy

People are more connected that ever. And they also demand to be heard. They hunger for experiences that are genuine. Companies must show they listen and care, and cultivating these capabilities is at the center of Empathy Marketing.

In daily life, empathy is all about the ability to take a walk in someone else’s shoes. It’s the action of understanding and being sensitive to the feelings and thoughts of another human being. In a company-to-consumer scenario, empathy is an approach fueled by hard data and soft skills to deliver people content and experiences that are amazing, appropriate and deeply engaging.

Empathy Marketing is mobile-first and consumer-centric, wielding the unique ability of the mobile channel to deliver personally- and contextually-relevant content and experiences that move the needle. But it’s not about technology. Companies must also move our hearts, with approaches that show they listen and care. Based on nearly two decades of research and writing about engagement marketing examples and best practice, I have identified 3 approaches (the 3Cs) that demonstrate empathy and drive results.

The 3Cs of Empathetic Marketing


Content, context, and, now, cognitive. It’s the capabilities mix that allows companies to move from acting mobile-first (table stakes at this point, by the way) to being people-first. At its core, this approach builds on a deep understanding of the consumer to anticipate needs and requirements and pinpoint proper moments in the mobile journey to interject with meaningful and useful suggestions or assistance – or simply show presence. The input is data, but not just from mobile.

Companies that have a broad range of content assets should connect the dots in the online, offline, mobile, social, and digital ‘sessions’ that define our daily routine. These insights will allow them to deliver what consumers want (when and how they want it and on their preferred platform) even before they want it. The output is a clear flow of content and experiences that feels as if it has been designed specifically to satisfy the individual’s need-state. Algorithms help. But companies should also act human, asking questions and responding in ways that indicate they are genuinely interested in listening and, above all, learning. Communications (notifications, text and email) are careful and crafted to show companies are there for their audience and dedicated to making their lives better.


Companies can blame the new breed of on-demand apps, such as Uber, for setting the bar high. Apps and experiences that have succeeded in reducing time, friction, and frustration have created the consumer expectation that everything should be so simple. Avoid complexity at all cost. Start with a design that reduces clicks to content and keeps what’s important in “thumb’s reach.”

However, it’s not enough to embrace design that reduces friction. Fuel interactions with deep customer connection and automation where it counts. Avoid making consumers repeat actions or input information, particularly if they already provided at an earlier stage of the journey. Build in features and functions allowing consumers to save settings, store what they have read (or want to read later), make lists, and share with their communities. Think about the actions your content is likely to inspire plan to make sure their individual path-to-action is hassle-free. This starts with a review of your landscape to identify options and partners (for example, complementary content companies and apps) essential to delivering consumers a one-stop experience.

Borrow a page from the Ubers of the world — companies that offer services from the source down the last mile to the customer — and position your content within a tight-knit ecosystem with you at the helm. For example, if you have travel content, pair it with sites or apps that allow consumers to book a hotel or trip directly from the same page in the app or on the website in the all-important moment of inspiration. Remove the wait, reduce the friction or just enable an impulse action. Whatever you do, demonstrate a laser-focus on making experiences easy and enjoyable and consumers will reward your efforts with intense loyalty.


Effective approaches move the needle, creatives move the heart. Acquire and retain audiences with the help of authentic marketing creative that shows you understand and uphold what is important to them. The right creative resonates with your audience. Making that match requires a firm grasp of data that goes beyond demographics and location. Do your research, starting with consumer studies and surveys to open the aperture of how you see your audience. Harness psychographics to understand where your audience is coming from and help you map a journey that is aligned with their lifestyles and life stages (not just the stages in the funnel). There are no blueprints. But there are valuable lessons and guidelines if you have the vision to look outside your vertical.

A great example is finance, which has seen a massive decline in consumer trust and brand love. Mobile fintech apps and startups are gaining traction with the help of approaches that show they understand what their audience want and are sincere about helping them to achieve life goals. It starts with something as simple as imagery that is inclusive. For example: showcasing women in campaigns creatives and empowering them with the feeling they can take control of their financial future. Effective assets and advertising demonstrate traits women value most (trustworthiness, dependability, and accessibility). Companies can adapt these key takeaways to power approaches that drive consumer connection and deepen trust.

As the saying goes: Actions speak louder than words. This is a connected age where consumer crave authenticity. So, companies must use everything they know about their audience to deliver experiences that address needs, anticipate interests, or simply go the distance to make their life better. Anything less shows disregard for the individual and tells consumers you’re not listening, or worse, you simply don’t care.

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