You can learn all you need to know about empathy from a belly flop.
Picture it: a nervous kid inches his way towards the edge of the diving board. He gathers up his courage, takes a small bounce, and launches off. He tries to rotate towards a full flip but fails. In a moment of panic his arms and legs stretch out. Then…
Just as his exposed tummy hits the water, you cringe and gasp a puff of air on pure reflex.
That ability to feel someone else’s pain, or joy, or frustration, like it was our own is empathy.
As marketers and business owners, empathy is where all communication should begin. This is especially true of marketing copy and content. Why? Because we likely haven’t met the people reading it. So we need to let them know we understand what their hell looks like and that we have the promised land they’re looking for.
Here’s the tricky part.
Writing with empathy means putting our audiences needs ahead of our own. Put another way, it means writing to the psychological benefits of our solutions, not to the features of them.
Also, writing with empathy means digging deep to learn what those real psychological benefits are. It’s not always easy, particularly when you can’t have a one-on-one conversation with your audience.
There is good news. While empathy is a biological response for most of us, it’s also a skill that we can sharpen over time.
“Empathy is a skill like any other human skill. If you get a chance to practice, you can get better at it.”
– Professor Simon Baron Cohen
Here’s how to get started writing content and copy that will quickly connect with your audience and have them seeking your solutions to their pain.
How to Write Empathetic Copy
There are two steps to writing more empathetic copy:
- Understand your customers psychological pain
- Writing to that pain
It seems simple. And it sort of is. As always, the devil is in the details.
Let’s unpack these two steps into actionable tasks.
A quick note: If you’re not creating your own copy, make sure you work with a team that is willing to understand you and your customers.
Understanding your customers’ real problem
The basis of empathy is understanding. The challenge for marketers and business owners is that we often don’t deal with the same problems as our customers.
For example, you might sell software that helps accounts payable professionals streamline their process. Your challenges are building a good product and selling it. You may have never had to work a month-end weekend to keep payables on track.
Here are a few things you can do to relate to your audience.
Task 1: create customer personas (and don’t forget the pain)
You’ve likely heard of marketing personas before. Maybe you’ve even created them. In case you haven’t, here’s a quick overview.
A persona is a fictional character you create based on common audience characteristics. Think: how old are my customers? What is their job title? Where do they go for professional education?
That sort of thing.
You can give them silly names like Suzy Sales Professional or Alan the Accountant.
These are all helpful when deciding how you’ll write copy. For example, you’ll likely use different language If you’re trying to connect with a 25-year-old entrepreneur versus a 50-year-old work-from-home dad.
But where things can get really juicy is when you drill down to that persona’s psychological pain. To get there, try thinking like a curious three-year-old.
Let’s go back to our accounts payable software.
In this case, you’re writing copy specifically for the ground level employee that would use it, not the executive. Start asking questions.
Why does your software matter?
Because it reduces the number of manual tasks in AP.
Why does that matter?
Because it saves time.
Why does that matter?
Because I can get more work done quickly.
Why does that matter?
Because I won’t have to work weekends to clear month-end AP.
Visualize that for a second. You’re sitting in an office on Saturday afternoon while your kids are at little league. That just sucks!
Boom! There’s your real benefit. Not the cool automation features or even time savings. Your software can actually improve the quality of your customers’ lives by giving them back time to do what they love. Unless they really love doing manual AP tasks, that is.
Sure, you’ll expose the fancy features that get your audience in that happy place. But you’ll want to lead with why it matters.
You may also have created a persona for the executive that will sign the contract to buy your product. They’ll have a different psychological pain. So you’ll want to run through the same question process for them. It might end with a reduction in overtime pay or uncorking a bottleneck that has stifled business growth.
Task 2: stalk your audience (in the nicest way possible)
The internet has created communities at a scale never before imagined. If you collect rare, 1960’s Matchbox cars, you’ll probably find an online community of like-minded collectors that share your passion.
These communities are a gold mine for marketers and business owners to understand their audience.
Just Google ‘online communities for accounts payable professionals’ and see how many there are. You can find them on Facebook and Linkedin or on communication platforms like Slack.
Join these groups and see what questions they’re asking each other. You’ll find a rich vein of content topics to write about and the right vocabulary for your copy.
But remember, you’re in learning mode, not selling mode. If you go in sales-guns-ablazin’, you’ll likely find yourself escorted out of the group.
With a great understanding how what your audience’s pain is and how they talk about it, you’re ready to create some empathetic copy that speaks to it.
Write ‘you’ focused, benefit-centric copy
Task 1: Forget feature-focused copy
It hurts a little to hear it, but no one cares that your socks have space-age, titanium wrapped fibers. They care that they get fewer blisters when they run. Even better, they care that they can run pain free tomorrow.
So don’t lead with features in your content or copy. Lead with psychological pain. Then support that positioning with features.
Here’s a trick to get in the right mindset.
When you’re writing headers on a sales or landing page, try starting each one with “We help you…”
For our AP SaaS product, we might try: “We help you…never spend weekends clearing month end again.”
Next, just eliminate the “We help you” and you’ve got your header.
Never spend weekends clearing month end again.
Then drive that point home. If your persona is a working parent, try…
Because being at your kid’s ballgame is way better than a Saturday in the office, we’ve created a platform that cuts AP tasks by 50%.
Task 2: Tell stories
Stories help you empathetically connect with your audience on a biological level.
Let me explain.
When we hear stories, our bodies release two chemicals: oxytocin and cortisol.
Oxytocin is called the ‘cuddle chemical’ because it helps us bond. Cortisol is associated with stress; it helps us focus on a problem.
This is why we’re ready to take on the world after watching an action movie or more attached to our significant other after a great love story. It’s also why non-profits often use stories about their beneficiaries to elicit more donations.
What does this mean for marketers?
If you present stories to your audience, instead of just information, they’re more likely to be motivated to act.
“The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor”
– Social Psychologist Jonathon Haidt
There are lots of places you can tell stories. Here are a few ideas:
- Case studies
- A well-crafted “About Us” page
- Stories about your customers (not case studies, just their real lives)
- Stories about your awesome employees
- Include fictional stories that represent your ideal customer in your content and ad copy
There are shelves of books and hundreds of websites dedicated to storytelling techniques. But to get to the very basics, just make sure your story has a relatable character, a conflict your audience is familiar with, and a resolution.
Writing with empathy means understanding your audience’s psychological pain, exposing it, and offering the salve that soothes it.
You can uncover your audience’s psychological pain, and learn how to speak to it, by joining their communities and watching what they ask each other.
Once you have a good grasp of their real pain, then write copy that address it first and your product’s features second.
That’s how we write content and copy for our customers. Contact us today and we’ll show you how.
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