How Prospective Clients Can Teach You Marketing: The Surprising Relationship Between Marketing and Empathy

by | Dec 17, 2008

Marketing pros say the key to getting clients is to put their biggest problem in the headline. This is also known as speaking to the pain.
But what if being negative doesn’t work for you?
Enter Empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is the emotion at the heart of our impulse to serve.
Think of a time when you connected with a client on a profound level. When both of you recognized the value of working together. That’s the power of empathy manifest in your work.
The same thing can happen with prospective clients. When empathy is manifest in your marketing, your just-right client recognizes him or herself in your offer. There’s no need for persuasion.
Empathy in Action
The most important thing to remember about empathy and marketing is that it’s not about how you feel when you market. It’s about the actions you take.
There are two reasons for this. First, the *feeling* of empathy is subject to the ups and downs of everyday life. Empathy doesn’t go away, but it can be hidden under layers of mind-junk.
If you wait for it to come to the surface, you could wait a long time.
The second reason that empathy is about action, not feeling, is that clients are the authority about their own wants and needs. To accurately empathize with your just-right clients, you have to ask them what they want. And then you have to listen to the answers.
What Do Clients Want?
To help you get started, here are three questions I asked a few of my just-right clients before outlining a new program:

  • What’s the hardest thing about marketing for you?
  • If your marketing problems went away, what would that be like?
  • What is it you don’t believe you can get from a course like this (but gee, wouldn’t it be great if you could)?

  • Of Course It’s Risky. It’s Real.

    I was a little nervous about that last question. What if people came back with a list of things that I couldn’t possibly provide?
    I had to take that risk to find out what my clients really longed for. And upside is that, when what they want and what I offer coincided, I could hardly wait to market it.
    Sympathy Distorts, Empathy Clarifies
    When you talk with clients, take notes or get permission to record the conversation. The reason is that it is easy to hear what you think clients are saying and miss what truly matters.
    This happens when we think we know what clients need. We approach the conversation sympathetically, ready to hear about their problems.
    But the client doesn’t need your sympathy (defined as pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune). Sympathy is presumptuous in a conversation like this. Through the eyes of sympathy, your clients’ situation is distorted until it fits what you have already decided they need.
    Empathy, on the other hand, seeks to understand and share. When you make the effort to see through your clients’ eyes, their issues come into focus. The more literally you listen, the clearer you will be about what they want.
    Empathy Makes Marketing Easier
    When you use the actual words your clients use to plan your offers, you’ll notice that your empathy for their situation increases. It is natural to feel enthusiasm about the things you can do to address their concerns. The aura of codependency that surrounds our attempts to “help” is gone. What’s left is a simple, authentic offer.
    Take Aways

  • Empathy is the key to framing and marketing offers that your clients actually want.
  • Empathy is an action, not a feeling.
  • Ignite empathy by really listening to how your clients experience their situation.
  • Incorporate the actual words your clients use into your offer (product or service) and your marketing.
  • Photo courtesy of