Sarah Klongerbo working on marketing copy with her dog Pali on a bed

8 Ways to Show Empathy in Your Marketing Copy (+ Why)

Empathy is the #1 skill a copywriter — or business owner, or human in general — can master.

Why? Because when you understand, truly understand, your ideal client, you naturally create the content that serves them best.

Loyalty comes from trust.

And trust comes from empathy.

Let’s dive into how to create high-quality marketing content, including eight effective ways to show empathy in your copywriting — and why it really does matter so much.

The 3-Part Formula for High-Quality Marketing Content

“Assume the reader knows nothing. But don’t assume the reader is stupid.”

–Ann Handley

When I read that line in Everybody Writes, I immediately wrote it down.

Because that’s what it means to write with empathy.

Let me explain.

In the same book, author Ann Handley outlines her three-part formula for copywriting success:

Utility  ×  inspiration  ×  empathy  =  high-quality content

Utility means you’re helping the reader.

Inspiration means you’re motivating them.

Empathy means you’re connecting with them on an authentic, deep, “wow-she-really-gets-me” level.

When all three come together in one website, Instagram story, YouTube video, or other piece of content?

You’ve just made marketing magic.

Why “Knowing Your Audience” Isn’t Enough

The paradox of writing is that while your personal experience informs your work, your work is ultimately not about you.

It’s about your reader. 

Or, in the case of copywriting, your customer.

I won’t give you the whole “know your audience” spiel (although if you’ve never done a customer avatar exercise before, now is the time!).

Because it’s not enough to simply know your audience. You also have to feel them.

If I’m being totally candid? I’m still working on this myself. As a writer, I can get stuck inside my own head, and that can translate to rather verbose, conceptual writing. 

See: this blog post so far.

But I want to get better at writing with empathy. I’m (spoiler alert) in the process of a rebrand, so in the coming weeks, I hope to do a lot more deep-diving into who my ideal client is, what they want and need, and how I can help them — actually help.

Because here’s what I know to be true:

The difference between you and your audience is that you have the product or service that solves their problem or improves their life.

It’s up to you, as the copywriter and/or business owner, to bridge that gap.

And bridging that gap requires you to educate… without condescending.

It’s a tricky task, because in all reality, you do “know better” than your audience — but you aren’t better. And you’d better not come across that way!

A surefire way to turn someone away from your business is by talking down to them.

You need to talk with them, as though they’re sitting across the table from you, eye to eye, sipping a glass from the same bottle of wine you’ve just opened to share — a nice syrah, one you brought up from the cellar purely for this occasion.

They aren’t just a guest. They’re a family member whose story you know like the back of your hand.

8 Ways to Write with Empathy in Your Marketing Copy

So, what does empathetic writing actually look like, especially as it pertains to your marketing content?

Here are eight practical tips to (copy)write with empathy:

  1. Get inspired by others’ stories. Read biographies, watch documentaries, immerse yourself in real people’s real experiences. Appreciate the power of storytelling, and consider how you can wield it in your own work.
  2. Create a shared experience. Your audience wants to know you’re on the roller coaster with them, not some disembodied voice telling them to “keep their arms and legs inside the ride at all times.” Tell a personal anecdote they can relate with, adding emotion-rich language that shows them you not only know what they’re experiencing, you feel it too.
  3. Answer your customers’ questions. Not sure what those questions are? Find out! Conduct surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews to truly get inside your clients’ heads. Then, create content that addresses their specific questions, pain points, and desires.
  4. Feature testimonials. Nothing proves the results of your product or service better than your customers’ own success stories. Give them the floor, without bragging about it or editing their words. Let their quotes speak for themselves.
  5. Don’t be afraid of a flaw. Think of your favorite character: Ron Weasley, Winnie the Pooh, Katniss Everdeen. They’re all flawed in one way or another — which is partly what makes them so likable. In the same way, there’s no need to pretend your business is perfect. Embrace your quirks, shortcomings, and even mistakes. Your audience will embrace you for it.
  6. Use conversational language. People want to read copy that sounds like it was written by a human (because, hopefully, it was). Don’t complicate your writing with jargon, formality, or SAT vocab. Be authentic, personable, and maybe even playful if the situation warrants it.
  7. Write with the right tone. Your brand voice might be generally upbeat, but an obituary, apology email, or temporary-outage tweet is not the place for chipper language. Respect the context in which your audience is reading your work.
  8. Show, don’t tell. Cliché? Sure, but for good reason. Flat-out telling your readers, “We know how important X is; that’s why we Y” is nowhere near as compelling as sharing a real-life story that illustrates your point. Incorporate specific details, dialogue, and transformation stories of how your product has actually, historically helped someone.

In the end, writing with empathy comes down to being generous. 

When we give generously — of our time, energy, resources, or words — we take ourselves out of the equation. We take care of others instead.

And the rest takes care of itself.

Become a Better, More Empathetic Copywriter

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8 Ways to Show Empathy in Your Marketing Copy (+ Why)

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