Why Empathy is Content Marketing's True Super Power

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Researcher Brene Brown defines empathy as emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of You’re not alone.’”

Many consumer sentiment studies conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including one by our team, reveal that people expect the brands they follow to demonstrate empathetic qualities. In a year that has been marked by mounting stress and uncertainty, empathy is being described as the new brand mandate. For content marketers, this isn’t unfamiliar territory. Here are three reasons why content marketing is, by nature, an empathy-led practice.

1. Content marketing is customer-centric, not company-centric. Content strategies are primarily driven by the audience’s needs, not the business’ talking points. 

2. Content marketing is helpful, not promotional. The goal is always to add value for your audience by providing information they’re looking for, at the time and in the places they’re looking for it. 

3. Content marketing is relational, not transactional. It’s an inbound marketing approach that seeks to build trust over time.

Empathy-led content marketing is the connective tissue between your brand and your audience.

Before we get too far, let’s define some terms

Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t always want, inbound marketing forms connections they’re looking for and solves problems they already have. (Source: HubSpot)

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” (Source: Content Marketing Institute)

Content strategy guides the creation, delivery and governance of useful, usable content. (Source: Brain Traffic)

Unraveling Empathy

Empathy is considered a core element of emotional intelligence, and there are three types:

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand what another person might be thinking or feeling.

Emotional empathy (also referred to as affective empathy”) is the ability to share the feelings of another person.

Compassionate empathy is the ability to share in someone else’s emotions and provide actionable steps toward resolution. From a marketing lens, this is where content can truly be effective. 

One of the ways marketers can get themselves in this mindset is through empathy mapping. As a result, brands can create messaging and content that resonate in a deeper, more authentic way. But authenticity is key. All marketing and communications should be a surrogate for a company’s brand values and culture. Otherwise, it will ring hollow.

Empathy mapping taps into emotional triggers and aims to understand: 

What is my audience thinking?

What are they feeling?

What are they hearing, seeing, saying and doing?

What gives them the 3am sweats?

What do they stand to gain or lose?

They Ask, You Answer

Inbound marketing guru Marcus Sheridan preaches a radically simple content marketing strategy called They ask, you answer.” 

His approach is based on the assumption that consumers are smart, savvy and self-educating. By creating relevant (to them) content that addresses each question they have, your brand will become a—if not the—trusted voice in your industry. 

Marcus piloted this philosophy with his own fiberglass pool company, which took a hit in 2008 due to the recession. He turned to blogging as a way to attract new visitors to his website and wrote a post for every question he could think of that a consumer may have about buying a pool.

Here are a few actual examples of articles from his blog:


You can see that the blog articles are titled similarly to how someone may search on Google. This is an effective way to score some SEO points and make sure your content is served up first when specific keywords and phrases are entered into the search engine.

In giving a prospective buyer exactly what they need to better inform their purchasing decisions, Marcus is demonstrating empathy for his audience while indirectly positioning his company as a trusted authority. As a result, Marcus’ website gets more traffic than any other pool company in the world and he went on to be a digital marketing superstar.

3 Ways to Demonstrate Empathy in Content Marketing

1. Be helpful: Ebooks, white papers, infographics and blogs are popular content marketing formats for sharing best practices, tips, hacks, cheat sheets and shortcuts—information that helps your consumers become better consumers.

2. Be honest: Giving your audience a sneak peek or behind-the-scenes view can help build trust and interest in your brand or your work on a personal level. Likewise, audiences appreciate when companies tell it to them straight without sugar-coating or burying important information underneath jargon, adjectives and fluff.

3. Be human: Among many things, 2020 has shown us that behind even the largest organizations sit pajama-pant-wearing moms and dads whose kids are photo bombing their video conference. Brands are run by people. And people are human. Relate to your audience. Use the language they use. Create content in formats they enjoy. Share it on the channels you know they peruse.

At the end of the day, don’t we all just want to feel not alone? When genuine, compassionate empathy becomes the first ingredient in your content marketing strategy, your audience will take notice.


Elevate your content marketing

Download our strategic planning guide with questions to help define and document your content marketing strategy. 

Or contact us to learn more about Dixon Schwabl’s content marketing programs and services.

As director of content marketing, Christina lives for the fireworks that happen when storytelling and strategy collide.

Christina Nordquist
Director of Content Marketing

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