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Empathy: The Secret Ingredient for Incredible Marketing

This article originally appeared on on May 15, 2018.

All advertising stakes its success on one central ingredient. Without this essential touch, even the most clever copy, striking visuals and strategic ad placement will inevitably fall short. Like butter in a tasty recipe, empathy is the flavor that accents every element of effective marketing, the binding agent that combines them all into a winning package.

It’s easy to get swept up in the process of building creative, relevant, and well-deployed advertising. When this happens, it’s even simpler to neglect what marketing is truly about: the customer. Every marketer knows that strong advertising considers the customer before the brand, but what truly distinguishes great marketing is its ability to capture and demonstrate that empathy without fail.

The power in understanding the customer’s perspective is proven by marketing from fashion retailer Kate Spade New York. From 2016 to 2017, Kate Spade ran a YouTube ad campaign using empathetic tactics. The results were undeniable: Throughout January 2017, the average watch time of Kate Spade’s YouTube content was 39 seconds higher, and it was viewed five times more than content from January 2016. Mary Beech, CMO of Kate Spade New York, points to the following three takeaways for marketers looking to embrace an empathetic strategy.

Use Your Internal Influencers to Start a Conversation

Customers who shop in-store often look to employees for insight. To make employee advice available to a wide range of customers, Kate Spade created a YouTube series called Talking Shop where store associates Niesha and Tiffany discuss new products, share style ideas, and address customer questions. Beech notes that the result of Talking Shop wasn’t just marketing, but the start of a conversation valued and anticipated by customers.

Acknowledge (and Incorporate) What Actually Matters to Customers

In a market plastered with ads, a lackluster consumer response to barrage after tired barrage of photoshopped perfection is only natural. Kate Spade realized that advertising with a relatable touch tends to perform better. They worked with Google, and learned that people buying beauty products want “confidence, love, happiness and success.”

That knowledge factored heavily into Kate Spade’s latest fragrance campaign, “In Full Bloom.” The campaign included video segments in which popular icons known for their voice—such as fashion writer Tavi Gevinson and comedian Sasheer Zamata—speak on issues of personal vulnerability. Kate Spade used Google’s TrueView tool to serve these meaningful ads in response to relevant searches, like “how to build self-esteem.”

Make Entertainment First, Advertising Second

Watching an ad requires paying attention and time, and customers are right to demand value in exchange. Substantial research suggests that consumers prefer ads to feel organic, real and entertaining. Kate Spade’s Youtube miniseries, #MissAdventure, is a prime example of an engaging narrative blended with marketing in a way that feels natural. The series—which has garnered millions of views on YouTube—centers around actress Rosie Perez, as she reacts to absurd and comedically uncomfortable situations.

But an ad doesn’t have to feature Hollywood icons to be appreciated as creative and entertaining by customers. The variety of marketing platforms and media tools available today means that genuine empathy can be projected on a minimal budget. Doing so takes little more than a good grasp of the customer’s perspective, and the skill to build strategies around it.

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