Why empathy is really important: insights from psychology

28 September 2022
4 minutes

To learn more on why empathy is important:

Ads aren’t generally a lot of fun. At least, most of us don’t go out of our way to read them. But did you know that our aversion to advertising goes way beyond most marketers’ expectations? 

A 2015 study by O’Donnell & Cramer found that up to 93% of online advertisements go totally unviewed by their intended audience. Even though audiences land on the page, they don’t even see most banner ads, let alone read them. 

In the world of marketing research, this fascinating effect is called banner blindness. Recognition of this pattern of user behaviour has spurred the growth of so-called native advertisements – ads placed directly in content feeds to make them less discernible from organic updates. This is a crucial principle for content marketers who look to advertise a service or product through written content.

Native ads are seen 47% faster than banner ads, with 451% more fixations and 4000% more viewing time. As a marketer, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why these ads dramatically outperform banner ads. And the answer says a lot about what makes the difference between a great ad and a flop.

Here’s why, when it comes to successful content marketing, empathy is your best asset.

Meet your audience where they’re at

A 2007 study into web and advertising design found that adverts matching their host website in terms of theme, content and design (Robinson, H., Wysocka, A., & Hand, C.) saw much higher click-through rates than those that didn’t. Another in 2016 (Janrain 2016-11-07) found that the relevance of an advert to the host content played a role in how frustrating users found the site overall.

All this evidence points to an underlying theme – that ads work best when they align with the user’s motivation for being on the site. The best way to catch attention, then, is to gel with a user’s emotional and motivational state at the moment at which they encounter your ad. I like to call this ‘meeting them where they’re at’.

It’s a concept that might seem a little obvious at first. However, it’s something that runs in the face of traditional thinking around audience targeting, which focuses first on broader, long-term needs and goals. When you meet your audience where they’re at, you’re not asking how you can help them achieve their goals, but how you can help them do what they’re doing right now.

Aligning platform and content experience

Audiences aren’t a blank slate. Every time they land on a digital platform, they’re accessing it for a specific reason, whether that’s a pragmatic reason or an emotional one. When users encounter an ad that doesn’t match that need, they rebuff them hard – sometimes to the point of not even processing what the ad says. Understanding why a user visits a site and – what they are feeling when they do – is crucial to creating content that gets read. And, as we should all know, engagement is the first step to making the sale.

That’s why empathy is a content marketer’s best asset. Empathy allows you to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and understand what they’re going through when they read your writing. If you can play to their needs at that moment, you’ll have a much easier time getting read. 

The astute readers amongst you will notice that there’s a critical problem here; what happens if your customer doesn’t feel like being sold to? Well, that’s why content marketing often outperforms channels like paid media advertising. Content and social media channels give you the chance to build a brand relationship that doesn’t hinge on the buyer-seller dynamic. Through empathetic content marketing, you can build a brand relationship that serves and enriches whilst also achieving business goals.

Does that sound like a good deal?

Image of a man speaking to his audience

A brief framework for empathetic content

I hope that’s a yes. There are a lot of different ways to approach empathising with your audience. Psychology, instructional design and UX design can all offer some useful ideas and frameworks. However, all of them will seek to answer a few basic questions that will help us to understand what’s happening in the head of our audience. When you’re designing your next content piece or creative ad, answer the questions below before starting. It’ll help you think up some great creative ideas as well as produce content that’s that much more likely to be read.

  • Why did they come to this platform?
  • How do they feel when they do?
  • Do they have a specific need in mind?
  • Does your content facilitate that need or does it interrupt it?
  • What unconscious motivations may be guiding your user?

To learn more about making your content marketing more effective, get in touch with us here at Contentoo. We’re always excited to speak with progressive content and marketing experts.

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