Writing with Heart: Why Empathy is the Crucial Secret Ingredient for Brand Messaging

Form submissions. Clicks. Time on site. Impressions. These are the metrics we use so often as part of our digital marketing strategies to measure success. It’s important to remember – though – that behind each data point is a human emotion. Excitement. Fascination. Conviction. Inspiration. These feelings drive the human behavior and decisions at the heart of digital data trails.

That’s why it’s no surprise that at a marketing tech conference I attended this year, the Unbounce CTA Conference in Vancouver, speakers were talking just as much about human emotions as they were about data and analytics. “The computers learned what disappointment looked like,” said Wil Reynolds, founder and director of digital strategy at Seer Interactive, as he showed the audience how search engines are using machine learning to understand when people are disappointed based on how they click on search results.

In fact, machine-learning and artificial intelligence are transforming human-machine interactions in every field, from Search Engine Optimization to smart homes and connected cars.  Our computers no longer simply list results, they respond. They don’t spit out information, they share insights. They are no longer waiting for our inputs, they are – quite literally - listening. We used to put our computers to sleep. Now they’re telling us when to go to shut down, turn off our screens, and go to sleep. How ironic is that?

It looks like emotion might just be the nuanced, enigmatic code that drives the technology of the future.

As a copywriter, all this made me stop and think. If computers are tuning in to human emotion, the people who are crafting brand messaging should be too. That’s why the most important thing copywriters can sharpen isn’t their pencils, typing speed, or coding skills. It’s their empathy. The good thing is that we already have a leg up on the computers because we use empathy every day in our work. Empathy in copywriting can help brands connect with audiences and calibrate their messages to the human emotions driving consumer decisions and behavior.  

Here’s how:

Being a Good Listener is Key to Copywriting with Empathy

Deep listening is the first crucial practice in copywriting before our writing ever begins. To craft effective and compelling messaging for brands, we first need to understand what makes a brand tick, where the brand fits in on the landscape, and what makes it different. As we listen, we’re pulling up our memories, comparing and assessing where things are similar, mentally flagging everything that’s new, and highlighting unique words we hear to craft a unique vocabulary later. Curiosity expands and broadens our capacity for absorbing new information, and our reward centers light up when we “see” how the pieces fit together, or how we might turn what we’re hearing into a campaign or a compelling brand story. All this is filtered through the lens of human experience: what we know, what we’ve seen before, what we’ve learned from others. All this goes into the active practice of deep listening to be better copywriters. Next, we must ask the right questions, and empathy helps with that too.

Empathy Essential to Asking the Right Questions

To connect with audiences, copywriters literally imagine what life is like from their perspectives. To do that, we try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. This helps us ask some key questions about the people we’re trying to reach. What are their goals? What’s important to them? What do they need help with or wish were different? Which story is most likely to reach them and bring them into the conversation, becoming not only engaged, but invested? We can’t ask any of these questions without trying to imagine, or empathize with, other people’s realities and experiences.

Only then can the real conversation start.

Conversational Copywriting Increases Conversions

When it’s finally time to start writing, empathy helps guide the words we choose. That’s because the most effective copywriting uses language people want to read. It’s clear, direct, and focused. Much like in a conversation, our language doesn’t use verbiage describing and explaining. It can’t. If we asked people to listen while we talked about ourselves, they would walk away. That’s why we use empathy to craft the message that matters most to audiences: how a brand benefits them and why they should care. We understand that audiences crave engagement and experiences, so we boldly invite and call them to action. That increases conversions.

Empathy Helps Brands Craft Messages with Stopping Power

Finally, we draw our audience in to experience our stories by crafting headlines, subject lines, digital ads, and social media posts with stopping power. This requires empathy too. Writing messages with stopping power goes beyond words to the realm of ideas and experiences. We know our task is enormous and our mission is great. Using the fewest words possible, we must write something that will stand out in the crowd of messages, wake people up, and help our audience see the world in a new light. That’s stopping power. 

Luckily, when it comes to tuning in and connecting with audiences at the speed of emotion, brands already have an amazing resource at their disposal: copywriters. Combined with the right technology, brands will be better positioned than ever to connect with audiences and increase conversions.


Amanda Wilson is a Senior Copywriter at RepEquity.

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