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Empathy in marketing isn’t just a nice thing to have—it’s essential to building a lasting brand, fostering company growth, and advancing your career, especially in this era of AI. By putting yourself in the shoes of your company’s customers, clients, and employees, you can create more relatable, engaging, and effective campaigns that resonate on a higher level.

We recently spoke to 18 marketing leaders from the Marketers That Matter community about the importance—and effectiveness—of empathy in marketing. Here are their insights as to why this connectedness matters so much today and what marketing leaders can do to grow and showcase their ability to empathize with consumers and other key stakeholders. But first, let’s be clear about what exactly empathy means.

Defining Empathy

Elevated empathy is now a must for anyone considering a leadership role. Consult the dictionary, and you’ll find the following definition: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.

Author, thought leader, and empathy expert Brené Brown succinctly describes it as “a way to connect to the emotion another person is experiencing.” In short, it’s feeling with others and leaves people feeling more connected.

Empathy in Marketing Humanizes Brands

“Human skills are more critical than ever, such as, understanding human issues and emotions, knowing how to communicate and collaborate, when to say no, and why you are saying it. We are crossing over from the information age to the relationship age. We need as much imagination as we do hard, technical skills.”

Geoffrey Colon, Former Senior Director of Digital Marketing, Dell Technologies

“The leadership muscle of the future has to be empathy, with a close second being accountability. Marketers must be willing to speak with their customers and become students of psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology.”

Matt Kerbel, Director, Strategic Brand Planning, Turo

“At LinkedIn, we have a great conviction to lean into the things that AI cannot replace. We often talk about IQ versus EQ, wherein a certain level of humanity is needed along with the use of AI to achieve our ambitions.”

Santi Pochat, VP, Brand, LinkedIn

“The most important leadership skills of the future are emotional intelligence, self-awareness, empathy, and the willingness to see and consider problems through our internal partners’ and customers’ eyes.”  

Abigail Jacobs, SVP Of Integrated Marketing and Brand, Sephora

Empathy Builds Inclusive Communities

“First of all, it’s so easy to think about ‘target audience, target market, customers, prospects, users, users, users’ and forget that they’re also ‘us.’ Secondly, there is a whole group of people who rarely, if ever, see themselves reflected in ads, and let me assure you, speaking as a queer, masculine-of-center woman, I can guarantee you we both notice and become devoted fans at a much faster pace when you include us.” 

E Gilliam, Director of Brand and Creative, Equinix

“Moving to the U.S. from Germany in middle school taught me a lot about empathy and putting myself in others’ shoes. From a customer’s perspective, I always consider how different people might take something in and how we need to consider diverse groups of people.” 

Sheila Pollak, Chief Brand Experience Officer, Orvis

Empathy Creates Meaning and Value for Customers

“The leaders I most admire display an overabundance of emotional intelligence. They can take the perspectives of their business partners in negotiations to reach a compromise that all parties are happy with, and they can put themselves in their customers’ shoes, synthesizing with specificity why their product creates meaning and value.”

Stacey Jaffe, Senior Vice President of Data & Digital Strategy, Scholastic

“The essential leadership muscle we must always exercise is the ability to listen to the consumer. It’s become easier than ever to get lost in a lot of data, but nothing replaces a deep and true understanding of consumer behavior: What are their tensions? What are they looking for? How can we best respond to that in real-time?” 

Paloma Azulay, VP Of Brand Marketing, Hulu, The Walt Disney Company

“Everyone can learn technical skills, but the real magic comes from the art of being empathetic to the customer. If the customer wins, we win. Try to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and build strategic go-to-market plans around that; this skill set is valuable.”   

Jenny Hooks, Leader of Americas Field Marketing, Cisco

“Find people who are curious, care about the audience, and think customer-first. Then, once you’ve found marketers who sincerely care, figure out how to adapt the tools. We’re brand marketers. Our job is to hire smart agencies to partner with the greatest technologists and to find those folks who can bring our story to life. But always pick the people who hold the brand story closest to them.”

David Bornoff, Former Head of Brand Marketing, DoorDash

Empathy Makes You a Better Team Player

“Being a leader means listening well and empathizing with those you work with. Caring not only about the work you do but the people you work with makes such a difference.” 

Adaora Ugokwe, Sr. Director, Marketing & Brand Strategy, BET   

“We have so many cross-functional partners, and each of those partners have their own goals. If we push our goals too aggressively, they won’t want to partner with us. So, we listen, have deep empathy, and identify where our goals overlap. We also try to do what is right for our customers and business, even if it’s not what’s best for product marketing, which also helps to build trust.”  

Greg Powell, Senior Director of Small Business Marketing, Indeed

“Great marketers have empathy, use data, and are storytellers. We must focus as much attention on internal audiences as external ones and spread the message of bringing your whole self to work.”   

Brad Jakeman, Chairman of the Board, The Humane Society, Senior Advisor, BCG

Empathy Helps You Lead with Your Team’s Needs in Mind

“I started my job four weeks before the murder of George Floyd and since then, the COVID pandemic, the Ukraine war, and now the Israel and Palestine war. As a leader, I have to be well-rounded, authentic, and empathetic towards my colleagues. I have to be aware of my colleagues’ mental health and provide them with the necessary breaks. The expectations are far different from what they were even 10 years ago.” 

Lizette Williams, Global Head Of Vertical Solutions Marketing, Meta  

“I believe we should show up as humans and not just leaders or managers. I share authentically with my team how I struggle at times and some areas of my personal development.”

Gemini Babla, Director of Marketing and Partnerships, Google

“We need to meet people where they are. Let them grieve, dig through the worst-case scenarios to confront their fears, and then help get them on an upward trajectory.”

Elle McCarthy, fractional brand executive, PayPal

Empathy Grows Your Influence

“Emotional intelligence is undervalued, but it’s becoming more prominent. In business, it’s all about influence. The best influence is mutual, where you can understand the drivers, constraints, and stressors of others and filter what you’re trying to do through their lens.”

Nii Mantse Addy, CMO, Philo

“Everyone knows how to be kind. It’s as simple as choosing in the morning that you’re going to show up that way. I promise you’ll be happier if you do it in all aspects of your life. 

Greg Lyons, CMO of PepsiCo Beverages North America (PBNA)

More Actions Leaders Can Take to Boost Empathy in Marketing

Establishing a culture of empathy within your marketing team requires intentional actions—and a firm commitment to understanding and supporting each team member. Here are some practical steps leaders can take to enhance empathy at work:

  • Model the behavior you want to see in your team. Show vulnerability, admit when you don’t have all the answers, embrace change, and demonstrate the resilience you want to see in your team. 
  • Be vocal and honest with your leadership team. Outline the challenges and bring attention to their blind spots to help them make more informed (and empathic) decisions. 
  • Be real and be human in times of change. When sharing company updates, you might not be able to guarantee stability, but you can guarantee support. Most of the time, how leaders deliver news impacts how the team feels more than the news itself.
  • Maintain a mentoring relationship with skip-levels. Consider quarterly check-ins with junior team members. Ask for honest feedback and show that it’s safe for employees to provide it so you can better understand the innerworkings of the overall team and stay self-aware of how you are perceived.
  • Get creative with prompts. Replace basic questions like “How are you doing?” and “What’s on your mind?” with questions that spark more thoughtful answers. Instead, try asking, “What one word describes how you’re feeling this week?” or “What’s one thing I can do to alleviate stress for you this week?” Ensuring you have EQ-based questions built into 1:1 meeting and reviews will go a long way in building a sense of psychological safety.
  • Use tools like the Kübler-Ross Change Curve, a model extensively used by individuals and organizations to help people “understand their reactions to significant change or loss,” as a support tool to help your team members better identify with how they’re feeling.

Empathy in marketing is not just some trendy concept; it’s crucial for building genuine connections in today’s rapidly changing landscape. As illustrated by leaders from the Marketing That Matters community, empathy fosters loyalty and trust. By prioritizing the importance of emotional intelligence, understanding diverse perspectives, and maintaining open communication, marketing leaders can create environments where teams and customers feel valued and heard and take their leadership careers to the next level. Embracing empathy in marketing does not just help humanize brands; it’s good for both the bottom line, the health of marketing departments, and the greater well-being of the world.

Marketers That Matter® Is A Community of Top Marketing Executives Coming Together to Pioneer the Future of Marketing, Sharing Real-Time Experiences, And Solving Current Challenges. 

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