Empathy Marketing: Tactical Move or Big Risk?

A few things have inspired today’s post on empathy marketing. For one, it’s very loosely connected to International Women’s Day because it talks about mothers. (I didn’t want to do another ‘women who inspire me’ post – I did that last year and they remain largely the same.)

Second was a very interesting, if not slightly scathing, article about how no one gives a sh*t about advertising. We’ll get to that.

Third was, most importantly, an email I received from the team at Thortful.

Seems they are very thortful indeed.

Would you like to ‘opt out’ of Mother’s Day emails?

After the marketing Armageddon that was GDPR, forcing all beleaguered content teams to ask their mailing lists to ‘opt in again’, you can imagine my surprise when I got this email.

Hi Katie, Mother’s Day is coming up and we understand that this can be a difficult time for some. We don’t want to make it any harder than it already is, so if you’d prefer not to receive any Mother’s Day emails, opt-out by clicking here and we’ll take care of it. Don’t worry, we’ll still keep you updated about everything else! Regards, Sophie

I was genuinely shocked. After a while, I realised I was touched. I personally cannot say that I would feel affected, or ‘triggered’ by these emails. Send me a Father’s Day email and I’ll tell you where to go, Thortful, but it’s not like you would know.

After 18 months of painstakingly trying to re-engage customers onto their newsletter lists, it now seems companies are taking an ‘empathy marketing’ approach.

Does empathy marketing pay off?

We’re moving towards a trend of authenticity, personalisation, and [insert next trendy buzzword here]. So, is this a genuine attempt at considering people’s feelings, or a cynical method of trimming the dead weight off marketing lists?

At this point you probably question my own cynicism. I shall tell you for why. A greeting card company sent me an email asking if I wanted to opt out of Valentine’s Day emails.

Now, I know the contexts here could technically be the same. I suppose just as I could be an orphan, I could be a widow. Or, as my mind put it at the time, I could just be your regular Bridget Jones crying into a Ben and Jerry’s tub and warbling to Celine Dion. Let’s hope other customers didn’t see it that way.

Where it all began

Anyway, I did some research, and it turns out, Bloom & Wild were doing this back in 2019.  My question isn’t why – my question is why now? Certainly, we’re going through a very progressive period. For example, we’re finally understanding the benefits of veganism. Of course, this is nothing new, but it’s only really entered mainstream discourse in the last 10 years or so:

vegan trends

Grief, on the other hand, has been around since the dawn of time. Perhaps Neanderthals didn’t have all the pomp and ceremony of a funeral, but you know what I mean.

Could it just be that marketers genuinely care about their customers?

Well, either way, it worked for Bloom & Wild. They were able to exclude their customers from Mother’s Day mailing lists only, and keep them on everything else. Here’s what they had to say:

The response was incredible! Mother’s Day is a time when we acquire a lot of new customers, so this campaign definitely helped to spread the word and reach people that may not have heard of us before. It had a particularly positive result on social media, where we saw a large increase in followers across all channels.

Hey, Mr Cooper – people do care about advertising

This brings me back to the point I raised in the beginning. Yes, most adverts do fade into obscurity. But every now and then, one raises some eyebrows – and not just to advertisers, Mr Cooper.

The John Lewis ad sparks tears and debate, without fail, every year.

Protein World pissed off a lot of people when they talked about bikini bodies.

Gillette’s The Best Men Can Be campaign was named one of the most disliked videos on YouTube.

And, more poignantly, Groupon missed the mark with their “incoming call from Mum” email…

I never said the reaction was positive.

All publicity is good publicity, right?

Still, the main aim for marketers is to generate a conversation – even better if they can do it for a good reason. If that means taking a cheeky risk on email unsubscribes, it probably pays off in the long run.

Whatever your stance, whether you’re grumpy and cynical like me, whether you’re single, orphaned, male, female, non-binary – I wish you the happiest of days for whichever holiday comes up next. Because hey, being nice will probably always win, right?

Mother's Day
Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
5th March 2020