How to Do Effective Content Marketing: Use Empathy

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  • Date Published
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In 2015, branded content output climbed 35% per channel, but content engagement decreased by 17%. What does that say? More content doesn’t mean more engagement.

As a founder of a content marketing agency with a decade of experience, I know this firsthand. You can make all the content you want, but if your audience isn’t connecting, it won’t help your cause.

Successful content marketing is about attracting people to your brand through content—be it educational, inspirational, or entertaining—with the goal of turning them into customers over time. Ultimately, it’s about engaging your audience, not selling to them.

Too often content marketers ask, “What kind of content will help me sell more?” when they should ask, “What kind of content will provide high value to readers so it will attract customers?” The answer to that is simple: Focus on solving their problems—not yours.

A friend recently said to me, “When you’re thinking about content, consider the hell that your clients are trying to escape from and the heaven that you want to deliver them to.” While this might be a dramatic statement, it certainly works for content marketing, especially if your goal is lead generation or increasing sales.

If you can clearly communicate that you understand your audience’s struggle and have the expertise to help solve their problem, your audience sees that you really care, which makes them more eager to form a relationship with you.

The key to creating that type of content? Empathy.


According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. As Dr. Brene Brown notes, empathy is “feeling with people.” In the context of marketing, feeling with people is about putting your audience’s needs before your own, putting yourself in their shoes to understand the challenges they face. In short: Empathetic marketing considers your audience before your messaging.

“Yeah, but isn’t content marketing about educating others?” Sure—about the things they need and want to know. When you follow the empathy paradigm, you ultimately make your job easier. Create content that helps reduce your audience’s pain and frustration, and your brand automatically becomes the hero.

Empathy is not talking about yourself, your services, your pricing, and how great you are. It is not trend-jacking in a desperate attempt to create relevance. (Does a SaaS company that operates in the financial service industry need to be commenting on what Kanye West and Taylor Swift are up to? Probably not.)

This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever promote or sell your company, but there is a time and place for this type of content (usually in the form of sales collateral). Empathy means meeting your audience where they’re at.


To inject more empathy into your marketing, there are three simple steps you can take. Consider how you might adopt these practices into your current process.


To understand your audience and what will appeal to them, you need to know who they are. Creating customer personas, also known as “psychographic mapping,” involves asking and answering a series of questions about who your customers are and what makes them tick.

Direct conversations with existing customers can help fill in these blanks. The more information you gather about your audience, the better you can identify opportunities to create:

  • Content of value: This will enable them to learn more and do a better job in their work.
  • Content that creates an escape: Not everyone loves every aspect of their routine. Creating a welcome distraction can be a great way to establish goodwill.

Try this exercise to create your own personas in under an hour. (For the record, we made three different personas, which include everything from our customers’ favorite podcasts to what they worry about at night.)


Many marketers make a crucial mistake when creating a content strategy. They address these items first:

  • How much content to create
  • Objectives
  • Distribution strategy
  • The content mix
  • The content team
  • The budget
  • Workflow management and process
  • Tools to manage the content supply chain

And they think about the customer last. Reverse the process; use your customer personas to influence your strategy. Always, always, always remember: customer first, ideas second.


Once you generate your rough ideas based on those personas, you can refine those ideas using tools and resources available. This ensures you are always creating meaningful and relevant content for your customers. Ways to refine your ideas:

  • Find out what questions people are asking search engines. This is a great jumping-off point for creating content that answers the questions your customers are asking. (We often research the keywords we’re targeting to find out what types of phrases people are using, such as “What is an infographic?”)
  • Research other industry publications. Look around to see what other people in your industry are saying, then do a better job. But avoid what they’re saying. (At times, we’ve taken a contradictory stance on a specific subject in our industry.)
  • Check events calendars. You may be able to provide useful content around an event your audience is interested in. (For example, we’ve designed camping guides for Coachella and walking maps of San Francisco for conferences.)


The last thing you want to do is create content that no one cares about; that is a waste of your time and resources. To pursue empathetic content marketing, make this your mantra: Decrease the amount of selling in your content and increase the amount of time listening to and thinking about your customers.

This doesn’t mean you can’t ever ask your audience to sign up for a newsletter or download an e-book. It means prioritizing compelling content that attracts them to you so that you can offer those goods and move them along the buying process.