Tshiamo Tladi
Tshiamo Tladi

Consumers are looking for brands with empathy

by Tshiamo Tladi. Now more than ever, consumers are looking for brands that show more authentic empathy with their consumers.

by Tshiamo Tladi. COVID-19, much like any documented pandemic, has forever changed how we do everyday life. I, like most of us, could never have imagined that we would live to see the day that working from home would be a norm. Equally, none of us would have thought that one could get terribly exhausted from being at home with family for so long as we have as a country. But with all big changes in behaviour, there are new insights to be discovered.

Lockdown exhaustion is a real thing. If it’s not the constant depressing news, it’s the reality that the home is the new mind-numbing routine and increasingly becoming unbearable. We are all desperate for relief. Relief from the frustration of being couped up. Relief from every bit of new news which  might mean news of tragedy. And now, more than ever, we could all do with good company and good news. Not only for the fun times and laughter, but also to remind us that we are not alone going through this. As a marketer, I would like to believe consumers can expect the same from brands. Consumers want to know that their favourite brands are co-journers with them through these times. Now more than ever, consumers are looking for brands that show more authentic empathy with their consumers. Consumers need to feel like someone; brands, can empathise with them too.

Empathic brands are relatable brands

So, what does empathy mean and look like for brands? A brand with empathy demonstrates an ability to relate and identify with its consumers. This is a brand that is able to relate to them in a manner that is relevant to the brand’s role in consumers’ lives and importantly, brings its brand values to life in a palpable way. But what are consumers really looking for from their favourite brands? Consumers are eagerly looking for brands that can feel what they feel. The time for self-interest and airy-fairy communications about how our brands ignite euphoria needs to take a backseat while we allow the world and consumers to heal. Consumers are increasingly getting used to this changed landscape and in this season, they are looking for brands which can feel a little more. Targets still need to be met but, this window affords us the chance to connect authentically.

We need to reimagine how our brands connect with consumers. We need to go back to understand what our brands mean to our consumers rather than the functional role they play in their lives. We need to engage candidly again with consumers. We need to re-learn whether this period has either heightened their aspiration for our brands or possibly eroded the need to choose us. It is in understanding how our brand’s role has shifted through this time that we are then able to determine how we can position ourselves to consumers. This period should prompt us to review whether the gap between what we know and what is currently happening, is still aligned. And where there may be any disparity, this affords us the chance to revisit how we can re-engage with empathy.

What principles should guide how we communicate?  

The lockdown period coupled with economic challenges faced has caused us all to be a lot shrewder in how we spend on advertising and promotions. Advertising expenditure is under heightened scrutiny. All activity needs to deliver incremental sales and produce positive return on investment like never before. All marketing activity will need to focus itself to win with both consumers and shopper at every turn. This should push us to change our approach to communication guided by the Conversion Funnel:

  • Awareness activity needs to communicate the empathy behind our brand’s values.
  • Consideration and trial need to lend itself to be positioned as offers of relief rather than straining their wallet.
  • Usage needs to lend itself to being about reassuring quality and offering some comfort to contrast strain on stretching their wallets further.
  • Loyalty needs to be rewarded in a very tangible and meaningful way to consumers and shoppers. This is where customer databases need to be optimised considerably.

More so, messaging at each of these touchpoints needs empathy not emotion, and therefore should lean away from relying on high emotive language. This is because empathy shows authenticity and creates true rapport between consumers and brands, while emotive language in communication is intended to play on consumer emotions. This view on emotive language is important, as the misuse of it may come off insensitive  and far removed from the reality we are all going through. Therefore,  messaging needs to carry more empathy and rely less on evoking an emotional response from the consumer. Our messaging needs to keep it real with our consumers without forgetting the  importance of pitching messaging at the right level and using the correct language to convey the message.

Connect better with content. Convert smarter

Connecting better with consumers means to deliver on the brand values that speak to the type of empathy your consumers are looking for. For one of our clients, we were challenged to reimagine an existing platform, reframe it and land more palatable with its consumers and customers, who were hard done by the lockdown. The brief was simply to reinvigorate an existing platform for a time such as this. We took this as an opportunity to re-evaluate the brand pillars and identify the values that we believe could help us build a brand idea that would resonate with this audience. The brand idea was built of the following three values, namely, authenticity, integrity and importantly, empathy.


Tshiamo Tladi is a seasoned Strategist and Shopper Marketer with years of experience developing winning strategies that have guided creative work and commercial growth from both agency and client side. He is currently Strategy Director at specialist through-the-line and retail agency, 34 Degrees.


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