Re-entering the age of empathy at WordCamp London 2017

Connect with your customers

In 2010, Frans de Waal wrote a book about focusing on empathy, and how through a better understanding of it we can work toward a more just society. A more accurate and generous view of human nature proves that empathy is necessary for survival. This and Paul Zak’s theory about Oxytocin, trust and morality inspired me to focus on how empathy can be applied online and why is it missing from marketing today. With that I asked WordCamp London 2017 to re-enter the age of empathy with me on March 19 at the London Metropolitan University.

Calling for empathy at WordCamp London 2017

Empathy as a concept is often not associated with hardcore business, and most believe that being empathetic can actually hold you back. WordCamp London 2017 supported me and listened to my story on how you can increase your customer acquisition and retention by adding a personal touch.

Empathy isn’t something that you can have or lack, but it’s a skill that can be developed.


Just like you practise yoga, or play the piano, you can practise being more affable. As humans we have the basic building blocks hardwired in our brains, and all of our desires, ideas and emotions are produced either in response to someone or directed towards someone. So you see, it’s natural.

Here is the thing: we have become so caught up in the world of technology that we have managed to cut down our interaction time with others, and have forgotten that our product is for people. Even the best of marketers seldom remember to include empathy in their work and make their customers feel special.

This post will cover two ways that you can include empathy in your marketing:

  1. Add empathy to your copy.
  2. Tell stories with your product.
Empathy Like Meditation
Like meditation, empathy is a skill that you can develop.

Add empathy to your copy

Thanks to my colleague, Heather, I have a great example to share with you. Have a look at what Native deodorant sends their customers after they buy their product online:

WordCamp London 2017 Empathy Example

The copy from Native tells a story. It talks about the emotions of the staff at Native and how they reacted when they heard Heather bought their deodorant. Why was this effective?

Their copy is specific.

“Heather, You Rock!” Right from the start Heather knew that it was about her. We as humans all seek signs of relevance. Being specific is very important nowadays, because 60 percent of sales are actually lost to inertia, and not your competitors. That means that people don’t take action because they can’t be bothered to do anything — and you need to grab their attention by being specific.

Their copy is emotional.

“Laura jumped out of her chair and ran to Jackie’s desk. She didn’t even read the entire email – she just saw “Heather” and started screaming in delight!” Right now, are you imagining a Laura jumping and screaming? Yes, you are. It’s emotional. We can imagine it; we see their reaction and in that moment it becomes more real to us. We are putting ourselves in their shoes and we realize how special we are to Native, because, well, our order made Laura scream in delight.

Their copy is to the point.

The whole email is no longer than five paragraphs, and each paragraph is three lines long. There isn’t a limit on great copy, but there is a general misconception that empathy has to be expressed in very long form. This example is solid proof that that’s not the case.

You can be specific and emotional.


Empathy in your copy is about understanding your customers, relating to them, and making them feel special.

Be memorable. Tell stories.

My presentation actually started with a story. I talked about how when I was a little girl my dad used to ring me every night and tell me a story. His stories are special as I was able to co-create them. I could pick any object — like a toothbrush or soap —and my dad would create a story about them. Through listening to his stories from a young age I learnt how to understand relationships and emotions of objects. This is the most useful skill that I use in my job today.

Stories can help your customers relate to you. They can help you empathize and gain your customers’ trust.

There is a bit of science behind it, too.

Science behind storytelling

Paul Zak, a neuroscientist, did experiments to see what “caused” people to empathize. He found that stories caused people’s brains to release two hormones — Cortisol and Oxytocin. Cortisol release makes humans alert, and keeps their focus. Oxytocin, on the other hand, connects us to people and makes us feel what other people feel. If you tell a good story you can keep someone’s attention and you can gain their trust.

Here is an example:

Soul Carrier Story from Soul Carrier on Vimeo.

The Soul Carrier video is a great origin story of a product. Throughout the video, you see the bags that are being sold, but you focus on the “feeling.” Why the brand was created, what it stands for. You decide if you believe in her, in her story, and that’s the deciding moment for you to buy the product. Soul Carrier bags are about following your dream, and not being swept up in the white noise. The product becomes more than just a bag.

Telling a good story is not about the magnitude of the story — it’s about your ability to tell it well.


So don’t think that you need a sad story to be a success, because there is a story in everything.

Find your story

Stories about your product are right there in front of you; you just need to find them. Here are a few places to look:

  • Origin story. Like the video from Soul Carrier — tell the story of how your product was born.
  • Transformations. These are great as case studies — tell the story of a customer before your product and after. How did your product transform them?
  • Objections. Find why customers say no to you and tell the story of how that has changed.
  • Differentiators. What makes you different? Find that thing that sets you apart and tell it.

Craft your story

Crafting a story can be tricky when you don’t know what to focus on, so here are some guidelines that can help you get started:

  • Focus on one moment or one person. The most common mistake people make is trying to include everything. Don’t do that.
  • Choose one thing to focus on. Your story will be much more effective this way.
  • Set the scene. Make sure you are vivid; let your readers imagine your protagonists. The email from Native deodorant does a great job with setting the scene.
  • Include emotions. Tell us how you feel, what you want your audience to feel. Don’t hold back in including emotions because they are a key ingredient to a great story.
  • Offer a directive. Tell us what to do after we hear your story. Imagine this to be the CTA of a story. You caught your readers’ attention — now is the chance to point them in the right direction.

Tell your story

The final thing to remember is there are many ways that you can tell your story. Here are just a few suggestions on where you can share stories:

  • Video
  • Website (about us, testimonials, case studies)
  • Social media (blogs, emails)
  • Presentations


In essence, effective marketing is about understanding people, listening to them, and connecting. We may have forgotten how to do this, but by going back to our basic human nature and focusing on empathy, we can re-connect to our customers. Empathy isn’t the product of random mutation. We have a need to understand each other. Show that in your marketing. By re-evaluating your copy and working on your storytelling skills, and you likely will see an increase in customer acquisition and retention.

Image by: Ian Stratton