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Why Emotionally Tone Deaf Brands Bomb in Today’s Empathy-Oriented Marketplace

By | Merilee Kern, MBA

In today’s post-COVID era, there has been a profound and pivotal cultural shift toward empathy and marketplace engagement that is requiring business leaders, marketing engines and companies at large to enhance these kinds of EQ skillsets to meet new societal expectations.

A new study, “Watch your Language: Think Like A Brand, Speak Like A Person,” on the state of empathy in consumer-brand relationships found that nearly 2 in 3 Americans say empathy has decreased a full 27% in the last year despite shared societal challenges. This despite other report findings that 47% of Americans want to hear more human-centric stories in the news and from brands, and that 37% of consumers say that they enjoy reading content from brands and that it makes them feel more connected to the companies.

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of demonstrative business empathy—the kind that fosters authentic brand storytelling and sustainable consumer-brand relationships,” says branding and messaging authority Martha Marchesi, CEO of JK Design—a full-service creative agency with a powerhouse roster that includes Tiffany & Co., Johnson & Johnson, Philips, Priceline, Prudential, ADP and more.

“A brand that lacks empathy may come across as cold, indifferent or out-of-touch in its messaging, which often creates a disconnect between the brand and its audience,” Martha says. “This can not only lead to a weakened brand image, but also outright customer dissatisfaction. Egregious and extreme cases of brands being emotionally ‘tone deaf’ can cause a brand to be publicly ‘flamed’ on social media and elsewhere.”

Martha indicates a few tactical ways businesses can readily exhibit empathy in brand messaging to create a more deeply engrained bond with the audience. These include:

  • Addressing common and specific customer pain points like that related to productivity, financial, processes and support. 
  • Employing storytelling that highlights relatable customer experiences like that related to cost savings, productivity, efficiencies and customer support. 
  • Utilizing genuine customer testimonials, stories and case studies that articulate those first-hand brand experiences. 

“It’s also imperative to ensure that empathy is conveyed in a genuine, believable way that will resonate with the intended audience.” Martha asserts. “One easy way to achieve this is for public communications from company executives, or that represent the brand as a whole, to display vulnerability, which fosters relatability and trust.”

Empathy-driven emotional intelligence is a key marketing strategy. It should be upheld as a brand’s North Star from which to craft its story, develop inspired positioning and brand architecture, empower its sales force, create engaging content, collaborate with its creative team, transform the typical e-commerce experience into a story-driven customer journey, measure results and so much more.

Ultimately, when a brand exudes empathy it demonstrates an emotional intelligence that addresses the sentiments, concerns and needs of its customers. Brands should endeavor to aptly emote in order to cultivate more meaningful consumer-brand relationships. By making impactful and authentic emotional connections with its audience and continuously fine tuning that approach, companies can drive quantifiable results—the kind that creates even unforeseen advantages and helps not just achieve, but exceed, mission critical goals.

Author Bio:

Merilee Kern, MBA is an internationally-regarded brand strategist and analyst who reports on noteworthy industry change makers, movers, shakers and innovators across all B2B and B2C categories. This includes field experts and thought leaders, brands, products, services, destinations and events. Merilee is Founder, Executive Editor and Producer of “The Luxe List” as well as Host of both the “Savvy Living lifestyle and travel and “Savvy Ventures” business TV shows. As a prolific business and consumer trends, lifestyle and leisure industry voice of authority and tastemaker, she keeps her finger on the pulse of the marketplace in search of new and innovative must-haves and exemplary experiences at all price points, from the affordable to the extreme—also delving into the minds behind the brands. Her work reaches multi-millions worldwide via broadcast TV (her own shows and copious others on which she appears) as well as a myriad of print and online publications. Connect with her at and / Instagram / Twitter / Facebook / LinkedIN


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