Sympathy doesn’t cut it. You need to relate to your audience in a real way.
Your goal is to convince them that you have a solution for their problem. To do that, you need to show your audience how you understand their pain.
When you can do that, they’ll trust you to offer them a solution that works. If you’ve struggled to write with empathy, don’t feel bad about it. It can be a difficult skill to master.
Here’s how you can get started.
Your audience wants to know you care about them. So you need to show ‘I understand the problems you face.’ The best way to do this is through an indirect approach.
The cliché ‘empathy’ formula goes like this:
A is the brand, B is a customer’s (presumed) concern or priority, C is a feature, and D is a benefit. Vary phrasing as required and season with cheesy adjectives to taste. And there you have it – instant reader empathy.
This formation is clichéd, which never helps. It’s also awkward and clunky.
Instead, use a shared experience or perception. Then you can introduce ideas that click with your audience. Otherwise, you risk bashing them over the head with those ideas. Cozying up to the reader is more effective than getting right up in their face and telling them what they think.
It’s essential to use ordinary, conversational language. Otherwise, your copy comes across as forced. To check for natural tone, try reading your copy aloud. Nothing exposes pretentious language better.
Good copywriting involves knowing your target audience. Understanding your audience transcends superficial indicators such as LSM, gender, and race.
Copywriters can get caught up in the differences between themselves and their audience. Don’t get stuck in this mindset. You don’t have to be your audience to write to them in an effective way.
Instead, look for your similarities, and let them guide you in your writing. Allow your intuition to assist you. If something sounds odd to you, it’ll sound strange to your readers as well.
Don’t assume that you should be writing to your readers in a way with which they’re familiar. This isn’t best practice and usually comes off as insincere or condescending. Remember that you’re speaking to other humans. They’ll likely admire sincerity and wittiness over-generalizations and clichés.
To get to know your audience, ask questions like:
Use your understanding of the problem to develop a solution. That'll give you a solid product that people need. With a good product built on real desires, you can boost your sales with ease.
Learn proper audience research for better conversions here.
Many brands (especially larger ones) tend to read as faceless corporations. Authentic, sincere copy can soften this reputation. Social media also allows companies to build meaningful connections with their audience.
One problem with social media is that some brands overdo it. This comes from brands trying too hard to sound more relatable or to be more human. You need to strike the right balance. Keep your product in mind, and think about the tone you want to associate with it.
If your content sounds inauthentic, it’s because you’re not tapping into your empathy. This can happen for several reasons, such as pressure to meet deadlines.
You might also have hit a creative block or are generally feeling uninspired by your work. Whatever the reason, a lack of empathy can leave your writing sounding disingenuous.
This is when you need to look into yourself and address those issues — for your sake and your readers’. It might mean doing a little research or working to find a personal connection to your readers.
Sometimes, it’s as easy as taking a brief break and returning to your work later. Remember, your primary role as a copywriter is to inject personality into your brand. Part of developing a believable personality comes down to having empathetic writing.
Feeling while writing requires being mindful of the present moment. That can be challenging to do while under pressure. Breathing and mindfulness exercises can help you enter clearer states of mind.
The more often you practice this, the easier it will become to find your emotional flow and tap into it when needed.
You need to feel as you write because it helps you better relate to your readers. You can’t write for someone else if you don’t tune in to your own emotional and mental states, after all. In turn, the copy you create will also be relatable to them.
The ability to empathize with others is a skill we often take for granted. Hone in on your empathetic skills when writing your copy. You’ll see your content become more genuine and effective at converting readers.
Empathy and sympathy are somewhat similar but far from the same. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It’s an ability that involves internalizing and experiencing someone else’s emotions.
There are two types of empathy: cognitive and emotional.
Cognitive empathy is about perspective-taking. It’s about seeing someone else’s point of view. Emotional empathy is sharing the other person’s emotions. These two types go hand in hand.
Sympathy is the feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. It involves acknowledging someone’s emotions. That could mean when they feel a certain way or when they face certain circumstances.
Empathy is the basis of genuine connection — without the negative connotations of pity. Instead, it’s a deeper attitude toward life, a lens from which you see and understand the world.
You want to make sure your copy is empathetic, not sympathetic. Pity often turns people off. When readers feel pitied, they can experience anger, shame, or defensiveness. Readers want to feel understood, not pitied. Anger, shame, and defensiveness most likely won’t help your conversion rates.
Instead of pity, your readers want someone who understands their pain. The best way to tell if your copy is empathetic or sympathetic is to conduct research. Have someone from your audience read your copy and share their honest feedback. This is a reliable way to tell if you’ve hit the mark or not.
Research shows consumers buy based on emotion then justify their purchases with logic. Your copy can evoke a direct emotional response in your audience. So whether it’s sadness, joy, or frustration, write copy that teases emotions. This primes the audience for your solution.
Studies show emotional response to ads impacts intent to buy by a factor of 3-to-1 for TV ads and 2-to-1 for print ads.
Certain emotions produce even stronger results. Research shows stories evoking anger, anxiety, and awe were the most shared on the New York Times website.
Emotion sells. Use it to boost your sales or prod readers into sharing your copy. That can generate organic advertising for your product.
Learn how to craft emotional hooks in your copy here.
Stories that spark emotions connect more with readers’ goals, perceptions, and frustrations. Researchers found that emotional, character-driven stories encourage oxytocin production, which helps us empathize. Drawing out even unpleasant feelings better primes the reader for the solution.
You can write with empathy and persuasion by:
Here’s how to do it:
Think about the exact type of person you’re trying to reach. Then take the time to work up a document that outlines the specifics about this target persona. Include personal details.
These can include age, gender, location, income, job, family size, hobbies, and education. Any time you create a piece of copy, keep this document nearby so you can refer to it as you draft your copy.
The only way to do this is to ask. It could mean surveying your audience and asking questions about their obstacles. You might send a questionnaire to your current and past customers to see why they’re working with you.
You could also study competitors to see the pain points they handle with a similar audience.
For every new customer problem or obstacle, you discover, write down how you can fix it with your offer. Pull from a list of your offer's problem-solving benefits when writing copy.
When it’s time to write, create a fictional situation where your target customer has a problem.
For example: let’s say you offer a tool that simplifies invoicing and finance tracking. Your story could revolve around a stressed, frantic business owner during tax time. Your scenario could show them buried in paperwork trying to run day-to-day operations.
Building a narrative helps readers develop an emotional connection to your writing.
Use emotion-rich adjectives that make the situation more relatable. Words like ‘confusing,’ ‘complicated,’ and ‘inconvenient’ emphasize pain points. Use words like ‘easy,’ ‘seamless,’ and ‘intuitive’ to highlight benefits.
Readers tend to remember less of what you said and more of how you made them feel. So, encourage readers to engage in an emotional and intellectual way.
Show how your solution created positive results within your storyline after its implementation. This method is more effective when you incorporate someone readers want to imitate.
You could tie in a testimonial from a trusted thought leader in the industry. You could have a well-known face and name to represent your product. Or you could showcase something envy-worthy, like an incredible outcome you helped produce.
If you can follow these six steps, it’ll be hard for the target persona to ignore the benefits you’ve offered. They’ve now got a solid reason to buy your product.
Here's a complete storytelling guide for writing better copy.
Your voice is your thought process — how you identify what to say and when.
Your tone is the language, mood, and feelings you use to convey the message.
Voice and tone are essential to keep in mind when you’re aiming to produce empathetic copy. The wrong tone will rub readers the wrong way. Using too serious of a tone to market a wedding venue can confuse readers.
If you’re writing for a funeral home, your words should be more solemn, not cheerful.
Your voice is what’ll make the copy stand out from competitors. As long as your voice doesn’t stray too far from the topic at hand, you should be okay.
It’s your job to make sure your topic matters, your voice conveys the message, and your tone matches the topic. When you have a distinct voice and tone, people listen to you speak. Your copy is less likely to get lost in the sea of mediocrity.
Your readers want details. If you offer a physical product, they want to know how you made it. If it’s a service, they want to know what they get. If it’s a solution, they want to know how it works.
Once they know the details, they’re ten times more likely to buy from you.
It’s all about brain chemistry. Your brain stops releasing the stress hormone cortisol in a familiar environment. Giving specific details creates a safe environment for readers by telling their brains:
By giving readers details, you help them trust you more. Marketing copywriting is all about your audience. It’s about understanding, empathizing, and inviting them to learn more. Nothing more, nothing less.
You might find that you remember narratives more than moral or intellectual lessons. For example, you remember the narrative from a movie you watched when you were 10, but not a history lesson. That's because you’ve experienced the emotions in the movie.
Here’s how you can use this technique to win your audience over:
Emotions are powerful tools and can go a long way in making sure readers keep thinking about you and your product.
Here are ways to stand out in your copywriting.
When readers feel understood, they take steps toward trusting and believing you.
When they feel understood, they believe you know where they’re coming from — a point of stress and struggle. You’ve surpassed this point and have reached a point your audience wants to reach.
If you can capture the thoughts, your audience has a hard time expressing, you win their trust. Having a deep understanding of your audience’s psyche, as well as a strong vocabulary, will help you go a long way.
When you write with empathy, you’re relating to your audience’s problems and offering a solution. If their problems are personal or embarrassing, you should be more cautious.
For example, a man might not use hair-growth products because he finds it hard to accept that he’s losing his hair. His emotional state is one of embarrassment. He’s experiencing heightened sensitivity to his looks and a sense that he needs to hide his head.
Many marketers will use the question/response technique to grab attention. The thing is, this unsophisticated tactic is easy to ignore:
“Lost your hair? Poor you. Here’s something you can do!”
This only works to increase the man’s stress. It also gives him a chance to respond with a powerful negative, especially if he’s in denial. He might say, “No, I haven’t. It’s not that bad. I don’t need to do anything.” Then you’ve lost a customer.
Playing the empathy card will get you further. Notice the advertisers that use spokespeople do this:
“I used to feel like I had to accept that my hair was thinning. I thought I’d end up like Dad until my doctor recommended X product. So I tried it and, well, you can see the results.
You can see that this person’s empathy (I used to feel like you) works on lowering the stress (and denial) in the target. It gets him thinking, “Well, if it worked for him…”
Empathy lowers barriers. That’s key to closing the sale.
This is one of the most essential pieces of advice when it comes to empathy as a copywriting skill.
It isn’t enough to imagine yourself in their situation and write based on that.
You’re still writing about yourself.
Genuine empathy takes the other’s perspective into account. It understands and accepts that they see the world in a different way than you. It tries to comprehend the nuances of their viewpoints.
If you want to understand your customers, stop thinking of them as profits. Instead, start thinking of them as actual people. Like actual people, you’ll need to reach out to them, ask them questions, and have real conversations.
Listen to their responses. If you don’t understand something, you can ask your audience to explain it. When you write, make sure you write to address their perspective, not your views.
That’s the vital part of empathetic copywriting that often gets missed. If you fail to listen, you can never be an empathetic writer.
You don’t need to be born empathetic to learn how to write in a way that connects with others.
All it takes is some guidance, practice, and feedback. The better you get at it, the more your audience will trust you. The more they trust you, the more they trust your product. The more your audience trusts your product, the higher your sales.
Even better: if you make a genuine connection with them, they’ll remember it. They’ll go out and share their experiences with you within their own network. You get free organic advertising.
Want higher conversions on your landing pages, sales letters, emails, or ads? It might be time for you to work with an expert copywriter. I’ve driven tens of millions of dollars in revenue for hundreds of clients over the past 10 years — including some of the largest B2B companies and digital brands in America.
Using my words, I’ll tap into your prospects’ deepest desires, deploy my menagerie of psychological sales triggers, and prime them for the sale. The result? More wins for your business and more revenue and profits in your pocket. Sound interesting to you? Click HERE to learn more about my copywriting work and see if we’re a good match.
High-converting neuro-response conversion copywriting for America's largest B2B companies and disruptive digital brands.
📍 Los Angeles, California