The Blog

by Paul Balcerak

Why Empathy Marketing Should Replace Real-Time Marketing

Graphic that says Empathy Marketing

“Real-time marketing”: It’s been one of the hot, buzzwordy phrases in the marketing and advertising industry the last few years, ever since Oreo dunked in the dark during the 2013 Super Bowl.

The tweet and the overall thinking were great. The power’s out at the Super Bowl. Let’s make something to entertain people in this specific moment.

Like anything on social media, though, it quickly became played out.

But there’s something else brewing that also happens in real time and deserves its own name: Empathy Marketing. To see it in action, look no further than the viral wall post that was shared on Southwest Airlines’ Facebook page a couple weeks ago:

Here’s the full text of the original post (emphasis mine):

Southwest Airlines employees brought pizza and sodas for all the American Airlines passengers stranded at Midland after we were diverted from DFW due to bad weather. How cool is it that?

When you board a plane at 11:30 am with no food service and have not eaten anything since… and then find yourself in a huge line at 11:30 pm waiting to get a hotel voucher… it’s hard to describe what a pizza means to you! It’s funny that American was giving out $7 food vouchers that wouldn’t be useful until the next day, but Southwest met our needs on the spot… and we were not even their customers (yet!).

You can also look at the outpouring of support from businesses and community groups after the awful Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando. Shortly afterward, JetBlue, which is based in Orlando, announced that it would offer free flights to victims’ family members who needed to quickly fly to or from the city.

If this sounds simple, it is. But to do it successfully, brands need to create the conditions for it to happen.

  1. Foster a culture of empathy at your company. The people working the American Airlines desk that night were apparently content to just follow the protocol and hand out food vouchers—nothing wrong with that. Something made the Southwest employees want to go the extra mile.
  2. Empower your employees to act on their empathy. I don’t know if the Southwest employees paid for pizza out of their own pockets. But I know they’d be way more likely to make this move in the first place if they had a budget or stipend each month to do stuff like this.
  3. Don’t expect anything in return. My guess is stuff like this happens every day, but it just doesn’t go viral on social media. Even if this hadn’t, think of Southwest’s investment via this move: A few hundred dollars in pizza for the potential of several thousand dollars from those stranded American fliers the next time they booked a trip. That’s a pretty great ROI.

Empathy Marketing. Let’s make it happen (more).