Rely on Empathy to Stop Second-Guessing Your Covid-19 Marketing Strategy

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As marketers, we are understandably doing a lot of second-guessing when it comes to how we communicate in the midst of Covid-19. 

Who could blame us? It’s a safe bet that this is the first pandemic we have found ourselves in as marketers (not to mention as human beings), and the uncertainty has been overwhelming. 

On one hand, we have a job to do — some of our communication is vital for our customers and partners, and business can’t come to a halt. On the other hand, Covid-19 has created a new normal to which we must adjust. For marketers, the task at hand requires harnessing an emotion we’ve already likely been experiencing during our collective social distancing: empathy. 

Putting empathetic marketing into action

Marketers have a natural tendency toward empathetic communication — after all, we’re in the people business. We take pride in knowing our customers, so as we face a time of unprecedented uncertainty and all the emotions that come with it, we know it’s important to strike the right tone. 

First and foremost, we have to recognize that — just like us — our customers are in a heightened state of stress and sensitivity. They’re likely to remember brands that get their messaging very wrong or very right during this historic period, and no one wants to be among the former. But we also have to remember that empathy in the face of daunting challenges is a proven business strategy — brands that deliver humanized experiences are twice as likely to outperform their competitor’s revenue growth. 

It’s natural to second guess your message as your finger hovers above the “send” button. Is “unprecedented” an eye-rolling cliche by now? Is referencing the virus in my subject line going to affect my open rates? After you debate these questions internally, take a deep breath, step away, and take a fresh look at your message. Ask yourself these much more productive questions to make sure what you’re about to send really does strike an empathetic chord. 

Does this acknowledge our audience’s perspective? Our customers are people from all walks of life — they have values, experiences, viewpoints and perspectives. We need to remember that just because this disease is a common enemy, it doesn’t mean everyone is experiencing it the same way. If you send regional email communications, for example, your messaging should reflect the reality of social distancing and other regulations in place in those areas. Acknowledging the new realities of our audience is an important way to talk with — not at — our customers. 

Does this message cast judgment? Promoting the value of our brand is of course important — but it shouldn’t come at the expense of customers. During Covid-19, this is especially important. As we have seen in our social media feeds and the news, the virus has brought out the best and the worst of humanity. It’s important that we be careful to craft messages free of judgment and instead leave the reader feeling like we are alongside them. 

Are we mindful of our customers’ emotions? Mindful marketing — paying attention to how customers are feeling and mirroring that emotion — is critical to weathering this pandemic while keeping audiences engaged. Do you have a cheerful message about the company’s anniversary still queued up? It might be time to reschedule that campaign or reconsider it altogether. Conversely, don’t feel like you always need to take a somber tone. It’s still OK to celebrate your customers’ milestones or send an encouraging message.

Do our customers know we understand? More than ever, our customers want to know that we “get it.” In this environment, that means showing our humanity to customers. Social distancing, disruption to daily life, and added stress about our health are all (unfortunately) part of our collective human experience right now. Any communication we send needs to reflect this.


If you’re still feeling intimidated, take pause with a little good news. The extra care, attention, and effort you put into making your communication more empathetic will certainly get noticed. According to an analysis of our own customers’ marketing efforts, there was a 21% increase in email opens and close to a 14% increase in clicks between February and March. What’s more, there was an 8.5% increase in purchases attributed to email — meaning we can still contribute to the bottom line as we strike a more human tone with customers. 

Just as with our own health and behavior, the changes we make now may become permanent, and that’s OK. We also shouldn’t let a rush to return to normal also mean a return to our normal marketing practices. Most of all, we need to channel our insecurities about our messages into empathy toward our customers during this global disruption — it’s a far better strategy than sitting around second-guessing ourselves. 

Alyssa Jarrett is director of brand and content marketing at Iterable.