Marketing has become an increasingly two-way conversation with customers. The rise of voice assistants, chatbots and other technologies now allow customers to speak to brands — sometimes literally — in a direct way.

Customers want more personal, human communications and connections with brands. Before the pandemic shut down in-person shopping, popup stores were all the rage. People enjoyed interacting in the real world with digital-native brands.

While the pandemic has put a damper on in-person experiences and connections for now, the same principles apply to digital conversations. A full 87% of service agents noted that customers turned to digital channels throughout the coronavirus crisis, according to a 2020 Salesforce State of Service Report. When people have questions or problems, they still want to talk to a real human. 

So human connections continue to win the day. However, as brands rely more on digital channels for those connections, such as customer service agents, messaging apps, emails and more, it’s crucial that consumers feel like they’re talking to a real human (even if they’re not). And, as ZDNet points out in a recent article about the digital customer experience, empathy has become increasingly important.

But it’s not just demonstrating empathy — brands need to scale empathy.

Personalization is one of the best ways to scale empathy. And it takes a few core elements to deliver personalized communications that feel truly human.

Related Article: Unlock One-to-One Personalization With Structured Content

How Brands Can Deliver Empathy at Scale

First, brands really need to understand their customer’s context, including current events. All too often, brands can be tone-deaf, even when making a good faith effort. I saw this especially at the beginning of the pandemic, when it seemed that every brand — including ones you haven't heard from in some time — put out some form of statement about “unprecedented times.” After a while, these messages began to feel like false empathy and inbox clutter. The intentions were good, but the same old phrases and platitudes did not work.

Second, organizations need excellent first-party data. Google’s intentions to phase out third-party cookies and replace them with cohorts of user data have rippled through the marketing community. While some segments may be hit harder than others (such as online advertising), this shift in cookie policy underscores the value of owning, rather than purchasing or renting, customer data. Brands are already making the leap to develop first-party data platforms, such as Bloomberg.

Learning Opportunities

With first-party data, organizations can understand their customers much better. Based on information the customer wants the brand to know (and has consented to share), first-party data enables brands to see what motivates customers and what matters most. 

With artificial intelligence (AI) techniques, this information can be scaled up and used to deliver valuable offers, content and other information. For example, brands can share safety information or helpful products related to weather events in a region, helping local customers prepare for the next big polar vortex. 

And finally, you need a creative marketing team. At the end of the day, humans drive the empathy behind each communication. Get a great team in place that has the technical skills to make use of third-party data insights and the creative brainpower to write compelling content that connects on a human level. 

Some of the most iconic brands of the last 10 years have succeeded based on their excellent branding and communications, like Slack, Warby Parker, Casper, and others. When customers interact with these brands –  whether through an email offer, website, or customer support — they feel like they’re being spoken to in a direct and real way.

Related Article: The Demise of the Cookie and the Rise of First Party Data

Conversation is a 2-Way Street

Consumers are smart. They know when they're being marketed to. The coronavirus pandemic has driven customers to interact digitally with brands like never before. In fact, digital may be the primary channel for many shoppers today. This boost for digital will drive brands to become more direct and plain-spoken. As they say: a conversation is a two-way street.

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