Using empathy to refine your product pitch

Little girl with a tear on her cheek

Humans are hardwired to care, but for people, rather than brands or products. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get people to care about your business or brand, you just need to try these three tips.

“If I look at the mass, I’ll never act.” ~ Mother Teresa

Ryan White was an American teenager who, in 1984 at the age of 13, was diagnosed with HIV. And even though it wasn’t his fault – he was hemophiliac – his school thought it wise to expel him from middle school.

He later became the poster child for HIV research and public education, and appeared in the media with people like Michael Jackson and Elton John. When he died, 6 years later, the US congress passed the Ryan White Care Act that would go on to help hundreds of thousands of people like him.

Of course, Ryan wasn’t the first HIV victim – nor the youngest. Yet his story was the one that moved people to action. The question is why?

One theory is the “identifiable victim effect”, which states that people are more likely to take action if an identifiable person (the victim), rather than a large group, is in need. It’s a theory long used by charities to get their donors to continually give – and give more.

But its lesson extends to more than just charities. Here are three things business owners can learn from it:

1. People care about people. Humans are hardwired to care, but only to care for people. That is not to say it’s not possible to care for a business, a brand or a noble cause – but for that to happen, we need to be taught. So how can you use this to your advantage?

Here’s a tip: Don’t hide behind the digital veil. Show people that you’re a real person by:

  • Displaying a picture of you in the “about” page of your website and talk a bit about your personal life.
  • Frequently meet them face-to-face or call. Email is not a replacement for relationships.

2. Negative emotions elicit larger action. Have you ever cringed when you see something bad happen to other people? That’s because of a particular part of our brain called “mirror neurons”. Mirror neurons are the basis of empathy because they allow you to feel what other people feel. To your brain, it’s literally you who is the victim.

Couple that with the fact that people have more desire to avoid suffering than they do to pursue pleasure… and you have a nice recipe to get people to act. Perhaps this is why charitable advertisements featuring negative emotions get more donations.

So the next time you’re crafting your ad, try one that features a negative emotion. What are the pain points your target customers are suffering from?

3. People want to make a difference. One reason the identifiable victim effect exists is because of our desire to make a difference. A donation of $50, for example, matters to one poor individual in Indonesia. But to 2 billion poor people around the globe? Not so much.

By focusing our attention to one person, charities give the perception that every dollar counts – and thus elicits more donations.

Here’s how you can use this in your business: give a proportion of your profits to people in need. Keyword: people, not charities. You need to make a direct contribution to the people who most need it so your customers know that they’re making a difference by buying your products.

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