If you want to be a successful marketer in the senior living space, you must have empathy. But what is empathy, anyway? And why is it so important? This brings us to today’s topic, which is all about empathetic marketing.
Below, we’re going to discuss the following:
- What is empathy?
- What’s the difference between empathy and sympathy?
- What is empathetic marketing?
- How should you tap into prospects’ emotions?
- Is emphatic marketing ever manipulative?
- What are some best practices for better empathetic content marketing?
Let’s get to it!
What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings and emotions.
With empathy, you listen without passing judgment. You’re able to connect with what the other person is going through because you’re actively trying to see things from their point of view, not simply from your own individual perspective. You’re not trying to fix things or offer advice.
What’s the difference between empathy and sympathy?
With sympathy, you feel compassion, pity, or sorrow for someone who is suffering. For example, we might send a sympathy card to a co-worker who’ve lost a loved one. We feel sorry for the person going through the loss. We pay our respects at the wake or funeral, offer our sympathy, and go about our lives.
The empathetic person, on the other hand, actively works to understand how the bereaved is doing at any given moment, not just at the wake or funeral. They’ll ask how the bereaved is feeling in the days, weeks, and months after because they understand grief is a trajectory and it looks different for everyone. The empathetic person won’t judge how the grieving person responds to their inquiries, even if the response is negative or nasty.
Instead, the empathetic person listens, acknowledges, and validates the other person’s feelings. There’s no “You shouldn’t talk like that” or “You shouldn’t feel that way” response. The empathetic person will instead say something like, “I can hear the pain in your voice. And I’m so, so sorry you’re going through this. I’m here. I’m listening.”
Here’s another example to demonstrate the difference: The sympathetic person will understand that the grieving person will need some time off in the immediate days following the death. The empathetic person will understand why the person might need time off around the one-year anniversary—or on the deceased person’s birthday.
What is empathetic marketing?
Also called empathy-based marketing, empathetic marketing enables you to build a strong emotional connection with prospects by showing them you’ve taken the time to see things from their perspective or that you’ve put yourself in their shoes.
For senior living marketers, this means making sure you understand the whole spectrum of emotions that people are experiencing as they buy into the senior living concept. Emotions can run the gamut and often include stress, grief, fear, sadness, overwhelm, resentment, and anger.
And, sure: Some prospects will also be excited, relieved, and/or looking forward to the next chapter in their lives. But empathy is often tied in closely to “tough” emotions. People experiencing joy about downsizing their home don’t require empathy in the same way that someone mourning the loss of their independence does.
Those don’t sound like fun emotions. What are we supposed to do with them?
They might not be “fun” emotions. But they’re authentic emotions that your target demographic is feeling. Sure, maybe not right away (especially if you’re marketing to younger Boomers). But everyone’s trajectory is ultimately the same. And it’s those big, hairy, scary emotions that you’re going to want to tap into.
Because if you can demonstrate through your marketing that you see things from your prospects’ point of view, you’ll be well on your way to making a meaningful emotional connection with them. And that’s when the magic happens.
How can I better understand the “tough” emotions that prospects, residents, and their families are experiencing?
To start, you need to develop good prospect personas. Even though personas are fictional representations, they’re based on interviews and conversations you’ve had with real prospects, current residents, and family members.
You can also glean genuine emotions from places like . . .
- Review sites (pay close attention to the three-, two-, and one-star reviews)
- Comments on social media threads
- Anecdotes you glean from conversations within the community or from staff who regularly interact with residents and families (activities, dining)
- Sales conversations (your sales team should share common emotional themes with the marketing team)
Remember, moving into a senior living community, especially if it’s assisted living or memory care, will be the last big move (and possibly the last big decision) that people make. Think about that. Reflect on how that would make you feel. Don’t simply sympathize. Empathize. What would scare you? What would keep you up at night? What have you heard residents and prospects talk about? Do they talk about it?
Keep in mind that just because you haven’t heard anything doesn’t mean the subject isn’t taking up plenty of real estate in people’s heads. Your job is to figure out what your prospects are thinking and feeling. From there, you need to work on seeing those things from their perspective so you can develop messaging, campaigns, and programs that will resonate on an emotional level.
How can you tap into people’s emotions ethically? After all, marketing to people’s negative emotions could be seen as manipulative.
You’re absolutely right. You don’t want to exploit people’s vulnerabilities. You want to relate to them—to empathize.
“We know moving into assisted living is a hard decision . . . you probably never imagined you’d end up here. Most of us don’t. We get it. Which is precisely why we . . . “
What comes after the “why we” is where you put that special something-something that your community does to help new residents acclimate. You’re leading with the “tough” part—and creating a little dissonance and discomfort in the person reading/hearing the message—but then you follow it up with some “good news” where you let people know that you hear them, you see them, and you get what they’re going through.
Empathetic marketing isn’t based on fear; it’s based on people’s very real emotions (one of which might be fear). Your job is to speak to these emotions—to demonstrate through content and conversation that your community’s staff, as a whole, can empathize with prospects, residents, and their families.
And that’s no easy task, either. In fact, this is often where empathetic marketing can fall apart. You might be able to create warm and empathetic messaging that resonates with prospects. Your website might do a great job, along with your ads and social media. Prospects might be thinking “Oh, they really understand what I’m going through, how hard this is.”
And yet, when the prospects show up for the tour, that empathy is nowhere to be found—it’s all about the sale.
Talk about a disconnect, right?
So for empathetic marketing to work, everyone in the community needs to be on board?
Yes. Larger conversations and training around empathy need to happen in the community, especially in the resident-facing departments, like care staff, dining, and activities. It’s only when employees in the community are trained in empathy—how to have empathetic conversations, what to say, what not to say—that empathetic marketing can truly work.
In other words, your senior living community needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
OK. Let’s assume my community has done all that. What are some best practices for better empathetic content marketing?
Track prospects’ emotions over time.
Emotions are fluid. You won’t “do” empathetic marketing once and call it day. Consider people’s emotions three years ago—it was all around COVID fears and what was going to happen next, how many people would die, when will a vaccine be available, and are people in senior living communities safe?
As we emerged from the pandemic, people’s emotions shifted. Now, many people are worried about their finances thanks to inflation, threats of recession, and rising mortgage rates. Some prospects might be worried that now isn’t the time to sell their home and move into senior living. They might worry that if they do it now, they’ll be leaving money on the table when it comes to selling their house—or they might be worried about running out of money over the long term.
Those are real fears, real emotions. Think about how you would feel if you were seventy or eighty and wondering if you might outlive your finances—and the fear that comes with wondering “What then?”
Think about messages and content that would speak to this emotion in an authentic and helpful way.
Keep in mind that empathetic content marketing doesn’t necessarily need to be a big campaign to be effective.
Empathetic marketing is something you and your team should infuse through all communications, large and small, formal and informal.
For example, let’s say an older couple tours your community. They love it, but they’re getting more and more nervous about the economy and are wondering if they should ride it out a little longer before they sell their home and make the jump.
Instead of pushing them to get past their worries—or worse: ignoring their concerns altogether—the sales rep sends the couple a handwritten thank you note that says something like “I completely understand moving might not be right for you right now due to the unstable economy. I don’t blame you—I think I’d feel the same way if I were in your shoes. We will be here to welcome you if/when the time is right. I’ll make a note to reach out to you in six months. But of course, you can always call me any time if your situation changes.”
No, the sale might never happen. But your sales rep is demonstrating empathy. And empathy is a muscle that needs regular flexing. Even if the couple doesn’t move into your community, they will likely appreciate the sale rep’s kindness and understanding. (And they—or someone from their family—could end up referring someone else based on this act of kindness.)
Demonstrate your community’s empathetic nature via other means.
Actively support causes that matter to residents. And we’re not talking about one-off mentions, either. Sponsor those little league teams, become active with local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association or the American Cancer Society, ask your residents about the things they care about, and take a vested interest as a community.
You should also actively support causes that matter to employees as well. And speaking of employees, highlight how your community creates an empathetic workplace culture. This will be good for recruitment purposes, but it will also serve as a way to reinforce your empathetic marketing.
Need help? Get in touch!
Whether you need assistance developing personas or developing messaging that connects with prospects on an emotional level, we can help. Get in touch and let’s discuss your senior living marketing needs today.