This won’t be the first time I have rolled out the CIM definition of marketing, but it is only because I wholeheartedly believe that marketing essentially is – “identifying and satisfying customer needs profitably”. In the modern world where so many of our basic needs are readily taken care of (food, shelter), we are now striving to fulfil more complex needs – personal development, stronger relationships or the opportunity to make a difference.

In the past few years we have witnessed the rise of a collective social conscience. Climate change, plastic pollution, veganism – these are no longer niche fads but have moved into the mainstream (who would have thought Kentucky Fried CHICKEN would spend so much of their marketing budget promoting a vegan burger!)

More and more businesses are unashamedly embracing this, incorporating care, compassion and community spirit into the way they work. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is no longer a tick box exercise dumped on the HR or marketing department – it’s a way of doing business.

This may sound a little ‘fluffy’ to some, but compassion is fast becoming an essential aspect of modern business. So what exactly does it mean and how is it different from sympathy or empathy?

Sympathy: (an expression of) understanding and care for someone else’s suffering

Empathy: the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation

Compassion: a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them

Sympathy is recognising and understanding the feelings (read: needs) of others. Empathy is recognising, understanding and also identifying with those feelings, often based on our own past experience. Compassion is the driving factor that compels us to do something to alleviate negative feelings.

Whether your buying cycle is seconds, days or even years, businesses survive through transactions. To be able to create relationships that will thrive beyond the initial transaction, businesses must create positive value on both sides – converting one-time customers to loyal advocates (whilst generating profit for themselves – because we’ve still got bills to pay). The only way to develop loyalty is to understand what the customer wants and needs from them and provide a product or service that aligns – over and over again. This is why sympathy, empathy and compassion should be a key aspect of marketing and business as a whole.

In a world where anyone can say anything about anyone else via the anonymity of the internet, marketers can no longer gloss over inadequate business processes with idealistic marketing messages. Take Amazon, who have been repeatedly pulled up on their treatment of staff in their facilities. Does the current advertising campaign that shows happy employees and offers tours of the warehouses for the general public undo the damage of last year’s negative publicity?

It is not enough to tell your customers that you care – you have to ACTUALLY care and to show them. With nowhere to hide, you must ensure every part of your sales, operations and support processes reflect the compassionate attitude that you communicate to your customers in your marketing messaging.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the pain that my customers are feeling that drives them to find a solution?
  • Do I have any personal experience that I can relate to those feelings to help me understand what they are going through?
  • How can my products or services alleviate that pain or satisfy their need?

Those businesses who understand their customers and give a damn about providing solutions to their problems will stand a far greater chance of building long-term relationships that create value on both sides. Customer loyalty, in turn, facilitates sustainable business growth – and that’s the bottom line.