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Yellow Pages to Yelp and the Rise of Empathy Marketing

Aubrey Beck

Until recently, marketing revolved around a company telling clever, funny or emotional stories to its customers. But in the last handful of years, we've witnessed a fundamental change in what it means to market a product or service effectively.

*This post first appeared on ClickZ.

The democratization of information has carved a new landscape that requires a total shift in how - as marketers - we choose to connect with our audience.

Yellow Pages to Yelp Phenomenon

I think of it as the Yellow Pages to Yelp phenomenon. As a society, we've moved away from a "I know exactly what I want or who I want to talk to, give me the direct phone number" to a "I know what I want, now show me stories and personal accounts and information to help guide me to who or what I should explore more so that I can make the best decision for me."


This democratization in the marketplace is exactly why I study, practice, and tout the principles of inbound marketing with such enthusiasm.

Inbound marketing puts the focus on being helpful and finding connections. It's an approach that requires investment in truly understanding your audience and creating quality content that pulls them toward your company, rather than on more traditional methods that try to go out and "grab" leads' attention.

And this shift is amazing really. We, as consumers, have more say than ever in the content that brands present to us when it comes to advertising. As a marketing professional, it's an exciting time because we have the chance to get people really invested in what we're doing. But! We only get that chance if we take the time to truly understand our audience. This investment in understanding your buyers is an exercise in empathy.

The Empathy Factor

Empathy - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person's condition from their perspective - is a must have skill for marketing professionals. It's so important that it's even found its way into our marketing lexicon.

While "empathy marketing" is still a somewhat under the radar marketing approach, it does return 8,000,000+ results in a Google search. According to small business advisor, Marla Tabaka,

"There was a time when strong, sexy ad campaigns would move people to buy from their ego place. But today, most consumers have to be careful with their spending and only a strongly demonstrated understanding of their feelings and life/business circumstances will inspire them to pull out the wallet. As businesses learn to embrace these right-brained, empathy-driven marketing tactics consumers are also learning; they keep their eyes open for the brand that understands them the best."

With this shift, if you're unable to empathize with the people who make up the segment of the market you're targeting, you'll miss the mark when it comes to relevance. And, unfortunately, we're experiencing a crisis of empathy in the world today.

Our Crisis of Empathy

One of the major challenges facing the world right now is the rate at which we've embraced new technology. The fast-paced ramp up to an always-plugged-in society hasn't left time for consideration regarding how the technology is affecting us. However, one apparent effect is the rampant digital addiction that's having serious consequences on our ability to connect with one another here in the physical realm.

VICE's chief creative officer, Eddy Moretti, recently said that "video is an empathy machine. It slows down the headlines, and expands them so we can connect more deeply with people and cultures. The future of news for Millennials will be built on empathy."

Slowing down is going to be an important part of how we'll be able to continue to adapt to new technology as we move forward. It also plays a key role in being able to fully experience empathy.


We are all connected on a deep level and the more time we take to understand that connection - face-to-face in the physical world - the more adept we become at communicating our message in ways that can be truly heard by our intended audience.

The Human Age

In her new book, the Human Age, Diane Ackerman discusses what the future of robots might reveal about the human condition and she proposes that as our technology grows more advanced, we may grow more human.

This sentiment adds a bit of hope to the situation many people are feeling the effects of - although being more digitally connected than we've ever been, most people are feeling less connected and alone in the physical realm. This disconnect is absolutely detrimental to our ability to empathize with one another, and it's detrimental to our ability to perform our marketing work in a way that will prove successful.

While I absolutely embrace advancements in technology, I believe that we need to re-educate ourselves on the importance of balance and staying connected and present in the physical realm as we continue to explore the depths of digital space.

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