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The Rise of the Chief Empathy Marketing Officer

May 5, 2020

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The Rise of the Chief Empathy Marketing Officer

We are now reminded once again that people drive the economy. Beyond any crisis and future uncertainty, it’s humans who need to feel safe and secure. The economy and business have taken a back seat because they just won’t work without people participating and being prepared for change.

These days CEOs must become Chief Emotional Officers, having to use their emotional intelligence above all else as the leading force behind projects and teams. Naturally, CMOs too should be adapting their own role and leading campaigns as Chief Empathy Marketing Officers (CEMO).

In my eyes, CMOs are mini CEOs within their own companies. We run huge budgets, manage big departments, and are queens and kings of our own domain. In most cases, we’re also the face and sometimes even the voice of our organizations.

In this article, I reference a lot of activities that reflect what I call Mindful Leadership examples, but unfortunately, most of these examples come from CEOs, not CMOs. I’d love to hear the thoughts and experiences of other CMOs who share the same roles. 

To get your thoughts in order, I’ve created this guide to reflect on the current COVID-19 mental and business downtime. I’ll be shifting your attention towards the many upsides on how marketing leaders should fight back and lead their organizations to success through actionable ideas you can implement today.

“This crisis, as in any crisis, is about people first, economics second. And that’s the lesson we learn.” – Josh Bersin


💛🍋💛

I’m just so thrilled to announce the launch of the Empathy Marketing Movement that empowers humans and brands to help each other by offering free assets and advice. 

Please email me at yam@zest.is if your company is planning to give something super useful and free to the world. Don’t be selfish or think about your targeted audience. It’s our job as CEMOs to contribute to the world and to a wider segment and vertical than ours alone.

💛🍋💛


In order to show solidarity with the Empathy Marketing movement, I’m changing my own LinkedIn title:

Screenshot of Yam's LinkedIn title changed to "Chief Empathy Marketing Officer"
Screenshot of Yam’s LinkedIn title changed to “Chief Empathy Marketing Officer”

Empathy Marketing is a new mindset that comprises both mindful leadership & thoughtful activities

In a nutshell, Empathy Marketing means that marketing leaders should take action to make sure that all the humans under their responsibility will feel better. Just make them feel better. Make them smile. Be proactive about catering to their well-being. Be human.

Empathy Marketing implies you’ll need to change two things in the way you think:

1. People first, business later

This mindset gets you to look inside where you’ll see your team and users. Both of these groups are equally concerned about the future world situation. Probably much more than you.

You’ll be putting the needs and success of your teams and customers above your own. At the expense of losing profit and falling behind with your KPIs, your main goal for the next time frame should be helping your teams and customers. 

Ultimately, this secures their trust and makes them worry less about their own future. Don’t think about a direct payoff but create long-lasting, authentic human to human relationships. 

2. Productivity-out, sanity-in

We’re leaving work overload behind for a while to bring out the human in us and our teams. The tendency these days is to work, work, and work some more. We seem to try too hard to prove to ourselves [and others] that we can function at our top capacity. 

In reality, people are now more restless than ever and the general anxiety is instead slowing down our productivity. Having to work more than usual will only keep your team members from staying sane. And the same can be said about your customers who don’t want you to shove yet another promotional email in their faces.


Mutual support is now the new currency.

One you might have ignored so far but it’s always been around, supporting solid customer-seller relations.


Helping each other, rather than trying to take advantage of the current situation, is more important right now. We see cases of companies raising prices, ending collaborations, and firing workers. All of this contradicts the very basic current human need for mutual help.

Thousands of Zesters have shared a lot of content through Zest since the pandemic started as a way of helping others cope with the situation. 💪 Whether that’s because they were worried about the economic outcomes, didn’t know how to change up their marketing plans, or so many more issues many of us are still facing.

Most of the examples you’ll see next come from content these wonderful human beings shared with the Zest community. And yes, giving them the credit and praising them here DOES represent what Empathy Marketing is all about.

Empathy is born when times are difficult

People are not seeing other people that often now. They’re not feeling, smelling, or touching others. But they actually care for other people more because, unlike before, we now all share a common situation we can empathize with.

According to data found by Udi Ledergor, CMO at Gong.io, empathy has become a growing trend as opposed to the previous negativity displayed during sales calls. Sales prospects are now inquiring on a sales rep’s well-being even when they’re called out of the blue. And the use of empathetic words is increasing.

Chart showing that empathy is trending based on how often empathetic words are being used in phone calls
Source: From Udi’s recent lecture about Gong.io’s findings

To reflect a bit more on the overall status of the industry, here’s data from HubSpot:

There are now 15% fewer deals created while the number of closed deals has decreased by a whopping 22%.

Chart from Hubspot showing a decrease in deals
Source: HubSpot

Sales email response rates are also plummeting:

Chart from HubSpot showing sales email response rates decreasing
Source: HubSpot

Are you feeling bad, stressed, and melancholic after reading my opening part?

GOOD!

This is exactly how your team and users feel right now. You’re experiencing very similar feelings and worries to those of your user base and you’re more likely than ever to understand them.

The Empathy Mindset

You are a beautiful, talented human. Stay as you are, please.

It’s ok to not be advancing professionally. It’s ok to feel like you’re not getting enough time to practice your skills. It’s ok not to hit your KPIs. It’s ok not to strike through all your planned daily/weekly/monthly tasks. It’s ok not to learn anything during the quarantine.

Quarantine is not a competition. If you’ve been planning to learn a new skill during this time, that’s wonderful. But don’t turn this into an overarching goal that will burn you down or, worse, distract you from the things that truly matter in life.

Instead, focus on your teams, customers, and your own health and soul a bit more. 

Slow life has unfortunately always been the lifestyle we turn to only after a bad thing happens. We’re now getting a unique chance to experience taking things slow and see what its benefits would be for us.

You can do all this while still staying proactive. Do the dishes, work out, meditate, clean your house, drink beer at midday, call your family and friends to check how they’re doing, or just stare outside your window and breathe in the wind gusts


At every company’s level, transparency regarding business status goes a long way.

Showing empathy means you’re understanding other humans and simply asking yourself “What if I was in their situation?”


In April, Carta’ CEO Henry Ward had to announce that 16% of their employees would be laid off. Instead of using the simple “we can’t pay you anymore” reasoning, he opted for a systematic approach to explain in great detail why these layoffs were being made and how they decided who had to leave for the time being. 

But Henry took it to the next level from here. The company is offering all people who were laid off a “departure pay” for 3 months and guaranteeing their health insurance until the end of the year. He even made the decision to offer these perks to anyone who wanted to voluntarily leave the company at this time. 

But what will happen to those who left? Henry put together a Carta Alumni program to encourage mutual aid and keep everyone updated with future job reopenings. A true example of a CEO who values his employees above all else and is not afraid to be transparent. 👏


All of the above are key reasons why you, as a CMO should become a CEMO. 

As marketing leaders we’re expected to act in unprecedented ways, adjusting to the “new normal,” decreasing our spending, and planning for recovery. 


This is where marketing leaders can and should shape the next normal, preparing to rethink their plans, adapt to the break of so many industries into the digital realm, and staying human at core.

Mindful Leadership

The typical “leadership” where employees would have to give their best performance just because they’ve been instructed to do so no longer works during a crisis:

“People won’t follow you simply because you tell them to. But if you praise them and recognize their strengths, they are more likely to follow your lead.” – Andrew Cuomo

Picture of Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York
Source: inc.com

Mindful leadership poses a test for all managers to improve their own selves and show kindness to others. Cuomo correlated the current situation with the 9/11 moment when all people could do was to show their most supportive side to the community.

Here are a few actionable Mindful Leadership activities: 

Appeal to a common purpose

The humanity that used to be displayed within small or restricted communities is now a common purpose on a worldwide scene. Winning the fight can only happen when all of us come together. Individuals and business driven by the solidarity we should share.

One helping hand adds to another, posing as an example for others to take note of and start their own meaningful movement. And it all stems from the leadership stance we take. Every single one of us.

Bring out the best in people

The key outlook for any leader during this time is to bring out the best in people. Whether we’re talking about employees or users, we’re all contributing to bettering ourselves on a personal level before we do any business.


Here are some of the practical steps you can use to try to encourage everyone around you to become a better human:

– Praise people for their activities, not just for the results they bring
– Show your interest in their activities, personal life, families, and work
– Don’t be quick to judge someone and give them time to settle down
– Challenge them to be more considerate of each other
– Be a model yourself


In order to do all this, leaders need to open up and start having two-sided conversations with everyone they get in touch with.

When was the last time you had a meaningful talk with your users? 

Nobody has time for “Let me sell this to you” anymore. Instead of focusing on getting one more sale or share, offer encouragement. Cut the usual small talk to genuinely see how others are doing and if there’s anything YOU can do for them at no cost.

Learn to listen

You’d be surprised by how much people need to have someone listen to their problems. Now’s the time to build dependable relationships and gain the trust of your users by catering to their needs.

Making people feel safe and dependent on your advice comes with a greater duty: that of always telling the truth. No room for lies or fake promises. If you can’t offer something, say it. 

Can’t deliver on time? No problem. We have all by now developed stronger understandings of people and their needs. So mindful leaders know that beyond taking care of business matters ASAP there’s always one family or team member to check on, one more break to take, one more hour to spend with your kids.

Build trust

Trust isn’t something to just gain and leave aside. It needs to be built in time and, more importantly, maintained. With more people making careful decisions based on trust these days, it’s the one thing you’ll need to always keep in mind throughout all of your actions.

Besides simply listening and using the information to offer a safe place or solution to people’s problems, avoid falling into that dark place where all companies who are profiting from the crisis are. Don’t use clickbait headlines, don’t unexplainably raise your prices, and don’t “disappear” when they need help or even their money back.

Cut down on perfection 

It’s not required and it never was. But vulnerability is. This is the one trait that makes you human, accessible, and relatable. CEOs like Arne Sorenson have come forward to admit their current issues, decrease in business, and plans for the future. Struggles many of us are dealing with.

Leaders need to have a real life

Not selling anything, not landing one more client, not signing a new contract. Instead, they have to turn to their own needs that all humans face during the crisis: requiring help and staying connected to their family and friends. 


Disconnect yourself from the world occasionally to think about where you stand and how you can contribute to help others.

This will activate your compassion and have you realize that business only comes second in the face of adversity.


Essentially, business shouldn’t stall. You only have to switch its direction towards the goal we’re all focused on: restoring our lives to normal. 

Here’s where thoughtful proactiveness comes in.

This is after all the whole point of Empathy Marketing. We all need to change our processes, repurpose goals, and show a high level of compassion and care. Other leaders are already doing it on different levels. 

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is advising all CEOs to try not laying off their team for 90 days to help workers during this tough time.

Together with his team, ServiceNow CEO Bill McDermott has put together 4 new emergency-response apps to help with needs like self reporting or virus exposure management. 

He uses his own company as an example of how other businesses should reorient their own workflows towards the common good. His reasoning and perhaps biggest take away is that companies can continue their missions during these times while also expanding their own user base by following a positive purpose.

Team Resilience

In general, resilience refers to a human’s capacity to get over difficulties. This definition alone shows why it’s vital for leaders to encourage their team to grow this skill. 


Team resilience helps business (specifically every individual within a company) cope with negative situations whenever success or profit disappears.

In many ways, having a backup plan when faced with a challenge helps all of us defeat the issues and get back on track. 


Good news is that anyone can learn to be more resilient. In fact, psychologist Anna Rowley who’s been working primarily with CEOs says that this skill is worth learning. Frankly, it’s that one trait everyone needs in order to ensure they won’t panic whenever something bad happens or struggle with their challenges.

Through all social and personal twists and turns, the key to rebounding is staying prepared and having a solid mindset that won’t keep your thoughts focused on all the negativity. Becoming resilient won’t keep problems at bay, but it helps you cultivate primarily healthy thoughts and a mindful leadership mentality.

Your next step to create a resilient team is to accept the change. To do so, start preparing your marketing organization for the remote work lifestyle. Not tomorrow, not next week. Today.

David Hassell has shared some super handy tips for leaders to prepare for the remote work revolution. Above all, he believes that establishing a remote-first mindset is the key to boosting productivity and, guess what, team resilience. 🙌

David advises all leaders to ask themselves:

How do you need to think and act differently as a leader when learning to manage a fully distributed, remote team? 

Beyond the mindset aspect, he also suggests 3 main points you’ll need to reconsider:

  1. The tools and practices everyone in the company will use – You’re not seeing each other face-to-face anymore. So how are you going to ensure team visibility to keep employees socially connected and not missing a single thing?
  2. Manager and employee practices – What great manager practices you’ll need to nail to successfully lead a remote team?
  3. Individual work practices – Since it all comes down to the individual, what are the key things to keep in mind to make the remote life work for every person on your team?

Trish Mueller, Co-Founder of Mueller Retail Consulting, also places the leader as the key driver of encouragement within a team and suggests the following 3 tips:

  1. Cheer up the team – Reflect on mistakes and call up motivational meetings or just leave an inspiring post on your #general Slack channel to recognize accomplishments and keep spirits high.
  2. Support active participation – Get your entire team to be a solid part of their own professional development. Choose a representative to lead the team and have regular meetups to check on their status.
  3. If you have no budget, make use of existing resources – Feel free to reach out to others who have experience in this. Your team might already have enough knowledge to help you with tasks such as ideation or content writing.

Thought Provoking Empathy Marketing Examples 

Behold the rise of B2H (Business to Humans) as described by Leela Srinivasan, the first CMO of SurveyMonkey. 

Whether you’re active in the B2C or B2B world, it’s ultimately all about the user. And all users are human. 

Their behavior is different though. Like Tomek Duda from Ladder.io mentions, “consumer behavior is closely related to the fact that different countries are in different stages of fighting the pandemic.” So while our needs are essentially the same, it’s worth keeping in mind that the time when these necessities occur might vary from one place to another.

At Zest, we’ve always been communicating this through a methodology we coined as VAT – vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency. This way, we’re building humble narratives and aiming to bring value with each conversation we have. 🍋

Tomasz Tunguz has recently brought Narrative Economics back to light with regards to how we distribute our thoughts. In the startup world in particular, executives turn to well-known storytellers [a.k.a. industry influencers], use social proof, and share their message across multiple channels. 


The bottom line is that you need to change your narrative.

Storytelling is now more powerful than ever, and we’ve got plenty of evidence to show that it has worked during previous crises so these efforts are definitely worth one more shot.


What can you do to implement Empathy Marketing into your strategy?

Curate jobs in your target vertical

AngelList has put together a similar board for available jobs and people who were laid off as a result of economic uncertainty.

Screenshot of AngelList's website designed to help recently laid-off professionals
Source: AngelList

Alternatively, if your company has to lay off part of your employees, you can create lists of professionals who are available to get hired and help them land a new job.

Help extends to what you can do for users as well

One thing we did at Zest was to send localized videos to our users and offer our free help by offering our promotion bundle for free and making Zesters happy. 🍋 

Picture of the Zesteam together on Zoom from the "Zest for Zesters" videos
Source: Zest Blog

We then thought about how we could add even more value. So we decided to share our award-winning email templates with everyone who was interested in them. These have worked for us so they would definitely be a great addition to anyone’s marketing inspiration stack.

Offering free services

For the time being, offering services for free is the key to actually helping the world and keeping your customers when the whole crisis is over. Not everyone can afford yet one more tool at this time. They might not have the budget for any software for as long as the next 2 years. So other companies have been giving 1-2-6 months for free use of their subscriptions and even lowering their prices so that people who really need their tools would still be able to use them.

It’s time to get obsessed with churn

Offering your support to users for a couple of months at the expense of losing profit does help you reduce your churn rate. The decrease in sales across the board means that fighting churn and expanding your MRR from existing clients is the key to maintaining business success. 

One of the best areas to put your top focus right now in order to maintain revenue is looking to loyalize your users. A good special offer goes a long way. 

Improve your reviews and ratings

Not only does retaining clients lower your churn, but it also helps you improve your product’s ratings and reviews. 🙌 Give them a good incentive, send reminders on how they can leave a review, or just help them with their needs at no cost to maintain their trust in you.

With people relying more on ecommerce stores, they’ll be spending more time checking out the reviews. Simply because they’re now easier to see than in a physical store. As for the software industry, remote workers are constantly on the lookout for better digital solutions to make their work easier and more efficient. So pay extra attention to how your profile appears on top review websites and what users are saying so you can improve their experience.

To better understand your users and where their needs go during this time, run a couple of user tests

See if they search for different things, spend more time on specific articles, or avoid any page that will get them to buy your tool. Try out a few A/B tests either on your emails or homepage. One thing you can do is try to bring educational content forward and see if they’re more interested in this as opposed to your regular product-related pop-ups. 

Cross-reference the data you find with existing studies and findings. In email marketing’s case, for instance, ConvertKit runs a monthly analysis of email deliverability using the users’ data in their system. Turn to these reports to compare your email deliverability or average open rate.

Screenshot of ConvertKit's monthly reports on email deliverability
Source: ConvertKit

Rethink your value proposition and adapt your user persona

With the whole world moving online, having to give up on events and holidays, and not even being able to enjoy a restaurant dinner anymore, many companies are faced with having outdated value propositions that no longer apply to reality. 

In the SaaS industry, in particular, many software providers have opted to highlight how their tool can help people with remote work. Most of their users no longer go to the office, so the general “office worker” persona is not valid in today’s circumstances. By now, this is a classic move everyone’s taken so you’ll need to get creative to stand out.

Showcase your platform’s power

In various instances, your tools already have at least one feature that will help someone. Whether it’s for remote work collaboration, educating people, helping with daily tasks, or just supporting them while they’re talking to their friends and family.

This is what your value proposition should focus on: the one thing you’ve been developing that your competitors might have missed or simply disregarded.

Create in-depth resources to support users and leads

These resources can be anything from special offers to teaching them about new tools and educating them on how your product can now support their efforts. 

Rock Content ran an analysis on the evolution of their own traffic to see if educational content was still bringing in business. While they initially set out to see how they could keep their brand relevant, the results showed that past educational content they created was now performing better than before:

Chart from rockcontent showing traffic growth from an informative post on Tik Tok
Source: rockcontent

Perfect time to build your brand or what? 😉

Make your brand browsable

“People are in ‘browsing mode’, not ‘buying mode’.” – Nelio Leone

They want to learn and prepare for the future. Essentially, they’re looking to get value for free. So instead of focusing on overly promotional content, strive to put together guides and videos that will teach instead of sell. 

BTW, this is why you see so many “remote work” or “rethinking your strategy” guides these days. Here’s just one example of a guide for media partners from Facebook. If you’ve never really done your best to tackle any educational content so far, don’t fret. Repurpose and update existing materials and knowledge to turn them into something of value.

Paid user acquisition should still be part of your marketing mix

It’s generally recommended to keep up your marketing efforts. However, do repurpose and tailor each campaign and messaging to match the daily progress of world events. People are still opening emails, still reading blogs, still looking for information.

Marketing tactics are roughly the same, but with reduced budgets. Many brands have stopped their ads altogether. Others have reduced and adapted them. Frankly, all studies that have been done so far show that people either don’t care about ads at all or are ok with them still being displayed as long as they don’t exploit the crisis. If your budget allows for a few more ads, consider recustomizing your existing Display Network advertising to turn your brand into a go-to resource for informative content.

Pie chart from eMarketer showing which percent of Internet users think brands should advertise as normal during the Coronavirus Pandemic
Source: eMarketer

Time to partner up

No business is in this alone. So if there’s any great idea you have but can’t do it on your own, this is a good time to partner with others.

Apple recently got together with Google to build a contact-tracing technology that will let people know if they’ve come in contact with a person who has the virus. Teachable has donated 25% of their proceeds from a past summit to ConverKit’s Creator Fund in addition to contributing to spreading the word. We’re all partners on the web and a simple pledge to disseminate correct information is a great starting point for any partnership.

Let’s turn to your own brand for a second to see how you can use it to promote your users.

Add social proof elements to your site

Contact your existing users and give them a presence on your site. Besides having our Zesters contribute with amazing posts on our blog, we’ve created a dedicated page for our Top Contributors:

Simply mentioning them, saying thank you, or linking back to their websites boosts their brand and, above all, makes them happy. 

Next time you’re putting together a new landing page or guide and need contributors on it, why not turn to your existing user base?

Embrace the remote work trend

While it’s always been a matter of preference for people who were looking to reap its benefits, it’s now also about the safety of employees. 

Already been working remotely for a while? Rejoice! Everyone’s your digital buddy now and you can use your experience to help others. 😀

Take it online, obviously

You’re moving your work online for the same obvious reasons. Most brick-and-mortar businesses have suffered over the past months, losing sales and customers in favor of ecommerce shops who were prepared for the crisis.

In fact, online sales are on the rise and staying on the World Wide Web seems like a much safer choice for the time being. You’ll also be improving your availability, extending your reach, and even lowering costs.

Be available

But as we’re all contributing to make the world better, remember to be available. Just because you’re no longer going to the office or attending client meetings on-site doesn’t mean you’re on vacation. 

Be ready to answer any client inquiries, move your meetings to the digital realm, and don’t forget about your teammates. Unless they’re used to working remotely, they might have a tough time handling the change. 

People who are not cut out for remote life might never fully get accustomed to their new way of living. Dedicate a couple of minutes each day to disconnect from work to talk to your employees and help them cope with any issues.

Brands that lift their employees and users will rise and shine brighter

The epidemic is also a waking call to absorb the new reality, norms, and attitudes into your marketing organization’s DNA.

Recent changes are paving the way for all marketers to showcase our empathetic side throughout all of our strategies. From now on, it’s all a matter of not forgetting about the importance of being a mindful leader once things go back to normal. 


How you treat your employees today will have more impact on your brand in future years than any amount of advertising, any amount of anything you literally could do.

Because, again, we’re all suffering from this. Every single person is looking to see how their company is treating them, how their employers are treating family members and friends”

MARK CUBAN, wbur.org article 


The “slow life” we’re all experiencing is not just a better way of doing business at a relaxed pace. It’s an opportunity for us to reconsider where our top efforts need to go and how we treat people around us.

As Josh Bersin mentioned, “this Virus is giving us a gift. An important lesson in leadership. We are all connected, and without these five lessons in leadership, we feel adrift.” So let’s finally turn our full focus towards the common good.


To join forces, become a part of the Empathy Marketing Movement for giving free help, assets, and advice from any company to any other individual and business.

Please contact me at yam@zest.is.



A special thanks to Alexandra Cote who helped me bring this comprehensive article to life <3