Gini Dietrich

How to Lead With Compassion-Based Communications

By: Gini Dietrich | April 13, 2021 | 
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How to Lead With Compassion-Based CommunicationsLast week, I had a conversation with Amanda Milligan at Fractl about cognitive biases.

We talked about the importance of communicators understanding how our biases affect the way we message and communicate with all audiences.

This makes our jobs challenging, of course, because we have to consider ALL perspectives, which isn’t easy to do when we each have our own biases and look at things through different lenses.

Even something as simple as the curse of knowledge can affect how we position things—it’s hard to keep a learner’s mindset when we have an expertise, but it’s necessary if we want to be great at our jobs.

At the same time, we have to consider how certain things, such as holidays or the death of a celebrity, might seem innocuous to some, but could really be hurtful to others.

I was talking to my mom and she said she’d started receiving emails from companies about Mother’s Day.

But they’re not marketing emails (yet). Instead, they are compassion-filled emails asking people if they’d like to unsubscribe from the forthcoming Mother’s Day messages.

Here is the one from Sizzix:

Mother’s Day is just around the corner and we know that it can be a difficult time for a lot of us. That’s why we are giving our customers the option to opt out of receiving emails about it. Please click here and we will make sure we don’t send you any communications about any upcoming Mother’s Day collections or content. Don’t worry, you will still be updated on everything else Sizzix!

While Mother’s Day is not a real holiday (says the woman who fully expects jewelry this year!), there are people who’ve lost their moms, don’t want to be moms, or can’t be moms, and being reminded of that hurt or loss every year is hard.

Other organizations that tend to cater to women have followed in the footsteps of Sizzix. 

Decisions Are Made On Emotion

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio once said:

We are not thinking machines that feel rather, we are feeling machines that think.

Every human decision depends on emotion. Every, single one. 

We already know that humans buy based on emotion. And we already know the importance of building trust, from everything to toothpaste and laundry detergent to car and appliance purchases. Even in B2B, we buy based on emotion because we are human beings. 

If we’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s that we need to lead our communications with compassion, while keeping our biases in check.

The organizations that are proactive enough to say, “Hey, listen. Mother’s Day is coming up and we’re going to be marketing around it. If you don’t want those messages, that’s totally cool. Here is an easy way to unsubscribe” are the organizations that understand this on an intimate level. 

At the start of the pandemic, we saw many organizations completely stop operations to provide what was most needed by the country, and the world, at an unprecedented time.

Nike and Gap created and donated medical wear. Anheuser-Busch and Tito’s made hand sanitizer. Dyson created a new ventilator (and who wouldn’t want a ventilator made by Dyson…I want to marry my Dyson vacuum!). The automakers all produced PPE for hospitals.

While this wasn’t done for communications purposes, it certainly provided an angle that proved empathy and compassion during a time that we all desperately needed it.

People Want You to Lead With Humanity

According to Pew Research, the large majority (84%) of consumers say it is important that a company supports charitable causes, and it affects 73% of Americans’ purchase decisions.

And, according to a 5WPR report, 71% say they would pay more for a product if they knew some of the proceeds went to charity.

But it’s not just about changing operations for a few weeks during a pandemic or donating to charities. Compassion and purpose-driven marketing can help drive brand loyalty and sales. 

According to a survey from Sprout Social, 66% of consumers believe brands should take a stand on social issues, because they can help create real change, and 63% said that companies have the platform necessary to reach a larger audience. Nine in 10 customers are more likely to give highly transparent brands second chances after negative experiences.

This is a lot to consider, especially because many of the things required of organizations have nothing to do with the communications department. I

Treat Your Stakeholders Like Human Beings

So what does all of this mean for your communications plan and messaging?

As I said, it certainly depends on leadership at your organization, but even without a strong corporate social responsibility program, you can be empathetic and compassionate around things such as Mother’s or Father’s Day. The point is to do your best to humanize the brand. 

Just like the message from Sizzix, it’s pretty easy to treat your subscribers like actual human beings.

While it’s important to know which stage of the buyer’s journey they are in and where and when they might be motivated to buy, the most important thing to remember is they are people.

And, just like you, they hate receiving messages that sound/read like a robot sent them. 

Remember that no one person is alike.

Customers, prospects, employees, ambassadors, fans, followers—many may fall into the same generation or age bracket, but they’re all different.

All of last year, people kept saying we were all in this together and I kept saying, “Actually, we’re not. We’re all in at the same time.”

Not everyone experienced the pandemic in the same way, which is why it’s so important to be cognizant of different experiences, situations, and even their own biases.

Just like Sizzix has figured out, not everyone will be stoked to be reminded that Mother’s Day is coming up.

Perform Research

Always, always perform research.

Because compassion-based communications require you to put yourself in another person’s shoes, it’s important not to just guess, educated or not.

No one can create messaging that truly resonates if you don’t know what it’s like to be someone else. Performing in-depth buyer persona research will allow for empathetic insight.

Listen and Be Proactive

Pay attention, listen, and be proactive.

This is extremely challenging because it oftentimes requires some thick skin.

Whether it’s through social media, online forums, or feedback from the sales or customer service teams, you must pay close attention to the nuances of all of your stakeholders.

  • What do people like?
  • What do they wish you would change?
  • What do they appreciate about your messaging now?
  • Are you compassionate or do you come across as a robot? 

Set Aside Your Own Biases

And the last thing you want to do as you embark on compassion-based communications is to set your own biases aside.

This is the most challenging part about approaching communications in this way.

Perhaps you love being a parent or you adore your parents—so it would never occur to you that there are people out there who go into a deep funk when Mother’s or Father’s Days are mentioned.

That’s why it’s so important to not just do the research and ask the questions, but understand that the way you see the world is not how everyone sees it—and set those biases aside.

What’s Your Take On Compassion-Based Communications?

If you’d like to chat about cognitive biases or compassion-based communications or anything marketing or comms related and you’re not already in the (free) Spin Sucks Community, get your buttocks over there!

The comments here are also for your taking.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.