We Care: Brands Strive For Empathy In Their Emails

Empathy is the latest marketing buzzword. And brands are trying to show they have it. But it better not be "packaged empathy," judging by a study from public relations agency Crenshaw Communications.

Crenshaw analyzed dozens of B2C emails sent between mid-March and mid-May, and found that a third offered free or discounted services, in effect, “wrapping deals and discounts in a care package of empathy,” writes Dorothy Crenshaw, CEO of Crenshaw Communications.

In addition, the firm discovered “comforting and empathic language across all the email campaigns reviewed, from legacy retailers to newer DTC brands,” Crenshaw adds. 

For instance, 25% of the emails used such terms as "home" or "indoors,” reflecting that people are working at home and/or are socially isolated. Another 16% stressed the troubles of “these times.” 



What’s more, 20% used words like “together” and “community,” as if to reassure consumers that they are not alone. And 13% wished their readers “safety,” while another 10% stressed “comfort.” 

Of the 75% of emails that included images, only two did not reflect social distancing.

Crenshaw reviewed email campaigns by Dunkin’, Rothy’s, H&M, Anthropologie, Uber, Williams Sonoma, Crate and Barrel and other brands. About half were “uplifting or upbeat” in tone.

In general, the average word count in subject lines was six words — standard length — but some emails went as high as 14 words. Many contained upbeat language, but did not suggest a rush: 

  • 40% Off The Best WFH Styles 
  • Instant mood boost  EVERYTHING BOGO $19.90 
  • The Everything 50% Off Stay Cozy Sale
  • Stay in and Sling with free previews

Crenshaw notes that “the royal ‘we’ presumes familiarity, community and “caring,” as in these lines:

  • We’re all in this together
  • Sending virtual hugs
  • We’ve got this
  • Stay safe out there, fam 
  • Stay strong
  • Finding calm and comfort
  • Who couldn’t use a little happy right now?

“Every business has been forced to reevaluate marketing materials amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” Crenshaw concludes. 

But don’t think this love vibe will last forever.

“Already, consumers show signs of growing weary of the ‘we are all in this together’ narrative and will need more than packaged empathy to support their favorite brands in real value that includes promotion and products,” Crenshaw warns. “Yet these changes in messaging to a “new normal” will likely be a standard for the foreseeable future.” 

Crenshaw adds that “inappropriate or irrelevant copy or creative in emails, ads or branded content can turn off customers and even have a negative reputation impact.” 




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