Empathetic Marketing: An Interview with Brian Carroll

Jim Bierfeldt

Jim Bierfeldt is the founder and chief strategist at Logistics Marketing Advisors, a marketing firm that helps logistics businesses define and communicate their value, and then translate that value into revenue.

Brian Carroll Lead Generation for the Complex SaleRecently I had a chance to do a Q&A with my colleague, Brian Carroll, consultant and author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale. I have followed Brian’s B2B Lead Blog for years and was interested in his latest focus area, empathetic marketing.

What is empathetic marketing in a nutshell?

It’s about moving out of our own mind and into the mind of the customer. Moving away from business-centric thinking to customer-centric thinking and using communication to speak to the customer’s true motivations.

So you don’t think that’s happening in B2B marketing today?

There is a growing disconnect between marketers and the prospects they target. More content than ever is being created, and that content is being communicated via more and more channels, but customers are ignoring the message because they don’t trust our claims.

The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing, it feels to the prospect like you are trying to help. But so much of what we see today are product-centric claims aimed at impressing the prospect. Big mistake.

Instead of worrying about being interesting, we need to first be interested. Understand the customer’s motivation (what they want) and make sure that’s aligned with what we can deliver.

You talked about content. How does empathetic marketing relate to inbound or content marketing?

Content can have an important role in empathetic marketing – if it helps drive customers toward their goals. But so much of today’s content does not do that. We’ve become publishing machines, creating content for content’s sake. I’m sure you’re seeing that in the logistics industry, as well.

Customers don’t need more content, they need truly useful content that helps them convince colleagues inside their companies to choose a different path. Most of today’s content lacks that empathetic context, and content without empathy is just noise. Unfortunately, it’s gotten very loud in the B2B marketing space.

It sounds like the root of empathetic marketing is understanding the buyer’s motivation.

Absolutely. When I was Chief Evangelist at MECLABS, we learned that the real driver of customer action is motivation. The root word of emotion and motivate is the same. Buyers base most of their actions on feelings, and then backfill with logic. That’s why it’s so important to get beyond the list of product features and speak to the end result the buyer seeks.

Steve Jobs understood this concept. When Apple’s iPod was introduced in 2001, Job’s marketing campaign did not focus on the incredible new technology, it focused on the result: “1000 songs in your pocket.”

So what do B2B marketers need to do differently to be more empathetic and ultimately more effective?

First, we need to get out of the office. Join sales people on customer visits and just listen and seek to understand customer motivations. It’s shocking how little of this happens. Too many marketers rely on survey data to tell them how customers think and feel, but that’s not enough.

Empathy is not the product of survey data, it comes from context and really understanding the pressures the customer is under.

Then we need to shift our message from “sales speak” to ”help speak.” Here’s an example of an A/B test of an email sent to prospects who began a form completion but did not complete it. Note the difference in tone.


Subject Line: Your Free RegOnlineAccess

Dear [Name],

You’re just one step away from getting FREE access to RegOnline, our award winning Event Registration and Management Software. Quickly make an event website, try our event marketing tools, build a registration form template, or even generate custom name badges.

Click here to finish your profile and get started. Your personal profile is kept secure and we promise NEVER to sell or misuse your information.

Have questions? Call us direct at 1-800-XXX-XXXX – we can even set up your free access over the phone.


Subject Line: Your Free RegOnlineAccess

Hi [First],

I noticed that you started the process of getting free access to ReOnline but weren’t able to finish. Are you concerned about giving out your phone number? Are you worried about high pressure sales tactics or mandatory contracts?

We believe our product sells itself, so we’re just here to provide you with whatever assistance you need in getting your event up and running – in whatever way works best for you. We promise NEVER to sell or misuse your information.

Call me direct at 1-800-XXX-XXXX and I can help you get rolling. If you’d rather just try again online, use this link instead.

The tone of the one on the right was changed to be more empathetic and yielded a conversion rate of 7% versus 1.5% for the control email.

Finally, marketers need to focus on developing conversations, not campaigns. To the customer, most lead generation campaigns feel like “somebody wants something from me” rather than “here’s a company can help me get what I want.”

We need to demonstrate that we’re genuinely interested in their world and are willing to invest the time to dig in and build a relationship.”

Closing thoughts

Check out Brian’s blog and his recent post – Why Empathetic Marketing Matters. The more we get inside the heads of our customers and prospects, the better job we’ll do in capturing their attention and building the kinds of relationships that lead to business.


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