The importance of empathy in copywriting

I don’t think I’ve met a professional copywriter who was a full-on extrovert. Those I’ve met through the years have had a calm disposition, an air of introspection, a sniff of mental anguish.

Maybe it’s because copywriting, for the most part, is a solitary endeavour; or maybe it’s because copywriters are innately sensitive souls, forever on the cusp of an empathetic tear jerk.

Whether it’s down to nature or nurture, a strong sense of empathy can be a distinct advantage in understanding peoples’ motivations. The copywriters’ ability to transport ourselves to the mind’s eye of the customer can make the difference between average copywriting and great copywriting: between having our words skimmed over or having them persuade a customer to take action.

A strong sense of empathy can be a distinct advantage in understanding peoples’ motivations.

Understanding motivations

 To create an emotional world your reader can buy into (literally and metaphorically), you first need to understand who the reader is. What drives them? What motivates them? What excites them?

I’m not a fan of acronyms but one that guides the entire copywriting process for me is ‘WIIFT’ or ‘what’s in it for them?’. In other words, what are the benefits for the customer to whom you’re communicating? This is much easier to answer once you have a picture of the reader in your mind.

Research vs Intuition

I’ve worked with agencies on website projects where we’ve created user profiles in painstaking detail to try and suss out WIIFT. Not many copywriters are afforded this research time but in my experience it’s a crucial step in creating an effective user experience.

But what if clients don’t budget for this research time? Can copywriters replace customer research with our imaginations and human empathy? I’d argue not, especially when UX and a customer journey is involved. Can we intuit our way into the heads, and the hearts, of the audience? I’d say yes, though it should never be a substitute for desk research.

Clients should remember this when they’re sent copywriting quotes with several hours (sometime days depending on the size of the project) allocated for research.

How important is empathy in copywriting? And can you replace empathy with research? Would love to hear thoughts and views.



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