Lee Odden

Making the Leap: Egocentric to Empathy in Content Marketing

Egocentric to Empathy in Online MarketingImagine this scenario:  Company XYZ has developed a great business creating products and services, developing marketing programs that explain the features and benefits of those offerings and making sales.  The mix of SEO, advertising and newsletter is focused on explaining the solutions offered with the intention of educating and persuading prospects to buy. This is the way it’s been done in the past and it’s what current marketing programs are based on. Pretty common right?

But let’s also imagine in our hypothetical situation that sales growth has started to slow down or even slumped. Competitors are starting to eclipse Company XYZ in search results, the blog doesn’t really get many shares, likes, links or comments and it’s nothing but crickets chipring on the Facebook Fan page, on Twitter and the YouTube channel.  The staff responsible for creating content are running out of ideas. Seem familiar?

There are tens of thousands of companies in this situation: stagnant marketing and slow or loss of momentum.

Many times when agencies like TopRank Online Marketing are tapped to help established companies fix or step up the performance of their online marketing mix, one of the most common situations we see is the need to transition from an egocentric view of marketing to one of customer empathy.  I’m not saying these companies don’t care about their customers, they really do.  But SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing programs that are focused solely on the product/service Features and Benefits model are running their course.

The need for this transition is especially present with content marketing focused programs.  A Content Marketing: Discovery > Consumption > Sharing model means leveraging SEO, Social Media, Online PR and Email Marketing to help customers find, understand and promote company content to boost awareness, engagement and sales. But if the content topics are solely focused on what the company deems important, such as features and benefits, then there can be significant disadvantage.

Say Company XYZ has decided the mix of content on their website focused on explaining the products/services in the feature and benefit style. That means the company is deciding what’s important. It’s their egocentric view of their offering that drives content. When a company is solely focused on explaining its own point of view, they may be missing numerous and compelling opportunities to create the kind of content that gets shared, linked to and that inspires sales.

The transition from egocentric to empathy simply means looking at the company’s products/services offer from the customer point of view. Doing so opens up a bevy of content creation and social engagement opportunities. I know this sounds intuitive and obvious, but my experience over the past 13 years as an online marketer has been that common sense is indeed, the least common thing. 🙂

How to make the change? Here are a few simple steps towards opening up a goldmine of content marketing and social media engagement opportunity:

1. Create personas about your ideal customers identifying their preferences for content discovery, consumption and sharing. What are their pain points, what situations are characteristic of their need to buy your solution? Use those personas as customer segmentation guides for creating a Social & Content Marketing strategy.

2. Audit your existing content and reconcile it with the information customers really need to: buy, use & recommend your products/services.

3. Tap into Customer Service and Sales departments discussions with customers to find out what the most common questions are. Develop a creative strategy to answer those questions with content and media online, on an ongoing basis. Make a topic matrix in your editorial plan that will help you manage planned creation, optimization, promotion and measurement of this customer-centric content.

4. Use real-time and social media monitoring tools to identify questions being asked about topics of interest for your target audience and products/services mix.  Something as simple as a persistent query on search.twitter.com can reveal topics to cover in your content plan as well as engagement opportunities. Quora and Facebook are also useful in this way.

5. Crowdsource content from active customers and fans. Present challenges or requests for opinion and information on relevant topics from your social networks and customers to create new content shared with the community. Topics could range from the reasons why the category of products/services is important to innovative uses by current customers.  Recognize contributions publicly to reinforce participation and sharing behaviors. Find ways for fans to participate in a way that meets their needs and in doing so, help meet your brand’s objectives.

There are many other angles a company could take once the door of thinking like a customer is opened. There’s a time and place for brands to decide what information is best for customers but the days of using that egocentric approach as the driver for content is over. Tap into what’s important to your customers, build trust and engage them to create a more sustainable approach to content marketing success.

We have many, many smart marketers reading this blog, so how have you helped your organization think about content with more empathy towards customer needs? Are there creative examples you can share?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Black Seo Guy says

    A company must be willing to step outside the box and get things down in a more newer fashion..once they do that then the rest just comes in time..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  2. Avatar Anonymous says

    Great point on the 5 steps. The 5th step is the trickiest because the content has to have value. In my experience, fans and followers are not looking to be a brand’s friend. The reason why they follow the brand is to receive information about the brand as it relates to products and promotions. It’s the brands job to deliver.

    When asking for content, it does give them a sense of ownership and participation, especially when they see the growth of your brand’s social presence.

    Recognizing their contributions is also key because not only does it show them you are listening to them and appreciate their participation, it also increase your brand’s digital footprint.

    Community Manager | Alterian

    • It really depends on the company and market. I don’t think anyone can accurately generalize that all people follow brands to get promotions – especially when it comes to B2B, which is an area of focus for our agency and the content on this blog. For example, we have 8,500 fans on Facebook without a single promotion.

      But it’s not limited to B2B. We have a retail client that is getting great engagement and website traffic by asking customers to share photos of things they’ve made with our clients’ products. In this case there are also promotions, but it’s evidence that customers do want to engage with the brand through content and not just exist on the receiving end of information.

  3. Hi Lee,
    Yeah, ‘buy my xyz, it’s really good, it has abc’, is sure not the best approach to find people that could be interested in your products/services. Nice descriptive contrast; egocentric vs empathy!

    I think we should note; features and benefits should make up part of the ‘sales’ message. The sales message is for those people that show interest in your products/services once they have likely found you through good content marketing (where the ‘marketing’ message is focused on helping people out).

    • Good point James – I don’t mean to discourage feature benefit content, this post is to inspire content creation in addition to it.

  4. Stop Writing about Everything. So many brands create content and try to cover everything, instead of focusing on the core niche that they can position themselves as an expert around. No one cares about your special recipe. No one cares about your iPad review, that has nothing to do with marketing automation.

    Find your niche, and then go even more niche. For example, let’s say you sell travel gear for pets. If that is the case, don’t create a blog on “pets” or “pet supplies”. Create consistent and valuable content to solve your customers’ problems around traveling with pets. Seems simple, but many companies make this mistake. For more, this one may help: Content Marketing Stinks: Fix It.

    • Alex, I agree with you but sometimes there are some niches where you have to go up otherwise you’ll not have anything to talk about!

      Either way regarding the post, I think if we want empathy then we have to help people. Creating a persona helps to know how we can help our target.

      Why on earth would people like to read a blog about a company where every post is about a different aspect of the company product, anyway?

      • That’s the thing Peter, people do want to connect with brands that are useful and not a spew about product. If a brand can master the art of both, then it’s a win all around.

  5. I really like what you said “There are many other angles a company could take once the door of thinking like a customer is opened.” Thinking like the customer is one of our biggest challenges when marketing. It’s something that should be in the forefront of our minds while creating content. Great article! Thanks for the knowledge.

  6. we haven’t done the last one, but a competitor has and it has worked wonders for them. They simply used a forum that they first padded out with an excel database of comments, then they sent a mailout to customers to join and it became organic. Customers of the company are the mods! its madness.

  7. Marketing is adding something new everyday.

  8. Avatar Ozio Media says

    One of the best ways to start thinking like a customer is to tap directly into your customer base. Inspire interaction on your social media pages by posting a short survey or poll as a way to inquire about what pains your customers and what their wants and needs are. This will get them talking and sharing. Include a promotional offer as an incentive to get current and potential customers to participate such as a coupon or an exclusive discount.

  9. Avatar Jason Montoya says

    Auditing your content is important, Many times we write something and a few years later things have changed. Going back and updating it is a good way to stay relevant.