The Empathy Sell

  |  May 30, 2003   |  Comments

There's no such thing as an 'average' visitor. Time to get to know a bunch of new people.

"Empathy" is the "identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives." Lack of empathy is evident in almost every article we read and every Web site we visit.

To truly communicate with your visitors, you must put yourself in their shoes. They're not all wearing the same shoes, by the way.

Can you answer these questions?

  • What's your average visitor like?

  • How many pages does your average visitor see?

  • What's the average purchase of the average visitor?

  • How many competitors does your average visitor visit?

  • What does your average visitor think is most valuable about your product or service?

  • What's the average age, gender, and location of your average visitor?

Do you know the answers? They have very limited value, mostly as trend reporting. Reason being there is no such thing as an average visitor.

Believing in an average visitor is much more dangerous than believing in Santa Claus. The average-visitor myth costs businesses billions of dollars in missed opportunities from Web sites that should convert multiples much more than they do.

The advertising man studies the consumer. He tries to place himself in the position of the buyer. --Claude Hopkins, "Scientific Advertising"

Each of the millions of people who visit your site is a unique individual. I'm not saying you should personalize the site for every one of them. But if you got to know them on a one-to-one basis, you might find rather than lumping them into one average user, you'd instead recognize a number of typical users.

You can begin to discern distinctive, individual characteristics of visitors and how they interact with your product or service. If you used visitor demographics and psychographics and the topographics of the way your product or service is bought, you could come up with four to eight highly representational (though not average) visitors you'll understand better.

This is where empathy becomes so very important. It's hard to walk a mile in the shoes of an average man. The more distinct and less abstract your typical visitor's profile, the easier it is to put yourself in his shoes.

Talk in terms of the other man's interests. --Dale Carnegie, "How to Win Friends and Influence People"

Most Web sites try to be all things to all visitors. They hurl communications out there, hoping something will stick.

A smarter approach is to target a narrow slice of potential customers and direct a message toward solving their immediate problem. In connecting with a specific buyer's unique needs, the message has a much better chance of persuading your prospect to take the action you want her to take.

Feeling your customers' pain helps you find a perfect solution to their problems. Understanding what they fear lets you address those fears and break down their barriers to buying from you. Standing firmly in their shoes helps you see which words and images will reach, motivate, delight, enthuse, and make them want to buy what you sell.

Visitors know immediately when copy is written for them. Your inwardly focused copy about how great your company is seems nothing more than you "wewe-ing" all over yourself. Don't tell them how much you care. They gauge if you care by the amount of effort spent addressing their needs. Don't tell them you understand their problem; prove you do by writing copy from their perspective.

Your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person -- a real person you know, or an imagined person -- and write to that one. --John Steinbeck

Assuming your Web site is intended to persuade, not merely inform, Steinbeck's advice can prove invaluable. Here's how to put it into practice:

  1. Prospect your visitor by using her language.

  2. Build rapport by keeping copy relevant and addressing her issues.

  3. Qualify your visitor by leading her down the path she's most interested in.

  4. Present only the solution she's qualified herself as interested in.

  5. Close for the action you want her to take only after demonstrating you understand her problem and have her solution.

Put yourself in the shoes of one of those typical visitors. Can you imagine arriving at your landing page and clicking through your buying process' hyperlinks (which mirror your selling process)? Does every click feel completely relevant and made just for you?

If you answered no, why should your visitor feel differently?

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is co-founder and chief marketing officer (CMO) of IdealSpot. He is co-author of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times best-selling books Call to Action, Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?, and Always Be Testing, and Buyer Legends. Bryan is a keynote speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as Gultaggen,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others for the past 10 years. Bryan was named a winner of the Marketing Edge's Rising Stars Awards, recognized by eConsultancy members as one of the top 10 User Experience Gurus, selected as one of the inaugural iMedia Top 25 Marketers, and has been recognized as most influential in PPC, Social Selling, OmniChannel Retail. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of several venture capital backed companies such as Sightly, UserTesting, Monetate, ChatID, Nomi, and BazaarVoice. He works with his co-author and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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