From selling to caring: the importance of empathy

There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major disruption in our lives.
19 maggio 2022
From selling to caring: the importance of empathy
Silvia Leoni

Client Manager, Brand Strategy & Guidance


Lockdowns, restrictions, and social distancing have changed what we prioritise, how we look at the world, how we relate to ourselves and others, and ultimately how we interact with brands.

We once learned at school that species must adapt to changes in the environment if they want to survive. Brands are no exception. As Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer showed repeatedly over the last year, Italians expect brands to be actively part of ongoing change, serve as allies in their daily lives, and set an example for others to follow.

People expect them to become human and empathetic — and to take customer-centricity to the next level. But what does this empathy look like? And how can bands demonstrate their human sides?

Avoid the price trap

Brands have to recognise that Italian wallets have been hit hard by the pandemic. According to the COVID-19 Barometer, 76% of Italians report that their household income was either impacted by the pandemic or that they expect it to be.

Cutting prices might seem the easiest way to show people that a brand cares. But a price war is always a bad idea. Besides being unprofitable and unsustainable in the long term, a war fought on price shifts the focus away from the elements that make a brand unique . We know that Difference is the biggest determiner of resilience and growth in challenging times. Our analysis has shown that brands in the BrandZ Top100 Most Valuable Global Brands that grew 5% or more in value from 2019 to 2020 scored on average 126 on Difference (the average score of declining brands was 119).

Rather than reducing prices, it’s more important than ever for companies to invest in the brand-building activities that increase their value through Meaningful Difference. 

Empathy goes hand in hand with purpose

BrandZ data from the past 12 years also shows that brands with a recognised purpose have grown their value 2.5 times more than those without one. Purpose enables brands to wrap themselves in human clothing and immerse themselves in current trends and needs.

Luckily (or not), there isn’t one single recipe to follow for purpose. Existing DNA, current offers, target audiences, and the competitive landscape are all elements to take into consideration when identifying what role a brand should play and how it can show its human side.

We have identified two major dimensions across which brands can demonstrate their purpose: collective and individual.

Collective dimensions

When thinking of purpose, a brand’s involvement in initiatives around sustainability and social responsibility typically comes to mind. The world and the society we live in make such involvement no longer an optional commitment. According to Kantar’s Global MONITOR, 76% of Italians (compared with a global average of 73%) say that brand involvement in social issues has an influence on their purchasing intent.

In addition to paying increased attention to the environment (think of Unilever’s commitment to drastically reducing plastic packaging in favour of recycled and recyclable materials), pressing social themes are giving brands an opportunity to take bold positions and demonstrate their involvement in issues near and dear to their consumers’ hearts. 

It’s easy to find examples of brands that have successfully embraced purpose and moved from selling a product to selling their values. For example, when hygiene became a hot topic during the pandemic, detergent brand Napisan put its expertise at the service of the community by offering an educational programme in schools to teach kids the basics of keeping clean.

Baci Perugina, a brand always linked to love, modernised its message recently to be more inclusive. When it produced Dolce Vita, a limited-edition praline made in collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana, it created a product that paid tribute to love in all its expressions.

Individual dimensions

The COVID-19 pandemic also put an increased public focus on mental health. According to the Global MONITOR, people identify wellbeing as their second-most relevant need after protection. This has opened up new opportunities for brands to show a more personal and individual kind of empathy.

Wellbeing starts at home for most brands. More and more companies are promoting initiatives that improve the work/life balance, such as working from home, embracing a four-day work week, implementing employee welfare programmes, and offering days off in recognition of World Mental Health Day.

Externally, brands are also helping customers feel their best. This may seem easier for brands that have health as their unique selling proposition, like fitness clubs or organic foods. But wellbeing can be achieved in many different ways, no matter the category.

In the world of less healthy food, for example, brands can embrace wellbeing as a mental state enabled by indulging in little pleasures. That’s why Ferrero is thriving in an environment focused on health, with three of its chocolate brands — Kinder, Nutella and Ferrero Rocher — among the Top 30 Most Valuable Italian Brands 2022. It also explains why Giovanni Rana saw such a successful launch of its range of limited-edition ravioli (Oro Rosso) with unusual, refined ingredients, while urging people to simply, ‘Enjoy it’.

Flexibility, delegation, usability, and comfort are also key concepts for services and durable goods. Some home appliance brands are launching campaigns promising to take care of everything, so that people can enjoy the moment. For example, a recent TV spot by Electrolux shows a young couple pressing the ‘fish’ function on their oven and enjoying nature while the appliance does the work.

Whenever your brand promises to help the community or support individuals, you should remain true to your mission across all touchpoints, from products and advertising to marketing and brand-building initiatives.

What would empathy be without listening?

Whatever your brand’s chosen path, you always need to hear what people are saying. Feedback, reviews, and customer service are invaluable tools to solidify your connection with consumers and allow your brand to react at speed and stay Meaningfully Different.


Do you want to know more? Discover more Kantar BrandZ webpage.