I listened last week to White House officials explain a recent round of proposed budget cuts by President Trump. Soon after its release, I noticed a backlash on social media by people who believe the decisions in this budget proposal show a lack of empathy on the part of the administration. The message their budget proposal is sending to a group of angry and emotionally charged constituents is that they lack empathy. Maybe they are very empathetic… but they’re not marketing that emotion very well.

Watching the backlash made me worry about the way my library is viewed by the public. We are in the business of serving the under-served. Our industry is driven forward by empathy–by a desire to educate, inspire, and empower people. But, like the President’s staff, we don’t always do a very good job of marketing that emotion.

First, let’s define empathy because it’s often confused with sympathy. Empathy is when you can recognize another person’s emotions and share them. Sympathy doesn’t involve the sharing of emotions—it is simply recognizing what another person is feeling.

Empathy in marketing means you are able to communicate to your customers that you understand and share the emotions they feel. Showing your cardholders that you empathize with them will move them to action. It’s the most nebulous of marketing tactics but also the most effective. If you can get people to understand that you feel the way they feel, that your library is the key to turning their emotions into action, and that their action can lead to change in their community, you will have moved them toward whatever goal you’ve established for your library marketing. People are motivated to action by four main emotions: greed, fear, love, and the chance to grow. Communicating to your cardholders that your library is in tune with them… that you crave, fear, love, and desire the same things they do, will be the difference between meeting your marketing and strategic goals and staying stagnant. People will rally behind an organization that understands them and shares their goals.

I’ll give you an example of this from my library. We know that people in our community are worried about jobs. They want to improve their career prospects and they aren’t many programs in our area aimed at giving people the basic coaching they need to put together a resume, ace an interview, or even to sort through prospective jobs openings to find the right fit for their life and their family. So over the past six months, we’ve partnered with another organization to put on a series of free workshops aimed at improving the job prospects of members of our community. The emotion we’ve used to market that program is hope… a sense of hope for the betterment of our community and a sense of hope for those who thought their chances of getting a better paying, more fulfilling job was pretty hopeless. The workshops are filling up and we’re starting to get media coverage.

Empathy should be infused in every marketing piece we create. That’s because emotions rule consumer behavior… they are the “why” behind the actions we take. Empathy is at the heart of every good novel ever written. The author makes you care about what happens to the characters. Without that, you don’t really want to read the book! Let’s use the same concept in our library marketing.

The best way to market empathy is tell stories about how your library and your staff is impacting the lives of others. Don’t script it. Let the librarians and the customers share in their own words. Share those stories in your newsletters, on your blog, in your press releases, and in videos. Choose small segments of your population, think about the core ideals and values that drive their lives, and connect those ideals to the work of your library. Ask your interviewees questions about how they feel. And let their words inspire other cardholders to action.

For more ways to inspire your cardholders to feel all the feels, read this.

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