Welcome back to a new season of the Drag & Drop Show!
Empathy is one of the most abstract concepts that are part of our emotional toolkit but also the one that everyone understands deeply. It almost slips through your fingers, this “ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.”
We know empathy unlocks creativity, self-expression, we know that it’s fundamental for rewarding relationships. But how does that apply to the world of business where emotions have only recently become part of the conversation?
Creatives have been advocating since forever that we must bring our whole selves to work and we seem to finally be in the right place to erase for good the artificial boundary between work and personal.
So what role does empathy play in all these aspects of our lives, in this transformation?
How can we practice empathy towards ourselves, our clients, our colleagues, our employees, and managers?
Is it worth it?
One of the reasons we dedicated this season of the Drag & Drop Show to empathy is that an empathic attitude is essential to our evolution, to how we derive achievement and a sense of reward from our work. It impacts and transforms the way we do business and live our lives.
Empathy is like a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it. You have to be mindful of it and to think, talk, and write about it so that it’s always top of mind. That’s exactly what Kaleigh Moore – our first guest of the season – practices in her day-to-day life.
In today’s episode, we explore the various nuances of empathy, such as understanding that every day is different for each person and that clear communication, trust, and honesty should be at the core of every healthy relationship. We also take a walk to the marketing side, revealing how empathy bridges the gap between content creators and readers by surfacing pain points through customer interviews and thorough research.
The way Kaleigh shares her experience is incredibly relatable and honest. No wonder she creates just the type of content that people instantly resonate with! Borrow her hands-on ideas and concepts so you can use them in your own empathy practice.
Introducing Kaleigh Moore
Kaleigh Moore researches and writes blog content for eCommerce platforms and the SaaS tools that integrate with them and that’s not the only thing she’s known for.
Her work also includes supporting other freelancers on their path to building their companies of one through one-to-one coaching, courses, podcasts, community involvement, and even dedicated products which she recently launched.
Before being a freelancer, Kaleigh was a writer and photographer for a state-wide magazine, she worked as the PR Manager for a hunger relief organization, and owned a successful eCommerce business that specialized in vintage jewellery.
After 6 years of full-time freelance writing, she’s one of the most sought-after content creators and a community leader many look up to, myself included.
Stuff I was curious to know:
- Were there any inflection points in helping you build relationships with clients, with other partners or freelancers? What role did empathy play in that? (14:41)
- How was the experience of working for the hunger relief non-profit and how did you find balance in this role? (17:00)
- Do you think that practicing empathy is a way to get more meaning out of your work? (19:36)
- Do you choose your topics according to something that you empathize with? (25:01)
- Do you think that empathy is something that all brands in all industries can practice? Or are there any limitations to it? (30:16)
- How and when do you find the time to connect with the community and how has it impacted your business over the years? (38:41)
What you can learn from this episode:
- How you can cultivate and practice empathy. (04:44)
- The difference between empathy and sympathy. (06:25)
- How empathy impacts building and keeping strong relationships. (07:10)
- How to let go of a client, without burning bridges. (11:09)
- Examples of brands that successfully apply the empathy formula in their ads. (27:08)
- The red flags when a piece of content is lacking empathy. (32:16)
- The importance of customer research for writing empathic content. (34:21)
Practicing empathy in our professional relationships
Whether you’re a freelancer working with a client, an employee or a manager, a healthy partnership comes from understanding one another’s needs and background. As a manager, you have to accept that it takes a bit of time for a person to get used to your way of thinking and that their work might not be perfect right from the beginning. It’s your job to highlight what they’ve done great, but also to guide them toward your vision of the end project by suggesting changes and improvements. As a freelancer or an employee, you should get clear on what the core values of the company are and do your best to emphasize them in whatever project you need to deliver. Also, constantly striving to make their life easier leads to trust and freedom of expression in the long run. Open communication and honesty, without trying to make the other person feel inferior in any way, ensure strong and lasting relationships.
The importance of keeping empathy top of mind
If you don’t consider yourself a strong enough empath, don’t worry – you can practice and get better at it. The key ingredient to growing this ability is to constantly be aware of it. How can you do that? By reading, writing, thinking about it, and consciously looking for ways to practice it with the people around you. It’s easy to fall back in old habits, but by keeping an open mind and never assuming you know enough on this topic, you can evolve into a more empathetic person that builds powerful connections with everyone you meet.
Giving the benefit of the doubt in online and offline encounters
There’s a lot of ambiguity and interpretation in the way a message is understood, especially online. However, the same is true for offline, one-on-one conversations. Kaleigh emphasizes that, in order to not get bent out of shape whenever somebody would say something you interpret as negative, you should give people the most generous benefit of the doubt. Make the “it’s nothing personal” perspective your default. Everyone has bad days and not taking to heart any hurtful message is proof of empathy. Understanding that they might just be releasing their negative energies in any way they can curb conflict before it begins. This generous approach involves moving past the issue or remark and not firing back angry responses that only perpetuate a tense state of mind.
Be empathetic but always remember to balance it with by valuing your time
Oftentimes, empaths tend to neglect themselves when helping other people. Saying “yes” to every request might be tempting and might give off a feeling of higher self-worth, but the risk is limiting your own growth. Time is the most precious resource you have. It’s the only thing you don’t get back and there are only so many hours in a day! As you get busier and busier, you should create a balance between focusing on yourself versus serving others. This doesn’t mean helping less, but rather finding ways to offer support to people and, at the same time, enjoying the emotional reward attached to it.
Andra Zaharia: “It’s like they’re reading my mind. I’m not a podcast person – I actually prefer reading – but this is the first podcast I’ve ever wanted to consume in its entirety. In the last year, I’ve been working to transition from a full-time designer at an ad agency to a freelancer. Every time I listen to an episode, they hit on a topic that is super relevant to my current situation – such as setting rates, getting clients, networking, and impostor syndrome. I love hearing the advice they have to offer and it feels like you’re sitting in on a conversation with two of your good friends: casual, friendly, and insightful. I can’t wait for season three!”
Andra Zaharia: This is one of the reactions that today’s podcast guest receives for her work. She’s just the kind of person who creates an instant feeling of connection, closeness, and relatability, like I have rarely seen online or offline. So, let’s find out together what it takes to create the type of content that people instantly resonate with.
Andra Zaharia: Welcome to the Drag & Drop show, where we explore how practicing empathy transforms how we do business and live our lives. I’m your host, Andra Zaharia, a fellow podcast listener and creator. This season, I’m on a journey with Bannersnack to discover how leading women around the world use empathy to connect in the work that matters. Join us to find out how to drag and drop small acts of empathy into our daily lives to make it more rewarding for us, and those around us.
Andra Zaharia: Today’s podcast guest is Kaleigh Moore. She researches and writes blog content for eCommerce platforms and the SaaS tools that integrate with them and that’s not the only thing she’s known for. Her work also includes supporting other freelancers on their path to building their companies of one through one-to-one coaching, courses, podcasts, community involvement, and even dedicated products which she launched recently. Before being a freelancer, Kaleigh was a writer and photographer for a state-wide magazine. She worked as the PR Manager for a hunger relief organization and owned a successful eCommerce business that specialized in vintage jewelry. After six years of full-time freelance writing, she’s one of the most sought-after content creators and the community leader many people look up to – myself included.
Andra Zaharia: So, Kaleigh, tell me about a time when empathy made a big impact on your life.
Kaleigh Moore: Oh, that’s a big question! I feel like empathy is something that makes an impact on my life every day, so it’s hard to really pin it down to one specific situation. But, when I think about a work context, I think about times where the people that I’ve been hired by – a Content Manager, or an Editor – have really taken the time to sit down and kind of understand where I’m coming from when we were working on a piece together. I think that that empathy goes a long way when you’re writing something, especially when it’s the first assignment that you’ve done with a new company because you really want to do a good job, you want to impress the person that you’re working with, and sometimes you just miss the mark. And so, empathy plays a big role in that the people who I am really impressed by, they don’t come in and try to make me feel small or stupid, or like I should know things. They’re the ones who come in and say, “I really liked what you did here and I understand why you maybe took this approach in this section, but it’s not quite on the mark. Here’s how we can fix it.” So, in my day-to-day work, that type of empathy is something that is very impactful to me, I always remember it, I always look for it, and those are always my strongest relationships, and usually the people I end up working with long term. So, I think that that goes both ways, too. I really try hard to be empathetic towards the people who hire me, as well, and ask questions like, “How can I make your life easier? What are the things that I can include, that will make things go faster for you?” So, just a lot of understanding – I think that that’s at the core of empathy and a lot of open communication, a lot of just being really honest, but not trying to just make the other person feel inferior or less than, in some way.
Andra Zaharia: Have you found that that sort of attitude is something that comes naturally for people or that they strive to cultivate this in any way?
Kaleigh Moore: I think it depends. I definitely think that it’s something that you can practice and cultivate and get better at. For me, I don’t think that I was always the most empathetic person, but I’ve been reading a lot of Brené Brown and really learning about what empathy means, and I’m doing better at understanding how to exemplify it, rather than just thinking of it as this broad concept that is words and really translating it into actions. So, it is a practice, for sure. It’s like a muscle that gets stronger – the more you use it, the better you get at it. And it takes some ongoing work, it really has to be top of mind because it’s so easy to fall back into that normal, just thinking about yourself, putting yourself first over everything else. I think that that’s kind of our default state. So, you have to work at it, for sure! So, even for the people who aren’t empathetic when I first meet them, I have seen people evolve over time, self-included.
Andra Zaharia: I love that you mentioned Brené Brown because I’ve always found her definition or analysis of empathy to be very inspiring because I think that her work, personally for me, she helped me build this emotional vocabulary, I guess. She taught me how to talk about certain aspects of empathy or other sorts of feelings and emotions and reactions in a way that helps clarify them. I love how she differentiates between empathy and sympathy, showing that empathy is about connection, while sympathy is more trying to come up with a solution when sometimes all people want is to be heard and to be listened to. So, I’m really glad you mentioned that! And I found this to be true as well, in the sense of cultivating awareness around empathy and how we practice it is key to actually learning how to do it right – and it does take a good amount of practice, especially because it also depends on culture, on context, on so many things, and even on stages in our lives when we find it more difficult to invest energy in this direction versus other times when we do it naturally and very openly.
Andra Zaharia: So, I was also curious, you have a lot of experience with working with so many different types of people, with having all these conversations online and off – online, especially, because I get to partake in those more often. I’m curious to know why you think empathy is so important throughout all these relationships? Because we may think that this is something obvious for most people, but sometimes the why behind it gets lost in everything else that we do.
Kaleigh Moore: So, do you mean it like a client – freelancer relationship? Just to clarify a little bit.
Andra Zaharia: More like in a community involvement kind of perspective.
Kaleigh Moore: Oh, okay. So, of course, what comes to mind for me, is Twitter because that’s where I spend most of my time, and that’s the community where I find myself participating most often. But I think, when it comes to communities, even if it’s an in-person community or another environment online, I think that so often there’s a lot of gray areas, and there’s a lot of area for ambiguity and interpretation, and sometimes people say things that could hit you the wrong way, depending on what kind of day you’re having. And so, again, I love what Brené Brown says about just giving people the most generous assumption and just giving them the benefit of the doubt, basically – just not taking anything that people say online to heart. I’m not getting super offended by it; I’m just assuming that they didn’t mean it in any certain way. So, this has saved me from a lot of mental pain or emotional pain, because, in the past, I would really get bent out of shape if somebody would say something that I interpreted as negative or hurtful or just anything other than good. So, I think it’s good to have empathy when thinking about it, like, “Well, maybe they’re not mad at me”, or “Maybe they’re not having the best day; maybe there’s something else going on in their life.” I think that that applies across the board. It even extends to personal relationships, client relationships. One day, for example, I had an editor who gave me really angry edits, and you could see within the comments that they left in the document that they were pissed off, they were having a bad day. And I knew it was one of those situations where it’s like, “You’re not mad at me. Something else is going on. I can’t take this personally.” So, again, that’s the most generous assumption and just moving past it and not taking it personally and again, having empathy and understanding that every day is different for every single person.
Andra Zaharia: Absolutely! I’m very curious, how did that turn out? How did that relationship evolve when you gave that person the benefit of the doubt and just let it slide sometimes?
Kaleigh Moore: Yeah, it was fine. I mean, we still ended up working together even after that, and it didn’t happen again. So, I could tell that something was going on, they were having a hard time and I didn’t get hung up on it, and I didn’t fire back in an angry response, like, “What the hell are these edits? What is this? Why are you so mad at me?” I just rolled with it and let it go, and I think it worked out for the best. Now, that’s not to say that happens every time. Some people truly are angry all the time – that’s just how they are – but again, by having that assumption that people are messy and people have bad days, it really solves a lot of problems and it saves you emotional distress.
Andra Zaharia: Absolutely! That emotional labor that we do anyway every single day is a big part of our work – often kind of unacknowledged, even by us sometimes. I’m very curious to find out, given that sometimes you have to give negative feedback to a client and, as a freelancer that’s been doing this for so long I bet you’ve had to even maybe fire some clients at some point. So, I would like to dig into how you go about doing this in a way that doesn’t ruin the relationship – if it’s the case – and if you can put together a separation that doesn’t leave any hard feelings behind and how that works? I assume that some of these clients maybe didn’t see it coming, they didn’t see the end of this relationship coming.
Kaleigh Moore: Yeah! I’m a big believer in not burning bridges. I think connections are huge and even if it’s not a good working relationship anymore, you still want to have a positive association with that person in their mind. So, for me, the best way to either fire a client or to phase them out is always to position it as my bandwidth – I don’t have the bandwidth to continue this right now to do a good job for you – and then to make a referral to somebody else who maybe is a better fit or who has more time to dedicate to somebody who maybe needs a little bit more hands-on. That, for me, has been the best way to transition out of a relationship that maybe isn’t working for the best, and when I make those referrals, I always make sure to let the other person know that I’m recommending, “Hey, this person needs somebody a little bit more hands-on, they like open communication…” and just being really clear, not just pushing somebody off onto somebody else because it wasn’t a good fit for me, but being clear about, “This is what they need and what I’m struggling to deliver.” If it’s somebody who was – and I’ve only had this happen once or twice – if it was somebody who was truly awful to work with, really terrible, usually I’ll just say, “Okay, at the end of this project, we’re going to wrap things up. I won’t be able to take on any future projects. I’m going to be taking a break for a while” and just leaving it at that. So, I’m not saying, “I hate you, you are a terrible client. I never want to work with you again.” But again, kind of bowing out as, “I’m going to be taking some time off” or, “I am full for the next month” and leaving it at that. I think that that’s a really tactful way to end a relationship.
Andra Zaharia: It absolutely is, and it’s also a show of respect for everyone involved. I think one of the most challenging aspects of being a content creator, of being a freelancer, and juggling with these roles at the same time, I think is that there’s a lot of nuance in the work that you do, and in the work that content creators do, and there’s a lot of nuance not in just the work itself, but the process behind it, which I think is equally important as the work itself. When I say process, I mean everything that goes into building these relationships with clients, with other partners in the industry, other freelancers, and so on and so forth, to actually be able to deliver to the best of our abilities. So, that’s something that I’ve always appreciated about you and about your work – that I try to learn from – is that I see that you have a very structured and refined way of approaching these things, but at the same time, it’s also very natural, and it’s not forced in any way. So, I’m curious to find out if there were any inflection points in helping you build this process over the years, and what role empathy played in that? And empathy towards yourself as well.
Kaleigh Moore: I don’t think that there was any particular moment that sticks out in my mind as an inflection point. I think it’s been a slow evolution over time. Like I said, the more I read, the more I learn, the more I keep an open mind when it comes to getting better at empathy, the smarter I get. And like you said, it’s that emotional intelligence. So, really, kind of just having the self-awareness to know that people can always improve. I think, personally, for me, that’s been really helpful. I’ve also started going to therapy in the last couple of years, and so that’s been a nice dose of external perspective, which helps me see things a little bit differently. I’m a really sensitive person, so I think that that’s helpful when it comes to empathy because you know how easily things can hurt or be misinterpreted or misconstrued. But then, taking a step outside of myself and applying that to other people as well, whether it’s work relationships, personal, romantic – whatever it is – that’s helped me to just kind of become a smarter human. So, like I said, it’s been an evolution, and it’s going to be as long as I’m alive. I hope that I continue to keep improving and learning and never really get to a point where I’m like, “Okay, I think I got this now!” I feel like that’s the red flag when you think you’ve got it down or you’re the best you can be. That’s the danger zone. But, yeah, I think it’s just about learning and keeping your eyes open and understanding that everybody’s day and everybody’s life is challenging. Like, every single day is hard for every person, no matter if you have the best life in the world, everybody has problems, and I think if you can just keep that at the top of mind, you’re good. You’ll remember to be a nice human.
Andra Zaharia: Absolutely! I think that the student’s mindset is kind of a precondition for empathy or a necessary condition for us to be able to actually practice it and not just feel these things and just go about our business. You mentioned that you’re a very sensitive person, and I heard you talk about this with Paul Jarvis, as well, on the Creative Class Podcast. I was curious because I know that in the past, you worked as a PR manager for a hunger relief non-profit, so, that level of sensitivity coupled to exposure to all these difficult problems, all the time – how was that experience for you? How did you learn how to find balance in this role?
Kaleigh Moore: It was tough! I think that that job for me was a great experience because it really challenged me, it pushed me to step outside my comfort zone. I did a lot of public speaking, a lot of media engagements where I would go on TV shows or radio shows or speak with reporters, and sometimes from those interactions, either from inside the organization or from talking to those media folks, I would get feedback. I was very young at the time, too, so that kind of comes with the territory, but I would get feedback on how I could do better or maybe where I messed up or misspoke or misstepped. And that, for me, was so hard because I was trying my best, and I just felt like I was letting everybody down, and that was that extreme sensitivity on my part where they didn’t mean anything negative – they were trying to help me. They were trying to help me get better. And so, I tried to adopt that same mentality with the work I do today, whereas, if somebody has constructive criticism to offer, I try to be open to it and look at it as helpful rather than hurtful. And I think I’m much better at that in my work life than I am in my personal life. But again, work in progress – I’m working on it.
Andra Zaharia: I completely empathize with that. Actually, I think that we have so much more clarity and control over the things that are work-related, especially because we’ve invested so much time and so much energy into fine-tuning them, into understanding them, into building these frameworks in our minds, to help us deal with complex challenges. But when it comes to personal stuff, it’s more difficult to be objective and to actually see the forest from the trees. Thank you for sharing that story with us! I think that it’s so important to look at things in hindsight, and obviously, things are much clearer when we do, but also taking the time and a moment to take a step back and try to gain that emotional distance from the things that trouble us the most from the most complex challenges in our lives. And nowadays, we have an incredible amount of them, all around us. So, that’s one of the reasons that we wanted to create this entire season that’s focused on empathy because that is so important to how we evolve as humans and how we derive achievement and that sense of reward and meaning from our work. And, speaking of that, because I found, both for myself and for the people around us, especially in creative roles, that people are on this constant search for meaning. Do you think that practicing empathy is a way to get more meaning out of your work? And how would you go about doing that? Or how do you do it, if you practice it that way?
Kaleigh Moore: I think that it’s kind of a slippery slope when it comes to deriving meaning or value from your work. I thought about this a lot. I’ve been freelancing for six years now, full-time. In the early days, I kind of competed with myself to always do better, whether that was to get bigger-name clients, or better bylines or earn more money, or whatever it would be. And while that was great – and, at the time, I was deriving a lot of meaning from it, and I was feeling great – eventually, I got to the point where I’m only one person, so I couldn’t scale it any further, so I just started getting really resentful and angry and disappointed in myself when I didn’t out-earn or meet some unrealistic standard I had set for myself. And so, I think that when people look to their work or the amount of money they make, or the accolades they get as a source of meaning, that’s tricky. I think that that’s a really dangerous place to be. I think there’s definitely a small scale where, yeah, you should be proud of the work that you do, but I think when it comes to the meaning of life, work has very little to do with it. So, again, that’s something that I’ve had to learn the hard way, and through trial and error, and I still struggle with it. I still beat myself up over, “Oh, I could have earned a little bit more money” or “I could have taken on that job” or “I could have gotten that byline if I had a better pitch.” But then, I try to take a step back and remember, “I am not my work. I am not the amount of money I make. There’s so much more to me than that!” And so, decoupling from that is especially hard in the US where we’re so work-bound, and we’re so like, “What do you do? How much money you make?” I have to kind of remove myself from that, a little bit. And it’s not easy, but again, I’m working on it.
Andra Zaharia: That is a big challenge indeed, and one that I feel myself and I think that many people listening to this episode will resonate with this message, simply because if you’re always in high-performance mode, it’s so difficult to detach and so difficult to find that thrill and that sense of satisfaction that you get from work somewhere else, especially because we’re left with too little time to devote to other things other than work, when we’re so caught up and when we over-schedule ourselves. So, how did you manage to find this balance? Because I think that this is a form of empathy towards ourselves, which maybe sometimes it’s something that we practice the least of all.
Kaleigh Moore: I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. I have a partner who is a really good accountability partner for me and just kind of checks in, he’s like, “Hey, you’re overdoing it right now!” Or, “Hey, I can tell you’re burning out. You need to pump the brakes a little bit.” So, that’s super helpful. If you don’t have a partner who’s good at it, I always encourage people to get a fellow freelancer or an Internet friend or an in-person friend who can be that check-in person for you. Again, I think therapy is really helpful because it’s just a time where you sit down for an hour and are forced to reflect on yourself and the things that you’re saying, too. And I think also, I’m not a big journaler, but I’m somebody who spends a lot of time inside my own head, so just thinking through choices made, decisions made, things that were said, not to the point of really ruminating on them and getting stuck on them, but being self-aware enough to look back and be like, “I could have done that better” or “I was being too hard on myself” – things like that.
Andra Zaharia: That is very helpful advice! And indeed, they don’t sound like big things, but they make such a big difference when you apply them, and when you make them a constant part of your life, not just something that you do every now and then because I think that this consistency in kind of having to remind ourselves constantly that it’s okay to slow down, and it’s okay to take breaks, and it will actually make your life and work better. I think that that’s so important, and it’s so important to have someone that kind of watches over us and just takes us back to the right path when we tend to stray and maybe go back to our old habits that we’re trying to break.
Kaleigh Moore: Definitely!
Andra Zaharia: Moving a little bit from the process to the work itself, I was wondering if you ever choose your topics? So, you’re very connected to eCommerce, DTC, you work with a lot of SaaS businesses, and I was wondering if you choose your topics according to something that you empathize with, and kind of how that process goes for you?
Kaleigh Moore: So, when it comes to the topics that I cover, I usually don’t have a whole lot of say over what I’m writing about. But that said, I do think empathy is a big part of the content creation process. Usually, in the briefs that I ask my clients to fill out, there’s a whole section on pain points. So, that’s kind of a marketer praying thing to do, but it’s also a form of empathy. So, you’re asking yourself as you sit down and write, what are the things that these people that are going to be reading this, are struggling with? And what are the problems that they’re facing and how can we solve them? So, again, that’s a form of empathy. I actually wrote a really long form post on Empathy in Marketing for Copyhackers, where it really gets into the weeds and why that works and why taking that emotional angle is so effective, not just for content creation, but for sales, for website copy, for any type of writing, really. It’s really interesting to look at the psychology of decision-making and interest, really, like when somebody sits down to read something if it resonates emotionally and it connects with them on some sort of empathetic level, it’s much more effective than if it doesn’t.
Andra Zaharia: I will definitely link to that in the show notes because that is an article that I think is evergreen, and it’s incredibly important to read for all content creators, not just those who write articles or create some sort of written content. It’s an incredibly important formula and although reducing empathy to a formula may sound strange, I think that it helps us actually practice it and be mindful of the elements instead of just thinking that we’ll naturally incorporate it into whatever we do, and whatever we create. Do you have any examples of brands that consistently apply this empathy formula and that are consistently very attuned to their audiences?
Kaleigh Moore: Of course I do! This is my jam! So, the first one that comes to mind for me, as a dog lover, is the ASPCA, which is the animal protection – the big one – here in the US at least; I think it might be global, I’m not sure. But they’re the ones with those dog commercials where they play Sarah McLachlan, and it’s really sad, and the animals are in crates, and they look really, really sad and upset, and they’re asking for donations. So, this really, really speaks to the viewer’s empathy and it really teases out, “Don’t you feel sorry for them? Don’t you want to help them?” And I think that that is a really obvious example of speaking to empathy and it’s really teasing that out within a larger marketing play, which is kind of gross, but it works. Another that comes to mind, I think of brands like Gatorade and Nike – they really speak to athletes in that competitive spirit, which, when we think of empathy, we often think about being sad, but I think empathy can also be any emotion. So, it can be empathizing with confidence and success. And so, when you have these images and messages of really successful athletes who are in the Olympics or doing amazing things, people want to mirror that themselves. And so, that’s teasing out empathy in another form. And again, you see this in classic marketing examples from all the way back to the 1940s, marketers have been using this for years. So, that’s definitely a testament to how effective it is and how versatile it is and how many different ways you can deploy it. But I think the bottom line is to look at it as kind of that very basic Problem-Agitator-Solution format, which is one of the most classic copywriting formulas of all time. And again, the core of that is empathy: teasing out a problem, speaking to it, and addressing it, and empathizing with the struggle that someone else is facing.
Andra Zaharia: I love that formula and the examples you gave. I think they are so, so incredibly relevant and I think they instantly bring about all these emotions that actually put us into action mode, hopefully, especially on important issues such as the environment and all the other huge issues that we feel sometimes helpless in approaching them and tackling them, but this sort of empathy can move us towards action and I think that that’s one of the main reasons why we should actually use them in content creation in a way that’s obviously responsible and mindful of other people’s feelings as well. Speaking of brands, do you think that empathy is something that all brands in all industries can practice? Or are there any limitations to it?
Kaleigh Moore: No, I think it’s a really versatile tactic because we’re all human beings. At the end of the day, we all have problems and if a company can identify what those problems are and how they can help solve them, that’s the foundation of marketing strategy, basically. So, empathizing with the target audience and saying, “How can I make their life better?” And that happens on a personal level, too. I mean, you can meet a stranger and quickly identify, “How can I make their day better?” That’s empathy to me.
Andra Zaharia: That brought to mind, actually, Seth Godin has this way of thinking, this framing that I personally love and I try to use, that I think also includes a lot of empathy – people like us do things like this. It relates back to his book around tribes and this tribal feeling and way of acting that we have in society, which is still something that’s very core to our human nature. I think that this thinking about this, just like you said, thinking from the other person’s perspective, but also, it gives us that feeling of being part of a group, which is something that we deeply crave and the need for a meaningful connection is part and deeply rooted in us and activating it can lead to really powerful results. And, at the end of the day, that’s how marketing can be a change-maker in society and can be a positive force, by giving people these emotions and by also giving them the tools and the knowledge to use them for good, for themselves to make better choices or to make society-wide changes, at the end of the day. Are there some obvious flags when a piece of content is lacking empathy? Are there any sort of bits that you usually include to create that empathy? Any examples or visuals or things like that?
Kaleigh Moore: I think the red flags for me, to answer to the first part of that is, if something that’s written is very salesy and pushy, and doesn’t at all speak to those pain points and is just kind of touting features and benefits and not speaking at all to the problems that they solve and why they’re helpful and the value they provide. So, that’s a red flag: if there’s no message in there that touches on that – that’s not a good piece of content, it’s not going to be very effective. People are going to see right through that, because I think they have a good meter for those types of things. It’s like when you see an ad, you’re like, “Oh, this is an ad.” Like, it just is a pre-qualifier, I think. Tell me again, what was the second half of the question?
Andra Zaharia: So, if there are any specific elements that you include or that you notice in other people’s content, like visuals or real-life stories, that build this structure around empathy in that particular piece of content?
Kaleigh Moore: Yes, I think the storytelling element is huge, especially when it takes a really conversational angle and you can kind of set up a scenario where you’re putting yourself in the reader’s shoes and saying, “Hey, isn’t it hard to do X? Doesn’t it suck when you’re trying to do Y?” That’s a really dumbed-down version of what I’m trying to say, but creating those scenarios where you and the reader are on the same page, that’s empathy and that’s a great way to do an intro too, of like, setting up a situation that’s going to be really common and relatable for the reader and then going from there. That’s a good way to build trust and to get the reader on board, right off the bat.
Andra Zaharia: How do you do that? How do you create that feeling and that instant connection, when you’ve never interacted with someone from the target audience? Has that happened to you before? And how did you go about figuring out what actually resonates, what’s that particular nuance that you want to include in the content you created?
Kaleigh Moore: So, there are a couple of steps that go into this. I think the first part is, whoever is hiring you needs to be doing ongoing customer research – so they need to be talking to the customers on a regular basis – and then keeping notes on what’s the language they use when they’re talking about their problems or their pain points, and having a really good customer persona that outlines all of that. And again, that evolves over time. It’s not a one-and-done, so you can’t talk to a group of five customers when your business launches and think that that’s going to work for the next five years. It’s an ongoing practice where you’re always learning “Oh, here’s a new thing that our target audience is dealing with”, or “Something has evolved a little bit and things have changed. Here’s how we need to address this new problem that’s cropped up.” So, customer research and customer feedback and those one-to-one conversations or focus groups, whatever format it is, that’s a huge source of that information that’s going to help you be empathetic in your writing. I think the second part of it is having those customer personas where that information is documented, and it’s shared company-wide and with freelancers if they’re working with freelancers outside of the organization. So, everybody has a very clear picture of who they’re writing for, what they’re struggling with, and how do we talk about how we solve those problems.
Andra Zaharia: Thank you for pointing that out! I think that we talk a lot about this in the marketing industry and beyond it, in other industries as well. In the startup industry, we talk a lot about customer development, but I don’t think enough companies do it, still, to this day. I think that that is one of the most important and it’s a fundamental piece for growth for any company, in terms of product, content, any other sort of action that’s part of the business’s MO – I think you can’t have that without it. It’s that reality check that we need to have constantly, to remind us what the important things that we’re tackling actually are, and documenting them is incredibly important. I think that there’s still a lot of work to do there, so reminders around this, from people like yourself with so much experience, I think are essential to keeping even creative people, but people in any other roles, keeping them grounded into reality, into the customer’s reality, which may be very, very different from our own, and from our own biases especially, as marketers. So, that’s definitely something to keep a focus on.
Andra Zaharia: So, we discussed various nuances around empathy. Until now, we’ve talked about the fact that it includes clear communication, understanding, self-awareness, reflection; trust and honesty are also a big part of what it means to be an empathetic person and to also receive empathy because I think that there are two different types of action and I’ve seen this in myself when I’m especially tired or I feel a bit worn out. It’s difficult to accept someone else’s empathy – not that I don’t want to; it is just difficult for me to actually integrate it into my mind and into my mindset. We’ve also talked on the marketing side, in terms of empathy, about having very clear pain points that come from obviously doing customer interviews and documenting these customer personas; and then, using the PAS formula or other formulas to transform these pain points, to address them in a way that’s meaningful and actually helpful for the audience.
Andra Zaharia: I would like now to talk a bit about the effects that empathy has had on your business, in terms of getting involved in the marketing community and how much time you dedicate to it, and how you make it part of your daily schedule to keep it going when you have so much going on – you have your work, you have the Creative Class Podcast, you made these products for freelancers, you put out a newsletter, and you have so much going on. How and when do you find this time to connect with the community, and how has it impacted your business over the years?
Kaleigh Moore: I think that I could always be better at this. I think that, a few years back in my business, I was always trying to help people who would reach out to me and say, “I have a question about how I do this”, or “Can you look at this?” or “Can you give me feedback on this?” And I would always say yes to that because I empathize, I got it. I used to be in that position and I wanted to help those people. But, like you said, as time has gone on, and I’ve gotten busier and busier, I’ve had to be a little bit more selective on that and sometimes even that means saying, “Okay, I would love to help you. Let’s schedule a 30-minute consulting call that costs X amount of dollars.” And so, well, part of me is like, “Oh, I hate to charge for that type of thing, because I would love to just help people.” It’s a natural boundary that I’ve had to put in place, because there are only so many hours in the day, and there are so many requests, I have to filter them a little bit, and I have to remember to put a value on my time. So, that’s one thing that’s kind of changed when it’s come to, “I want to be empathetic, I want to help people, but I also want to be smart about my bandwidth and the energy that I have.” So, that’s changed a little bit.
Kaleigh Moore: I think the other thing, too, is just, if people have questions or, like I said, if I don’t have the bandwidth to help them, and I know somebody else who can, I’ll sometimes refer them or introduce them to somebody else – so, that’s been another way of offload it, but still trying to be empathetic and helpful. And I think, when it comes to just practicing empathy and keeping it top of mind, I think listening to Brené Brown – whether it’s on a podcast or an audiobook – reading it, keeping it really top of mind is helpful. Like you said, it’s so easy to let it slide. So, really keeping it top of mind. And then, yoga also has been a big practice for me where I take some time to just be grateful at the end of the day, because I have so much to be grateful for and I feel like the more I can set aside time to acknowledge that and be thankful, the more I can empathize with others, whether that’s in my writing work, or my client interactions or working with coaching clients. It just helps me remember that things are good, and they might not be as good for somebody else, so it’s important to be mindful of that.
Andra Zaharia: I’m so glad you mentioned that because teaching yoga and doing the one-to-one coaching, I saw them because you work in public so much and because there’s this incredible transparency around your work and around your process and mindset that has helped so many people. I was actually meaning to ask you about how doing yoga, and now teaching yoga – I know that you’re also giving classes now – I’m really glad that you talked about it and that you shared that gratitude exercise because that is actually one of the most important practices that we could incorporate into our lives – to be able to acknowledge and really internalize how much we do and also go back to be able to answer why we do it, so we can derive that energy and make sure that we’re sticking to our path and not getting pulled into all these directions. Because, as you mentioned, in the Creative Class Podcast and elsewhere, there are so many opportunities that come with being someone who is very visible in the community, that’s very good as a professional, and the fact of saying, “No” to some of these opportunities takes a lot of emotional energy. So, I really appreciate you talking so openly about all these things. I also know that you try to kind of balance these interactions, all these online interactions with the offline ones as well. What was like to do last year’s retreat, and what experience you had around empathy in that offline experience?
Kaleigh Moore: What was so great about that was, so often I just get these little blips of information through social media or email or whatever it might be – it’s so different online than it has been offline. So, to actually sit in person with this group of women who do really similar work, and who really kind of understand what I do, and the struggles, and the challenges that come with this type of work, and then to hear what they’re wrestling with, made me realize that a lot of the things I’m dealing with, or I struggle with are pretty small. So, it was great perspective in that, again, it made me really grateful, but it also made me remember that other people are struggling with stuff, whether that’s in their personal life or their work life, or they’re not at the place they want to be in their career. Like, things are good! I have a lot to be grateful for. So, I think that that was really helpful and eye-opening! I went to another retreat as an attendee, not putting it on myself, but I went to one this past fall, and it was the same experience. So, the women who were there were all different age ranges, different life stages, and to hear their stories and to hear the things that they were dealing with in their day-to-day life, it was a good reminder of, “Hey, everybody’s dealing with stuff, and everybody has their loads that they carry.” And so, you have to empathize, you have to remember that, at the end of the day, nobody’s got me. And I have to say, too, all this sounds great, right? I sound like I’ve got it all figured out, but I don’t, and I fall down and I fail at practicing empathy all the time. So, like I said, it’s a practice! You have to work on it, you have to be mindful of it, you have to think about it, talk about it, write about it, so that it’s always top of mind because otherwise you just slide back into looking out for yourself.
Andra Zaharia: And what I can say from the other side – let’s call it that – all of this energy that you put into writing, into creating all this content that’s relatable, that’s very non-judgmental, which is something that I appreciate so much about your work – that creates a powerful connection with people. It makes them feel less alone in their pursuits, in their challenges, and it really makes other people’s days so much better. You’ve made my day so much better in so many ways, not just today, but in so many other occasions. Just putting out these simple reminders of empathy, of self-care, of awareness, of gratitude, and just seeing them pop up on Twitter or elsewhere or in my headphones when I’m listening to the podcast or anywhere else, it makes a big difference. So, thank you for encouraging others to talk about it, to write about it. We may feel that in our bubble there’s a big conversation around these topics, but I think that outside our bubble, there really isn’t and I think that we need a lot more of that until it becomes a habit, until it becomes something that’s socially accepted, and not seen as a vulnerability in a negative way. So, we definitely have a lot of work to do as a community, as people in general, in helping each other, in letting each other know that it’s okay to feel this way and that we all have bad days and good days, and that we can pull through together and that no one has it all figured out. We may have some things figured out, but all of the others are definitely work in progress. So, thank you for that!
Kaleigh Moore: Yeah! And thanks for having this conversation. Like you said, I think giving the topic visibility and having these kinds of conversations are part of the equation. Like, if we don’t talk about it, we don’t think about it. So, this has been great!
Andra Zaharia: It’s been great for me, as well, and I think there are so many key takeaways from your experience. They’re very practical, there are so many points here that we’ll most likely include in the show notes so that people can think about them, so they can maybe use as reflection points for when they sit down and think about how empathy towards themselves and others could make their lives better. So, thank you, Kaleigh, for your time and for your energy and for your empathy. You’re absolutely wonderful and I can’t wait to see what you do next!
Kaleigh Moore: Oh, thank you so much!
Connect with Kaleigh:
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Brené Brown’s books
- Article: This approach to “empathy in marketing” makes your page 10x more effective
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