How to Make Empathy Part of Your 2021 Business and Marketing Plans

Marissa Latshaw
4 min readFeb 2, 2021


Most meetings and work conversations tend to fall in two categories — setting/measuring goals or getting stuff done. Rarely is there a meeting to discuss empathy in any structured way. And yet, I think we all know on some level that empathy is essential to achieving our goals and getting the right stuff done. It enables deeper connections, clearer understanding, and more confident, informed decisions. The challenge is knowing how to bake empathy into your business and marketing plans in a meaningful way that has real, concrete steps. And, that’s exactly what I’m going to share with you today.

Let’s step back for just a moment to look at empathy. Many studies have shown that we, as individuals, are born with a capacity for empathy — an ability to feel the feelings of others. Empathy is often compared to a muscle that strengthens with use, but weakens when ignored. We also know that empathy is contagious. And, that’s where it becomes powerful for organizations. The more we apply it, the more empathetic others will be. All organizations — from large for-profit corporations to mission-driven nonprofits — are in the ideal position to amplify empathy and make a difference in the world and the lives of anyone they serve — their customers, employees, partners, donors, board members, and constituents.

I know that most leaders need a strategic reason to dedicate precious resources to empathy — and not just as a soft skill that gets lip service and a mandatory training day once a year. Those strategic reasons are there. Empathy, when applied in a focused and intentional way, leads to better and sustainable business outcomes.

Measuring Empathy

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen firsthand how applying a systematic, empathy-driven approach yields very tangible and measurable results. This approach has been focused on different audiences, business problems, and goals — and have led to outcomes like:

  • More engagement with key audiences — partners, customers, donors
  • Increased website conversions
  • Higher pipeline numbers and overall sales
  • More successful product launches
  • Improved employee recruitment and retention
  • More collaborative cultures where employees are more aligned with the people they serve

Applying Empathy

2021 is just getting started, so it’s the perfect time to get intentional about empathy in your planning. But, where do you begin? Let’s say you know that one of your goals this year is to grow revenue 15% through a new partner program. How do you plan to hit that goal? Do you rely on past strategies? Do you brainstorm new strategies? Do you look at industry research? You might do a combination of all of these things. If you’re ready to apply empathy, you’ll also start talking to potential partners and their customers in a more systematic, rigorous way than ever before to get clear about their values, immediate needs, and longterm goals. There are three key steps to applying empathy in your organizations:

STEP 1: GET CURIOUS Curiosity is the foundation of empathy because it expresses the true, authentic desire to understand another person. Getting curious about the people you serve involves asking questions like — What matters most to them right now? What challenges do they face? You also need to get curious about your organization — What are your truest goals and challenges? How do you want others to feel when they engage with you? Who needs to be on board for you to meet your goals and challenges? Are you engaging the right people? And, are you asking them the right questions?

STEP 2: GET CLARITY Curiosity naturally leads to clarity. As these questions get answered, so many things come into focus and false assumptions melt away. You’ll become clear about the needs and desires of the people you serve and you’ll be able to see with greater nuance how what you do can help to meet their needs. Sometimes this clarity causes seismic shifts in thinking about your product or service and other times it just creates a small tweak in a message that makes all the difference.

STEP 3: GET CONNECTED Greater clarity leads to stronger connections. The people you engage with will begin to feel seen and heard. These empathetic connections can be created with anyone you serve — from your customers to your partners, your employees to your donors. You’ll be able to make decisions from a place of knowing — not assumptions or extrapolations — about the best ways to make sustainable connections.

By taking this practical, rigorous approach to empathy, you’ll be empowering your entire organization to make more confident decisions and get more things “right” the first time. You’ll also be in a position to reach and include new, more diverse voices — which I know is on the minds of so many leaders today. You’ll start seeing a significant step-up in all of your messages. Your words and actions will show people that you really get them — they’ll feel seen and heard. In short, you’ll feel closer than you’ve ever felt before to the people you serve. For all of these reasons and so many more, you can’t afford to not make empathy part of your 2021 business plans.

I’m an organizational empathy consultant, writer, speaker, and trainer helping marketers and leaders harness empathy to connect deeply and inspire action with the people they serve. After 20+ years as a marketing leader, I’ve developed an empathy-based approach for qualitative audience research, brand positioning, and content strategy which has created lasting results for a wide range of organizations including mission-driven nonprofits, technology startups, global manufacturers, creative agencies, and financial firms. For more info, visit



Marissa Latshaw

I help marketers and leaders harness empathy to develop brands, products, and messages that inspire action.