Empathy: The Pathway to Success?

Empathy: I feel your pain. Really I do.
Economist and public speaker, Jeremy Rifkin, discussed the evolution of what he coined, "the empathetic civilization." Rifkin provides an exploration into scientific research that has developed over the last 10 years, and he explains the impact this research can have on society. He has a very scientific approach to his speech, but he provides lots of beneficial information for any future or current business proprietor.

Rifkin explores the developments researchers have found regarding empathy, and he begins his talk by defining "mirror-neurons." These neurons reproduce in the viewer the same feeling that the actor is feeling, which can expose an individual's feeling of empathy. Meaning, most of us who see a spider crawling up another person's arm, we experience a creepy feeling which is similar to the person with the spider actually on them is experiencing. In their experiments, researchers have been able to see the same neurons light up in the viewer and the one actually having the experience. This research translates the somewhat abstract emotion of empathy into solid, concrete evidence. Rifikin stresses that empathy builds a type of solidarity between people and encourages an individual's drive to belong.

When Rifikin stressed that empathy encourages our strong drive to belong, I saw a correlation of this information to basic marketing/advertising tactics that businesses have developed. I feel like this desire to belong has been well known and understood by marketers, advertisers, and businesses for years. Through advertising, businesses can tell/show the consumer how their product/service will make them feel. I believe this tactic has been effective because of an individual's empathy. For example, a commercial shows a guy hanging out with his friends having a good time while drinking a specific beer. In the commercial the beer company has been able to make their beer synonymous with friendship, happiness, etc. Some viewers likely felt the same good feelings of the main actor in the commercial - through their feelings of empathy - and they bought the beer because they wanted to replicate this feeling.

Understandably, I wanted to see if my observations had any support, and I stumbled across "empathy marketing." Mike Masnick has defined it as, "actually taking the time to talk with (not to) your consumers." Meaning, a company is not forcing their notions of what their service/product is on the consumer, and they are asking the consumer what they actually need from their product/service. According to Masnick's perspective, my earlier perception that companies, "push a message and try to get it ingrained in people's head," is better aligned with traditional advertising. Through this traditional method of advertising, it is a one-way street of communication that tells the consumer what their product/service will do for them. In this one-way street of communication, advertisers were not sure how effectively their message was being received by the consumer, and with the struggling economy they needed to find out. Through empathy marketing companies began listening to the consumers to find out what they really needed. In turn companies are able to take this advice to better fulfill their consumer's needs and succeed in this struggling economic climate.
Who knew listening to their consumers was such a crazy idea?!

Although Masnick's information is interesting, I am still left wondering if an individual's feelings of empathy only encourage him/her to buy a specific product/service in an attempt to belong? I do think an individual's feelings about a product/service from an advertisement encourage him/her to seek out the product/service in an attempt to replicate the feelings the advertisement transferred to him/her. However, I have fallen short in evidentiary support for my conclusion. Have any feedback or suggestions? Comment!


Rifkin, J. (2010, August). Jeremy rifkin on the 'empathetic civilization'. Retrieved from

Masnick, M. (2009, April 7). It's time for empathy marketing [Web log message]. Retrieved from

"Study-psychopaths-lack-of-empathy-also-seen-in-brain-injured-patients" [Photograph].  Retrieved from

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