Researchers believe a growing emphasis on the ‘self’ via social media is diminishing our ability to empathise with others. With organisations and individuals alike constantly vying for attention, it’s unsurprising that people are empathising less, making it harder than ever for brands to form a connection with consumers through emotive brand campaigns. But whilst it might be part of the problem, can technology become the solution?

Empathy is a concept that companies have been capitalising on for years; those that see and really understand things from another person’s perspective relate far better to their customers. Sally Kohn, Founder and CEO of the Movement Vision Lab, a grassroots think tank, refers to this as ‘emotional correctness’. She states that “our challenge is to find the compassion for others – that we want them to have for us [sic]. Because you can’t get anyone to agree with you if they don’t even listen to you first”.

Brands that realise that businesses are built from real people understand that empathising with people makes good business sense, as it can be a powerful tool for igniting engagement from customers. In recent years we have seen several examples of brands making this empathetic step to launch emotive brand campaigns. Barclays bank is currently running ads warning their customers of potential online fraudsters, whilst the researchers behind the gov.uk website totally rebuilt the site to make it easier for people of all ages and needs to use. The results are there: companies that use emotive campaigns actually outsell informative by 19%.

Whether in the form of personalised films, immersive exhibition spaces or unique situational games, brands are starting to use technology to create new and exciting ways to engage their audiences, simultaneously bolstering empathy. Companies have been using immersive ‘virtual reality’ storytelling for some time as a means to captivate their audiences by putting them in the shoes of the people they feature. Through immersive documentary-style story telling, charities and humanitarian organisations such as Unicef and the United Nations take audiences on a journey, to put them in the hearts and minds of those featured in their documentaries. Whilst comparatively, advertisers such as John Lewis, are using light-hearted storytelling campaigns to help evoke emotional responses with their customers. Whether mustering up concern for a genuine cause or merely enticing customers down the supermarket aisles, truly immersive VR storytelling is far more effective than 90 minutes of traditional film.

“VR has the power to make you feel like you’re walking in someone else’s shoes – it’s the ultimate empathy machine and a powerful tool when it comes to conveying a sense of urgency and realism about situations in the world” – Patrick Milling Smith, president and co-founder of Vrse.works