When we started Kite + Dart 4 years ago, we noticed a pattern: the more impact-driven and heart-centered an entrepreneur was, the less likely they were to heavily invest in sales and marketing. That means that the market was left to their less intentional competitors—they were more vocal, so their businesses were the ones growing. We weren’t ok with that.
We needed to figure out how marketing could work for people who measure success in terms of impact and really care about the people they work with. What resulted is a new model of marketing: marketing based on empathy and consent.
What is Empathy-Based Marketing?
Approaching marketing with empathy means paying attention to what your clients need and how they’re responding to your messaging. If you run an impact-driven business, your products and services will do best when aligned with your clients: when you offer them something relevant and useful.
Once your products and services align with your clients’ needs, the way you communicate about them can make or break your success. People are inundated every day with thousands of marketing messages, most of them based on pain points. Marketing based on pain points implies that there’s something wrong with you and it will only be fixed by purchasing this product.
For example, pain-point based marketing for business consultants suggests: “Most small businesses fail. I know more than you do about business development, and if you don’t buy my products and services, you’ll fail, too.”
That kind of constant barrage can be truly damaging. It causes people to feel bad about themselves and lose confidence in their ability to make a difference. It also makes people feel calloused when it comes to marketing efforts. They start feeling jaded about marketing in general and are more skeptical of any sales effort, even if it’s free of shady tactics.
Marketing based on empathy means taking a critical look at the messaging you share with prospective clients. Are you including tacit accusations? Are you implying that people don’t have or do enough?
At the Kite + Dart Group, we market based on affirmations and values instead of pain points. In our event-based marketing model, people can see what we’re about and figure out if they’re a good fit in our community. Prospective clients are offered a chance to form their own opinions about our community without us telling them what we are—we show them instead. Once someone attends an event, we demonstrate our offerings and ask if they consent to further communication and engagement.
The Role of Consent in Marketing
A few years ago, I got a telemarketing call where someone tried to sell me something. It pissed me off so much that I hung up on them. As someone who sells and trains people in sales and marketing, I felt hypocritical—why was I so offended by another salesperson doing their job?
Then I figured it out: I hadn’t given them consent. They bought my number off some list and started barraging me with phone calls, and I never gave them permission.
Consent wasn’t a big topic of conversation in our culture up until a couple years ago. In terms of mainstream marketing strategy, it still isn’t.
The Kite + Dart Group brings consent front and center in all of our sales and marketing training. That means we only sell to people who told us they’re ok being sold to. Marketing with consent means asking yourself, “Is the offer I’m making consistent with what the client has said they’re ok with?”
When building your email list, this means thinking about why someone has opted in. Aside from promotions and discount codes, they probably joined for two reasons: 1) They want to know more about you as a human, and 2) They want to see if what you care about aligns with what they care about.
The same is true of every other relationship, be it professional, romantic, or friendly. It’s human nature when meeting someone new to assess if they’re interested in the same things we are. When we approach business the same way we approach other people—through humanity—that’s where we see real success.
Relational Versus Transactional
At the end of the day, business is simply a complex series of relationships—but most of us have been taught the opposite. We’ve been introduced to a transactional model of marketing and business strategy, one that sees potential clients as income: the client gets your products and services and you get their money, then you part ways. When compared to how humans organically relate to one another, the transactional model is entirely unnatural.
Instead, we use a relational model of sales and marketing. We focus on getting to know our clients as people. Rather than relying on pain points and tacit accusations to tear potential clients down, then promising that our products and service can make them whole again, we use affirmation to connect.
We communicate what we care about in an authentic way, and the people who share our values tend to stick around.
Relational Marketing for Impact-Driven Businesses
The people who stick around are folx we call entrepreneurial activists: people out to make a positive change through their business. Our clients and collaborators are hyper-aware of broken systems and therefore hyper-sensitive to shady sales tactics. They wouldn’t accept us resorting to the same manipulative, dishonest, divisive marketing practices we’re trying to eradicate.
For entrepreneurial activists, success is measured both in terms of impact and profit. Success in an impact-driven business depends on alignment between the entrepreneurs’ values and the business they run.
If your sales strategy isn’t aligned as well, it’s not going to work.
Relational marketing is key for impact-driven entrepreneurs because it aligns with your values. In order for your impact-driven business to succeed, you need to feel like you’re making a difference in every stage of your interaction with clients—whether they buy or not.
A marketing approach based in empathy and consent means building business on mutually beneficial relationships. When you start seeing prospective clients as humans and not as potential transactions, you open yourselves up to connection. You’ll produce better results and you serve clients you align with.
This marks an instrumental change in terms of collaboration between entrepreneurs, too. A relational approach encourages the notion that there’s enough to go around. It discourages highly competitive attitudes driven by toxic masculinity and promotes the importance of community instead.
When you stop competing with your competitors and start cooperating with them, you find your particular space in the market. Instead of fighting for limited resources, you identify your specific talents and create a collaborative model that serves everyone.
Proof That It Works
For the first 2 years of Kite + Dart, we weren’t focusing on contribution. Our marketing funnel didn’t give people the opportunity to find out anything about us unless they were interested in buying. Our first year in business, we made $20,000. Our second year, $40,000.
When we shifted to marketing with empathy and consent, honed our relational approach, and distinguished ourselves as entrepreneurial activists, we made $120,000. We’re watching our clients produce better results: they’re spending less time, energy, and money developing client relationships, they’re getting clients that are more aligned, and they’re transforming their own experience as an entrepreneur.
Our business has grown because our framework is effective. Our marketing efforts are about simply communicating what we do and what we believe, not touting empty promises.
When it comes down to it, the more a business is who they say they are, the more impactful they can be.
Each month, Kite + Dart hosts several free workshops on running a business from a place of equity and ethics. See what’s coming up here.
Written in partnership with Ali Weeks of Moxie Writing Co.