The Empathy Equation: How AI Will Reshape Creativity in Marketing

New advancements will help marketers decode more than consumer behavior—it will break down emotional DNA


Technology has had a monumental impact on the creative industry. This is true not only in how people consume the things we create, but also in how we craft the work itself.

For example, the rise of digital cameras didn’t just allow us to shoot more shots. It democratized the capturing of images. So much so that you don’t find the work of professional photographers on Apple iPhone billboards—you find digital photos taken by consumers themselves.

Today, as we look to the next technological evolution that will impact creativity, we must consider the rise of Artificial Intelligence. And while the majority of people are discussing functional applications (like AI copywriting or AI film editing), I think the biggest impact will be in technology improving the act of ideation itself.

Why? Because AI will revolutionize how we empathize with consumers.

Why empathy is important

Empathy is critical in the development of a creative idea for several reasons. First, consumers gravitate toward brands that they feel align with their personal beliefs. So, for a creative idea to be relevant, it needs to tap into the consumer’s values.

Empathy forces the creative mind to explore deeper, more complex reasons to believe in a message. Empathy also helps build a more authentic voice by uncovering the emotional DNA of potential customers.

It makes a brand more consistent and emotionally relevant. This makes the brand more trustworthy and content more engaging.

So the more you empathize with your consumer, the better you can ideate a solution or message that will resonate with them. The challenge has been that it’s both difficult and time-consuming to measure emotion and quantify the size of a population that shares a belief.

This is why AI is critical to the future of creativity.

The Empathy Equation

New advancements in AI are helping researchers better understand the emotional needs of consumers and access insights faster than ever before. These advancements go well beyond analyzing behaviors or sentiment. It is, instead, an approach that leverages technology to study billions of consumer conversations and analyze them using an anthropological model.

In essence, researchers are teaching a machine to take a topic or trend and not just measure the words people use to describe it—they are teaching the machine to identify the motivations, attitudes, values and fears that are relevant to the topic or trend.

The machine can decode the “why” behind the “what.” Moreover, the machine is able to measure changes over time, and can calculate how many consumers find a topic or trend relevant. The result is AI generated emotional insights that can be prioritized based on what will be most important and meaningful to the largest audience.

Imagine typing in a topic relevant to your creative brief into a search bar, and instantly understanding the mental model of the consumer and the emotional DNA that shapes their engagement.

This is what AI is making possible. But why is this critical to creative ideation?

When I worked with ad agency strategists and art directors to ideate creative we would constantly stare at a brief, and ask ourselves two key questions: Do we understand who this message is really for? Will this be meaningful to them?

Without using AI to culturally size a topic or trend, the consumer is usually defined broadly. For example, we might say that a skincare consumer is millennial, white or Hispanic, college-educated and values her time so she can accomplish more in a day.

But if we were to use AI to focus our efforts and analyze the way female consumers are engaging with the culture of skincare, we can learn that there are motivations and fears that transcend age. Such as:

  • They are primarily driven by a desire to succeed—socially, professionally, personally or, more often, a combination of all of these.
  • They cultivate a spirit of adventure and being outwardly in life’s endeavors is one way of staying positive and being able to enjoy life as it happens.
  • But while they enjoy wanting to look good, deep down, they worry that the people who criticize them are right and that they are harming others through their lifestyles.

As a former Creative Director and writer, this AI-generated insight is vastly more inspirational. But when you also consider this set of beliefs is relevant to 76% of women 18-64 in America and growing, it becomes unignorable.

Technology isn’t just changing how we create. AI is on the precipice of changing what we create and why.