Editor's note: Roben Allong is founder and CEO of insights and strategy consultancy Lightbeam Communications. She can be reached at robena@lightbeamnyc.com. Iris Yim is principal and chief strategist at Sparkle Insights. She can be reached at iris@sparkleinsights.com. Patricia Lopez, cultural insights, Fuel, can be reached at plopezx2@hotmail.com.

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color has exposed and highlighted inequities as well as accelerated the decline of BIPOC trust, especially in heritage brands, government, the justice and health care systems and society at large. For brands, in today’s world – one rife with rising hate crimes, systemic racism and discrimination, instability and economic hardship – expressing empathy is, at minimum, table stakes. BIPOCs, especially Gen Z, are demanding more authentic engagement and active participation in their communities from the corporations and brands that sell to them and use their labor, as is evidenced by corporate giants Delta and Coca-Cola’s position reversal on the Georgia Election Integrity Act of 2021. Increasingly informed and digitally savvy, their voices carry much farther and louder locally and globally, compared to prior generations. Therefore, it would behoove researchers and marketers alike to take a culturally empathetic look at these shifts and the reasons underlying them to glean a more accurate picture of what’s going on. 

So what is cultural empathy, why is it important now and how does it help researchers and marketers? Cultural empathy is next-level understanding that is grounded in generational, cultural and contextual knowledge of microcultures. Microcultures are those that exist within the dominant culture. They are often marginalized but pack an outsized influence punch when they come together over a singular cause. 

Two prime examples are hip-hop music and the Black Lives Matter movement, both of which...