As a marketer, you know the importance of brand outreach. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more important than ever for your customers to respect and identify with the "faces" representing your product.

You want your customers to like the point people they deal with initially as they use your products and services and bond with them on a fundamental level. How can you most effectively achieve this goal? A recent study published in the Journal of Marketing may hold the key.

John P. Costello and Rebecca Walker Reczek's study, "Providers Versus Platforms: Marketing Communications in the Sharing Economy," looked at a business model used by well-known brands like Uber, Airbnb and TaskRabbit for the past 10 years. The model, peer-to-peer (P2P), is a pillar of the booming "sharing economy," projected to reach a total global revenue of $40.2 billion in 2022.

P2P marketing uses one of two key approaches to communicate with consumers. The first approach, platform communication, essentially means that the company acts as a go-between to connect a customer with, say, a ride-share driver. The second approach, peer provider communication, enlists that ride share rider as the "face" of a customer's interaction throughout the transaction. So, which approach is most effective?

The researchers found that peer provider-focused marketing communications was much more popular with consumers, because customers who deal directly with their providers view themselves as helping that provider more by buying "straight" from that person. This concept is called the "empathy lens," and during difficult economic times like the current pandemic, it is likely to drive sales in an altruistic way.

It's a win-win: not only does your brand profit via peer provider interaction, but you allow individual vendors and/or staff employees who work for you this way to establish their own successful selling styles, which can be perfected to drive repeat business and allow them to earn commission more easily.

How can you best allow your vendors and customers to fairly participate in an empathetic business approach? Here are five key features every brand should clearly demonstrate:

1. Transparency. Your providers should be clearly assured in writing that there are no hidden fees your brand will collect from their earnings, and that info should be made available across your social platforms and website for your customer as well.

2. Brand accountability. Never pass the buck onto a provider when it comes to resolving customer complaints that should be your brand's responsibility.

3. Seamlessness. There should be a clear representation of your products and services by your brand. Your providers should also communicate the same representation in terms of your company policies to your consumers.

4. Supervision access. Your provider should be able to immediately refer customers to a manager in the event of a dispute, question or problem for fast and glitch-free resolution.

5. Fair pricing and refund guidelines. Again, this info should come from your brand, and your providers should know it and be able to quickly direct customers with concerns straight to the appropriate overseer at your brand. Providers should not be put in the position of making these kinds of calls on their own.

"Empathy lens" marketing communications can translate to any brand or type of business that incorporates vendors who interact with your public. Take advantage of this creative, low-cost way to market your brand in the best light possible — and build lasting relationships with both your vendors and customers for years to come.