The simple way to get inside your customer’s head

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All hail the mighty empathy map – this simple, collaborative tool is one of the most useful ways to get inside your marketing target’s head. It works because it places sincere emotional connection at the center of its method. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others; it is what allows you to walk in the shoes of another. Understanding how others see you is invaluable business intel. Empathy gives you perspective. Don’t leave that perspective on the table.

Constructing an empathy map is simple. Ideally, you would have a flipchart or whiteboard that can accommodate a lot of Post-its. An empathy map is not a finalized document; it’s more of a brainstorming tool. On a fresh sheet of paper, write a name for your subject at the top. Divide your white space up into four quadrants – one for what your subject is seeing, doing, feeling and saying. Grab a new sheet, and label it “problems”. Get your team some Sharpie pens and Post-its, and maybe some coffee. It’s time to think. (Here’s a sample map from Echo to get you started.)

To get yourself going, you might ask yourself some questions:

  • what keeps your subject up at night?
  • what information do you have that they need?
  • how do they hope to benefit from your service or project?
  • what do they REALLY want from you?
  • what would be a big win for your subject?
  • what does your subject dream of doing?
  • what does your subject do every day?
  • who does your subject want to impress, or have over for dinner?

When you are adding to your empathy map, try to think of how they are expressed through the senses. For example, you might consider that your subject wants to keep up with the latest in product releases from Apple, Samsung and other large tech companies. Where are they going for that information? What would they say to express their joy (or displeasure) with the Apple Watch?

Social media is a great way to conduct a bit of fieldwork if you are struggling to capture the voice of your subject. Search Twitter for a couple of carefully selected keywords and look at what people are telling their friend and the world about what interests them. Try to think concretely about what they would actually do, and why they are motivated to do so. Don’t be afraid to be wrong.

Empathy maps come from the world of web design and were created to help UX designers understand how someone would use a website. [tweetthis]Fundamentally, no matter what you do, you are not a product, you are an experience.[/tweetthis] It would be a very unique company that is the sole provider of what they do. You have competitors that do similar things that you do; you can differentiate yourself through your actions. Try to see how your customers experience working with you, and include that in your brainstorming.

Once you have your empathy map, don’t hide it away. Use it to develop your audience persona. Write blog posts that solve their pain points. Follow their hashtags. Attend their conferences. Think about when they are going to be checking their LinkedIn – and their Facebook. (For more help with personas, we recommend this excellent blog post from Hubspot.)

Empathy allows you to speak the language of your customer. Use it to engage with them in useful and unexpectedly delightful ways; it will lead you to solve problems that they didn’t know they had.


Header image courtesy of the talented Sean MacEntee. Check out his work here.