What is an Empathy Map, and why is it valuable for your business?

Germán Coppola
Nov 28, 2017 · 10 min read

An empathy map is a collaborative tool for teams to understand their avatar better. If you are not familiar with an avatar, check my previous article that discusses the process of making one.

Before we go through the process, let me walk you through the psychology of Empathy and what a powerful tool it is, not only in business, but also in our personal life.

Here is the definition of empathy from Psychology Today.

“Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors. While American culture might be socializing people into becoming more individualistic rather than empathic, research has uncovered the existence of “mirror neurons,” which react to emotions expressed by others and then reproduce them.”

Empathy is the force that moves decisions, and businesses to react to external market factors. When we become empathetic for our customers, we start to produce better services and products for them, enhancing their perception of our brand and services.

Empathy allows us to understand what needs our customers, family members, or friends have. There is no need to make “nice to have” products when you have the chance to sell “must-have products,” become more profitable and win a higher market share.

Most companies are too immersed in solving a particular problem that is important to them, but maybe not to their customers. Make products that stick! (btw, this is a great book to read, “Made to Stick” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath)

Some companies need to please their stockholders, and they tend to forget about their customers, other lack market verification to see if the product is necessary or even think that ideas can go viral just by creating a fresh concept, product or service.

From my experience the reason most products fail is that they lack knowledge and perception of their target audience, they lack empathy.

Either they are confused on who their audience is (their Avatar) or if they do know who their avatar is, they are not able to connect with them emotionally. That is the reason an Empathy map is so critical when designing or launching new products. You will be able to identify insights about your potential customers that you did not know were there.

You have a choice, talk to each other, or listen and explore possibilities.

So let’s jump right in, and get our hands dirty formulating the Empathy map. It is one of the best activities to do, especially in teams since they will be able to understand your customer better.

Your team will detect small triggers that will be useful when communicating with your audience, feel more comfortable with your marketing strategy and save time and money in the process.

The empathy map was created by Dave Gray and has been updated recently to be more precise and efficient.

One thing you can do is print the empathy map on a large piece of paper and place it somewhere in your office. Have your team use post-its to write down answers to each quadrant and stick them on the map. This will allow your team to collaborate and visually see how the empathy map begins to get populated with new insights about your clients.

The empathy map has six Quadrants:
1- Goals (Who are we empathizing with? What do they need to do?)
2- What do they see?
3- What do they say?
4- What do they do?
5- What do they hear?
6- What do they think and feel (Pains / Gains)

QUADRANT ONE: Start at the top in the Goal section.

1- Who are we empathizing with?
Briefly define your Avatar here, be sure to identify this person, what their situation is, their role, etc. Check out this article about making your Avatar.

2- What do they need to do?
Remember we are in the Goal section, what do they need to change to reach their goal, what decisions do they need to be making? What will trigger them to be successful and how can we find out?

In our case, we have a marketing platform for the live event industry (Yumiwi).

We defined our Avatar as a 40-year-old male, Marketing Director, who has severe issues measuring and obtaining valuable data from events. He is usually looking to not succumb to the competition through the use of new technology. He regularly tries to gather a lot of information about their customers so he can better understand them. He has used other platforms in the industry but finds himself overwhelmed with the amount of disconnected data he gathers at events. He has no idea what solution he can have and feels frustrated by the lack of software integration in the event industry.

Our Avatar — in Spanish, sorry English speakers :)

So we have identified who he is, and from this information, we can understand what he needs to do to reach his goal of obtaining actionable data points at events. His goals are to have an integrated system where he can collect leads, activate them, document their experiences and have access to a real-time dashboard, all the information in one place.

His fears: losing clients to the competition, not digitalizing their event space and even losing his job for a younger more tech-savvy person.

Our team would write down all these attributes on post-its and place them in the goals quadrant.

Product Development Team Yumiwi at an Empathy Map session.

QUADRANT TWO: What do they see?

What are they seeing happening in the market? What are other companies similar to theirs doing? Do they see a change, a shift in the industry? What are magazines, blogs or articles of these avatars talking about in the industry?

All this information is valuable to understand their external stimuli, how is this affecting them, or how will this affect their decision-making process.

If we can have empathy, we can talk to them and present them with solutions that will ease the change. We have to be proactive in understanding how we can generate more trust and have our products be a solution to an immediate problem they foresee.

QUADRANT THREE: What do they Say?

What are their reactions? What are they talking about either to us or others and what do we imagine they are saying?

Careful here, not all that people say is true, maybe they are influenced by their surroundings, or they say one thing but do another thing. So take this section very carefully since it is here where you can find discrepancies between what they say and what they do and hear.

Usually, we analyze quadrant three, four and five altogether because we started to realize that there are several inconsistencies we wanted to control and understand before we moved forward with the final analysis of the empathy map.

Frequently people do one thing and say another, especially if they are not informed accurately about the industry. So our job is to educate them suitably on the importance of our products and services. Know the facts and share them with your audience to make their final decisions based on certainties and not about brand gossip.

QUADRANT FOUR: What do they Do?

So what is their actual behavior? How are they behaving and why? What can we think they may do?

We have to be comfortable enough to detect these subtle changes between what they say and do to understand them better.

Are they using a specific software? Are they buying a particular brand? Why are they inclined to do it. Maybe they are not informed about new products that are better than the ones they use, or perhaps they are not aware your brand even exists.

You should be able to understand these behaviors and map out a clear strategy to make a shift in their performance. Educate and aid them to buy a specific product or service, add value.

There should always be a value exchange between customers and brands. Pretending to have customers without adding value should be discarded and re-formulated to: content, meaning, and trust.

QUADRANT FIVE: What do they Hear?

Recommendations are always the best way to sell. What is your customer hearing from colleagues or friends? Even though hearing is compelling, there is a more powerful way of making your potential customer choose your product.

Back when I was in college in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (Nova Southeastern University), I ran for President of our student government, and when we won the elections, we had some shirts made that had a persuasive quote that till this day is present in all my decisions regarding my clients.

John Gay, an English poet back in the 1600´s wrote:

“Tell me, and I forget, Show me, and I remember, Involve me, and I understand.”

You can hear all you want, and you may be influenced by what others say, but you are convinced when you get involved. If you need to buy a car, you need to try the car, get involved with it, drive around to make a decision. Same happens when buying a house, a phone, clothes, food tastings at supermarkets, free hats and t-shirts at a booth, etc.

Brands need to get involved with their customers. But for a customer to get involved, brands need to generate seamless and frictionless experiences with their audience. Empathy is key!

You can do this physically, which will make your brand have to invest at trade shows, events or where people meet and connect, or you can go digitally.

Live events are usually more natural, a compelling story, a great experience will forge your audience to engage and be stimulated by what you have to offer.

If you do go digitally, you need to connect emotionally, through a story, something that will get them involved and immersed in what you are trying to sell.

Try to make your avatar feel lost in time with your message and so engaged that everybody will buy and recommend your product, even make it viral, who knows, the question is, do you know your customers?

Because the next quadrant is probably the more complicated one to do.

QUADRANT SIX: What do they Think and Feel?

What do they fear most? Are they frustrated, anxious, or even worried about their present situation? Identify their pain points.

Then, identify their gains, their dreams, and hopes, what do they want!

Understanding your avatar’s brain may be more challenging than you think, but don’t worry, there is always an explanation of why our minds work the way they do. If you are interested in knowing more about Neuromarketing, you should check out this book: Neuromarketing: Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain

You need to understand their behavior through their aspirations and fears; this will determine if they buy or bypass your product.

I think, therefore I Buy.

For us, making the avatar and applying the empathy map began to shed a lot of light on how our customers behaved and how mistaken our marketing practices had been.

It allowed my team to tweak the message, find the right tone and use the right technology to reach our audience more efficiently.

It may take you a couple of sessions to nail down some parts of the empathy map. But as long as you are empathetic to your customer you will understand many secrets that will bring you closer to them.

Remember that customers are not numbers, they are people; they have feelings, families, emotions just like you and me. They should be treated with the utmost respect. They too have hobbies, downtime, and access to the internet, where are you going to spend your marketing efforts to target them?

Keep pushing your comfort zone and see what comes out of this empathy map exercise.

The art of emotional engagement is at your fingertips, use wisely!

Next article I will walk you through the hero’s journey, and I will teach you how to identify where in the hero’s journey is your avatar and how to improve your message to make your customer a hero!

Have an awesome life!

Germán Coppola, CEO/Founder of the Coppola Academy (https://coppola_academy.teachable.com/) If you want to immerse yourself in a complete workshop with over 22 lessons of content that guide you through the whole process of creating an Avatar or ideal customer map, an Empathy map and obtain all the data needed to target your ideal audience, make sure to check it out at the link above.

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