How We Learn From Our Community

Designing an empathetic brand

Handmade postcards one of our cooks made for her customers.

I don’t know how it feels to return to an empty home after dropping my kid off for her first day of kindergarten.

I’ve never had to figure out how to fit in going to the grocery store between soccer practices, PTA meetings, and ballet.

I will never be a mom.

Yet everyday, I spend the majority of my time speaking to them.

Although a third of our team has young kids at home (or little ones on the way!), the majority of the full-time Josephine staff aren’t parents. Yet moms make up a large part of our community, both as cooks and customers. The simple truth is that we are designing a service for a demographic that is not our own.

For the unitiated, Josephine helps home cooks sell meals to their neighbors, communities, and friends. For eaters, Josephine lets you pick up a homemade meal from someone in the neighborhood that probably remembers how spicy you like your stir-fry.

Busy parents love Josephine because it lets them feed their families home cooked meals on nights when they’re too busy to cook. That insight may seem obvious, but we didn’t start out with the assumption that parents would be our core customers. Crafting an empathetic, parent-centric brand has been a long, iterative process.

Here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way.

The original house where Josephine’s founders lived → Josephine’s logo

Step one: Finding our people

The majority of our cooks are either disillusioned by or excluded from traditional food industry jobs. This makes sense for an industry where the labor force is nearly synonomous with minimum wage, long hours, and physical strain. For parents and grandparents, who are often the most skilled and practiced home cooks, showing up to work an 8-hour restuarant shift or running a catering company out of a comercial kitchen is simply not realistic given their lifestyle constraints.

On the customer side, many assume “take-out” is a category reserved for millennials with disposable incomes. Initially, we thought so too! But as we began learning about our customers, it was busy parents (who have been traditionally underserved by most food/tech companies) that kept returning to support their neighborhood cooks.

We often hear from new customers when they sign up to join their local Josephine community, and their comments cofirm the need Josephine fills in their lives:

From Camille F. “I’m the working parent of 3 teenagers,and have always done my best to prepare homecooked meals for family, but it can be hard day in and day out. Would love to offer them other delicious homecooked meals and would love to support home cooks.”
From Nina P. “We need the help for our family of 4 as we have both parents working long hours.”
From Catherine L. “We are 2 kids and 2 ful-time working parents — would love some home cooked meals instead of so many meals out!”

Getting a fresh, healthy dinner on the table can be a challenge for many families — especially those with two working parents. We knew we could help. But before we presumed what these busy parents needed, we had to walk in their shoes and find out.

Step two: Listening with intention

It’s no secret that in order to figure out customers’ pain points, listening is paramount. But, truly listening to your customers/users requires more than just surveys and Google Analytics. At Josephine, “listening” happens in a million tiny ways, all day long. This approach can be time-consuming, but cultivating a learning mentality that’s powered by empathy, not just metrics, enables us to learn more than we ever could on our own. Here are a few of ways we get feedback:

  1. We are in direct contact with many of our cooks and customers on a daily basis — not just with social media, but also through in-person visits, phone calls, and community potlucks.
  2. Every meal on the platform is rated and reviewed.
  3. Parents on the team serve as sounding boards for crafting reasonant messaging.
  4. A group of diverse cooks are appointed to our“cook council” every year to advise our team on business and product decisions.
Food brings people together.

Whether we’re conducting in-person interviews or sending out online questionnaires, honest suggestions from our users have led to insights for what to build and how to improve. For example, Melissa, a Josephine cook in South Carolina, suggested a “curbside pickup” option for busy moms who want to pick up Josephine meals on the way back from school without having to wake up their sleeping toddler in the backseat. Now her suggestion is a feature available to all-cooks across the platform.

As much as we try empathize with what our cooks and customers care about, nothing beats hearing from them directly.

Step three: Building what matters

With a better idea of our audience and their motivations, we’re able to better support their needs. Both as a service-provider and as a brand, we’re continually trying to speak the language of our target audience.

A sample of our new family-centric look and feel

From a product perspective, we’ve built tools and features like curbside pickup that are parent-specific. But on the brand side, we’ve taken a similar empathy-driven approach to refining our voice and visual aesthetic. Our redesigned homepage, for example, is the result of a thorough design-thinking process from our designer, Ana, which involved customer interviews and thorough research before ever picking up a pen.

The listen-first approach also applies to our word-choice and messaging. We’ve audited different parent-focused media companies to understand nuances in tone and style. We’ve hosted “lunch and learns” with the parents on our team to get a better sense of their daily routines. We’ve asked ourselves “If Josephine were a real person, what would she do on the weekends?” Writing copy, like product or design, is an iterative process upon which we’re always trying to improve. Our new tagline—Eat Like Family—is a reflection of the ethos we hope to embody as a company.

Step four: Never stop learning

Slack’s notification when you get to inbox zero.

I care deeply about ways in which we can make brands feel more human. Sure, we all love the magic moments when companies insert clever copy at opportune times like the Slack example to the left. But humanizing a brand transcends any particular copy or design decision.

Making a brand more human is an acknowledgement that every time we send an email, our message will be sitting in an inbox alongside notes from our customers’ friends and family. It means personal responses to everyone that takes the time to apply to work with us. It means picking up the phone to walk a non-English speaker through the signup flow or taking a meeting with a high school junior who is curious what a “software engineer” does everyday at work.

The type of customer service response that makes me proud to come to work every day.

These moments often aren’t outward facing and they definitely aren’t always optimized for efficiency or ROI. But the twinkles of real human interaction are what turn a userbase into a community.

Josephine’s personality is difficult to sum up in a logo or a style-guide. Our “brand voice” is more of an evolving conversation than a static definition. But I’ve learned over the course of my time working here that what truly builds our brand is not a clever marketing slogan or a heart-warming explainer video—it’s how we approach our work when nobody is watching.

At the end of the day, we hope we can help more people realize that we’re all in this together — that the everyday burdens, big and small, don’t need to be shouldered alone. It’s only human to be tired and lonely and uncertain sometimes. We believe that in those moments, it’s important to know that somewhere nearby, there’s an open door to a warmly lit kitchen, filled with the smells of home cooked food. — excerpt from Josephine’s “About Us” page