An empathy map helps you identify with a customer’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Product teams often use empathy mapping to improve the user experience. In this article, learn how to build an empathy map and use it to improve your business strategy.
Have you heard the saying, “take a walk in my shoes?” That’s empathy in action. When you foster empathy, you visualize yourself living someone else’s life. This soft skill improves your understanding of how others navigate the world.
Empathy mapping is also useful to identify customer needs. By creating a detailed user persona and imagining yourself as that user, you can gain valuable insights about the customer experience. These insights can translate to product improvements and a stronger sales strategy.
An empathy map is a tool that helps you discover how your target audience thinks, feels, and behaves so you can better understand their wants and needs. The map typically includes four quadrants: think and feel, say and do, see, and hear.
Before you can use this tool, you must first build a user persona or scenario to represent one of your target audiences. There are two main "methods" to persona creation. One is a persona description. For example, you might have the "confident shopper" or the "curious buyer.” This type of persona explains, in broad strokes, what motivates someone. It can help product, marketing, and sales teams understand their overall audience.
The second type of persona is a specific person, and this is the type you’ll use for your empathy map. This persona is a made up person that has a name, an age, likes, and dislikes. Putting a specific name, face, and age to a persona makes it easier to empathize with them.Free templates for product teams
You can use empathy maps any time you want to learn more about your audience and gain perspective into how they think. Empathy maps are most helpful during product planning, but you can also use them to improve a product once you’ve created it.
Empathy maps also serve as a reflective tool for marketing campaigns or sales strategies. Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking for gaps in your current strategy, an empathy map will offer guidance and support.
Product teams to ensure they’re keeping the end user in mind during the design process.
Marketing teams to improve business strategy by identifying customer pain points and desires.
Design and developer teams to gain insight into user experience (UX) and user interface (UI)
Empathy mapping should be a group activity—you and your team members can brainstorm what the user experience may be like and streamline your ideas into the most accurate portrayal.
An empathy map has four quadrants that work together to get you into the mind of your end user. In addition to those four quadrants, you’ll also describe your persona’s pains and gains—or customer needs and expectations. The pains and gains will serve as a guide, while the remaining four elements help you explore a customer’s life from their point of view.
Pains: What are the pain points in the user’s life? What are their needs?
Gains: What are the user’s expectations for meeting their needs?
Think and feel: What are the user’s major worries and aspirations? What are their values? What preoccupies their mind?
Hear: Who are the user’s main influences in their life?
See: What does the user see in their environment that influences them?
Say and do: What does the user say and do to meet their needs?
To make filling out your empathy map easier, pair it with a user persona. That way, you know who your customer is before assessing what their life may look like. Remember that in order for your empathy map to be effective, you need to pair it with a user persona that describes a fictional individual. If you don't already have a customer persona in mind, briefly describe the persona above the empathy map.
Your company likely has more than one customer persona. To understand them all, create separate empathy maps for each persona. Use the steps below to build an empathy map, then incorporate the process into your workflow so team members can repeat it as needed.
Clearly define your empathy map goals so you know how deep to dive into each persona. You’ll likely have overarching goals—like improving your business strategies to meet customer needs—but specific goals can help you assess whether your finished map meets expectations.
For example, you might set goals to:
Gain insights into end users in the 25-35 age range.
Outline where our current product fails to meet the audience’s needs.
Determine how to improve our product to serve this audience.
As you're developing your empathy map goals, take some time to define the scope of your map. Try framing your scope around a scenario. An empathy map scope helps you explore how the user might experience that scenario.
Put yourself in the user’s shoes and start with the observable outer elements. You may have an idea of how the user behaves, but the goal of this step is to get a more accurate idea of why they behave that way.
Do: User research will help you identify user behavior. Gather customer data that fits your persona. Do these customers have behavioral patterns? Think about what technology they use, how they interact with others, and how they would solve a problem if one arose.
Say: Interview and actively listen to your users to learn more about what they say in certain situations. You can also monitor customer service phone calls.
See: The user’sage, location, and personality can all play a role in what influences them. Identify what might influence your user based on their behavior. This may include online advertising, reading the news, or watching television.
Hear: What in the user’s environment could influence them? For example, a new mom who’s always around her child may prioritize product safety, while a college student may care more about product design because they want to fit in.
Once you’ve examined observable elements of the user, move into their mind. You can’t know what someone else is thinking, but you can make an educated guess.
Think: Keep in mind that thoughts can be the root cause of a feeling. For example, if your user has decision paralysis when choosing a product, they may be thinking, “I’m scared I’ll make the wrong choice.”
Feel: Based on what you know about the user’s behavior toward a problem, how do you think they feel? Some users may have anxiety about purchasing products, which can lead to decision paralysis. Others may be impulsive and pick a product quickly after searching.
It's okay that the think/feel descriptions won't apply to every single user. Even users in the same target audience will have different thoughts and behaviors. Aim to capture the most common feelings users have.
Now that your empathy map is complete, zoom your perspective out. Reflect on the map and the user experience. Let team members share their thoughts on the exercise and whether the map gave them new insights or ideas on how to move forward.
For example, you may realize that your user cares more about product safety than you thought. This prompts you to emphasize safety features in your marketing. Keep your empathy map in a shared folder so the entire team can reference it for future projects.Read: 9 steps to craft a successful go-to-market (GTM) strategy
The image below shows an empathy map example. In this example, Stephanie Davis, age 29, is a writer living in a large city and working remotely. Her computer stopped working, and she’s now shopping around for a new one.Free empathy map template
Needs a new computer to work remotely as a writer.
Wants a computer with a clean interface.
Will pay more for a computer that she knows will last.
Think and feel:
Feels frustrated that her current computer only lasted three years.
Feels overwhelmed by the computer choices available.
“I hope I make the right choice.”
Friend says, “I chose my computer because it’s fast.”
Boss says, “I chose my computer because it’s light.”
Reviews say, “Macs are best for creatives. PCs are best for gamers.”
Sees colorful and trendy ads for Mac computers everywhere.
Sees Apple products in the hands of everyone walking by.
Reads a blog for creatives that recommends Macs.
Say and do:
“I need a good value.”
“I want a product that’s worth the money.”
Tirelessly searches customer and product reviews.
From this empathy map example, you could frame your own product around Stephanie’s behavior. For example, you know you can price your product a little higher for a user like Stephanie, as long as you deliver high quality products. You also know that product and customer reviews are essential to a user like Stephanie.
Use the empathy map template below to dive deeper into customer behaviors.Free empathy map template
As you make your way through each quadrant of the empathy map, keep these best practices in mind.
Avoid unconscious bias: You may have unconscious biases without realizing it. These biases can cause you to overlook user details and miss out on information. You can combat biases by knowing what they are and being aware of them. Every thought you have should be supported by a fact to avoid opinion-based conclusions.
Use supporting data: Support your empathy map with user data. If you state that your user sees ads for specific products or reads certain material, confirm those statements with statistics. Data will show what users in a specific demographic read most often and what they’re exposed to online.
Look for hidden user needs: Once you finish your empathy map, use it to examine less obvious user needs. Your user may have a broken computer and want a new one, but could they also use software to maintain their new computer?
Perform a root cause analysis: User behavior can point to deep-rooted values and beliefs. If your user is wealthy but would rather repair a product than buy a new one, then they may not spend money frivolously. They may also feel empowered by the idea of repairing something.
Being empathetic isn’t always easy. It takes practice to put on someone else’s shoes and eliminate your perspective from the mix. With empathy maps, your team can make and market products that meet users where they are.
Empathy mapping is a powerful tool you can use to understand your audience. Once you have insights from your empathy map, you’ll need an action plan.
Whether your product team is launching a new product or your marketing team is conducting user research for new campaigns, work management software can help teams share ideas and work together through every stage of the process.Try Asana for work management