Just like teenagers, brands aren’t immune to peer pressure and a desire to “find themselves.” Companies may be compelled to design certain products in an attempt to keep up with the competition or establish a desired brand identity. But, many fail to look to their audience for the design path they need to take.

The purpose of your job is to provide consumers with the product or service that they need. To understand what they need, you need to think and feel like your target audience. Unfortunately, the whole design team may not recognize the importance of stepping into the shoes of their users. That’s why many have turned to empathy mapping to create a common understanding and — as implied by the title — empathy for a user.

What is an empathy map?

A consumer wants a product that they actually need — you need a deeper understanding of a consumer’s wants. This is where the mutually beneficial empathy map comes to the rescue. An empathy map is a visual tool that helps companies identify with their audience and pinpoint their attitudes and behaviors.

By funneling qualitative research through an empathy map, teams can better recognize the needs of their users and offer them custom-made products. Companies begin this process by looking at users’ statements, thoughts, actions, and feelings and recording findings in the four quadrants of an empathy map (Says, Thinks, Does, Feels). These four quadrants are broken down as follows:

What statements has the user vocalized? Look to interviews or usability studies for direct quotes that can support what the user is sharing with others about their product/service experiences.

  • “I need a reliable product.”
  • “This product is so user-friendly.”
  • “I only buy from brands with quality customer service.”

What is the user’s thought process throughout their experience? This section may cross paths with the Says quadrant but captures the details they may not feel comfortable sharing vocally.

  • “My peers may judge me for choosing this brand.”
  • “This interface is super frustrating.”
  • “Am I missing out on extra features?”

What actions does the user take? Are they interacting with certain content on a webpage? What are their purchasing habits? A user’s physical steps indicate the type of behavior that propels them toward a purchasing decision.

  • Spends a lot of time researching similar products.
  • Turns to peers for recommendations.
  • Prefers to see and experience the product in person before purchasing.

How does the user feel about the experience of using your product or service? Do they indicate frustration or joy? Do they trust your brand? Though users may not openly share their specific feelings, try to deduce what emotions they experience through their comments.

  • Anxious about committing to a purchase
  • Excited about cutting-edge updates
  • Overwhelmed with options

Related: Help Your Employees Find—and Maintain—Meaning in Their Work

Why empathy maps are worthwhile

Although your customers’ satisfaction alone should be enough of a motivator to create an empathy map, there are many other reasons why empathy maps are valuable.

Create a unified image of users

Empathy maps can bring a lot of unity to a team. Once you can mutually empathize with users, it becomes easier to present ideas and solutions that would benefit them. These maps can also support certain design decisions when presenting to stakeholders.

Guide decisions

Before introducing any change or addition to a product or service, reference the users’ empathy maps. Taking the time to consider whether or not a step is beneficial to your users simplifies the decision-making process and improves user satisfaction.

A fast and inexpensive research method

The beauty of empathy mapping is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time or money to get to know your customers. Users already put out so much information through social media, their interactions on your company platforms, and review sites. These resources are free to use and available within a few clicks.

Improve sales and brand trust

As you create more products and services that satisfy the needs of your users, they will develop greater trust in your brand and opt to buy your products over the competition. Significant payoff comes when attention is given to details that affect your users.

Using Vibe’s empathy map template to create an ideal product

How to create an empathy map

Empathy maps come in all shapes in sizes. This customizable tool will look different for everyone, but there are six basic steps to follow when creating an empathy map.

1. Choose a user

Who are you trying to understand and empathize with? An empathy map could hold information about one individual person (perhaps from an interview), or it could include data about a group of people who share similar responses. Empathy maps often lead to the development of buyer personas so ensure that you create an individual empathy map for each persona.

2. Establish the purpose and protocol

Why do you want to create an empathy map? Before you start delving into the minds of your users, determine how this map will help your team. Here are some possible reasons to create an empathy map:

  • Create a new product or service tailored to the target audience
  • Form buyer personas for your audience
  • Improve user experience for a product
  • Launch and/or measure a marketing campaign
  • Respond to a PR crisis
  • Build new curriculum for a class
  • Determine the type of building or structure needed for an audience

Make the purpose clear so you can involve the right people in the mapping process and know where to turn for collecting research. Set a deadline and make team members aware of their responsibilities for completing the empathy map.

3. Gather information

Companies can use a variety of ways to research their target audience. Look at your website’s analytics, insights from your social media platforms, create a survey, conduct focus groups, or look at reviews and customer feedback on sites like Reddit or LinkedIn. You may even choose to have the user fill out the empathy map themselves. Team members can place the information they find on sticky notes or type findings on a digital map.

4. Map it out

Find the right home for your empathy map. You could write information on sticky notes and place them on a wall or poster board labeled with the four quadrants. Or you could go the digital route and include your information on a shareable document for the whole team to see. Try a virtual whiteboard for a happy medium between a visual, tangible approach and the power to brainstorm remotely.

5. Discuss findings

As your map fills up, group similar data and label common themes. Use this step as an opportunity to discuss the themes and trends with your team to achieve a shared understanding of your users. It’s okay if there’s overlap between the quadrants — the point is to simply make it visible on the map. Share how the results of your findings will impact your decisions moving forward. Consider the steps your brand can take to support your users and gain their trust.

6. Use the map

Let the map be your guide as you fulfill your user-related goals. Place the map in a shared space where it can be the center of focus for your team. A glance at the map could give you a clear idea of the inner workings of your user. Still, you may also find conflicting information on the map — maybe the user said positive remarks about a product but performed negative actions (or vice versa). When this happens, you get to do a little digging to understand why they expressed certain thoughts or feelings.

Remember that an empathy map is never fully finished. Thoughts and opinions can and will change as the world around us changes. Make adjustments to your users’ empathy maps and use them to conduct market research in areas that are lacking or need clarification.

Tips for making empathy maps with remote teams

We’ve recently come to learn that remote collaboration is not only possible, but it can be very effective. If you have a remote team, take pride in the fact that there are more remote collaboration tools available now than ever before. So, when the time comes to remotely create an empathy map with your team, here are some tips for a successful experience:

  • Kick off the mapping with a Zoom call. Use this first meeting to review the company’s purpose behind mapping, assign research duties to your teammates, and set a deadline and protocol for finding data.
  • Use project management tools to stay on track. It’s super easy to get overwhelmed with the scope of a research assignment. Create a kanban board or utilize project management sites like Asana to break a project into bite-sized tasks and follow the team’s progress.
  • Gather content in a shared document. Use a virtual whiteboard or Google Doc to store data in the same place. Vibe even has an empathy map template to simplify the process. See who added information to the map by assigning a different colored sticky note to each teammate.
  • Hold a meeting to discuss the findings. In this final video call, give everyone an opportunity to share their insights and new perspective of the user being studied. Should perspectives differ, work together to consolidate the map’s information. If necessary, you can assign further research to resolve the areas in question and discuss findings in a follow-up meeting.

How empathy maps simplify decision-making

Once you have an empathy map in your pocket, you have the power to resolve disagreements and make educated choices. Instead of relying on what actions the company would take, decision-making falls on the shoulders of your users.

Using an empathy map to guide your various decisions will involve asking a lot of questions on behalf of your user. Prior to making a user-related decision, consider the following:

  • Will this improve the user’s experience?
  • Will this increase the user’s trust in the brand?
  • Can this resolve issues the user is facing?
  • Can this help the user accomplish their goals?
  • Will this positively influence the user’s actions?

Consider yourself an advocate for the user. As you answer these questions, strive to act in your user’s best interest. When you choose to support the needs of your target audience, they’ll choose to support your brand.

Whether you need a place to create an empathy map or a tool for maximizing your remote collaboration, Vibe’s user-friendly technology has your needs in mind. Check out a Vibe Board demo to learn how you can improve your team’s work and better serve your customers.

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