One of my favourite tools when I’m working on innovation, strategic planning, marketing, or even just preparing for an important meeting where a key decision is needed is Empathy Mapping. Put simply Empathy Mapping is a way to discover new insights into people, customer segments, or personas you have developed for your new product or marketing campaign. Those insights might help you to better position your new product or service for them to see the value it creates. They might provide you a glimpse into a change in behaviours or approach which is hindering your ability to push a project forward. New insights might help you identify new differentiating product or service features which will give you an advantage in the market.

Ultimately Empathy Mapping is all about understanding people better by reflecting on them and attempting to put yourself into their shoes.

I have published our “Empathy Map Guide and Templates” to the site in our Tools and Templates area as a way for you to get started with this great technique in your own work, but I also wanted to provide a couple of story examples on how I have used empathy mapping myself in the past.

The typical scenario where Empathy Mapping is used is in Design Thinking or other ethnographic approaches to Innovation where there is a need to understand the needs or desires of a user or user group based on behaviours or insights that are observed. Empathy mapping can be very helpful as a way to prompt thinking about what has been seen and heard by the team and a way to structure that reflection. One example of when I used this approach was in a project where we were designing a new savings account for a major Canadian bank:

Creating Savings Through Behaviours

One of the key issues facing Canadians since the economic crisis of 2008 has been high debt levels and reduced levels of personal savings. The percentage of Canadians with accessible savings sufficient to help them through an emergency is appallingly low and too many people are living paycheck to paycheck even if they aren’t piling up new debt. But we believed that the issue didn’t come from insufficient incomes but rather from a lack of discipline and motivation to build and maintain the positive savings behaviours that would address those issues.

The first thing we did was build several personas (I will be publishing a template and post on Personas hopefully in the next couple weeks) which provided some definition to the customer segments we wanted to target with our new account. Without giving away too much the basic segments were millennial savers (young, starting out, building new habits) and GenX’ers who had reached the middle of their career and likely the peak of their consumption (with kids, houses, cars, etc). Then we went out and talked to people…

We talked to people from our target segments at our branches, outside our branches, in the streets, while in line at McDonald’s, while they walked their dogs in the park, and while they shopped at the mall. Anywhere where we could connect with our target segment to get their personal thoughts, observe their behaviours related to spending and saving, and to gain observations about what they saw, heard, thought, believed, said, and did around spending and saving in their own lives.

Then, once we had pulled together a couple of weeks of conversations with the team, we gathered with an Empathy Mapping template blown up to wall size and started the consolidate. With post-it notes and strong facilitation we quickly captured our observations into the Empathy Map and then discussed them starting to build on those observations based on our shared understanding. We were able to identify new insights by combining our observations and building on what we had each individually heard from our test subjects.

Once we had filled the top quadrant of the map we then moved onto the bottom where we looked to identify areas of pain and gain from our target consumers. This is really where the magic happened and the product features started to crystalize. We had heard that our customers found it too easy to spend their planned monthly savings because there wasn’t any real immediate penalty for doing so. They heard “saving” and immediately believed that they didn’t have an ability to achieve the recommended “emergency plan” savings amount which then didn’t motivate them to get started. The thought of saving meant big dollars which they couldn’t afford, not simple small amounts that they could hold themselves to. They were hearing that they weren’t saving enough and they were afraid of the future. They were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to access money that they saved in the case of an emergency. They were simply unmotivated to keep with their savings plan.

Ultimately it was through the empathy mapping that we identified the key behavioural drivers which allowed us to build the product features which included:

  • Fixed monthly savings goal of at least $200 per month
  • Penalties for withdrawing funds in a month including reduced interest payouts and fees – not big enough to deter use in an emergency, but large enough to deter overspending
  • Uncomplicated structure and rules – anyone could understand it quickly
  • Regular progress reporting to make the savings growth visible

The end result was a phenomenal success which drove great savings growth both for the bank and for the customer – a winning product that was good for all parties!

Understanding Changes in Co-Worker Behaviour

The second example I will give you where I think Empathy Mapping is a critical skill is simply in the understanding of people. This can be used when planning for an important meeting where you need to drive various people with different motivations toward a decision, or even more simply as in this example when I needed to deal with a changing co-worker relationship.

I had always had a great working relationship with this individual who was a high potential talent and a new executive in the organization. We had worked on several initiatives together in the past with great success and a great working relationship. Shortly after the time of their promotion to an executive role, however, that relationship seemed to sour and I had a very difficult time understanding the behaviours I was seeing from them. Emails weren’t being returned, phone calls were avoided, in meetings they were creating challenges for my team and avoiding committing to decisions.

I was really quite lost on what was happening with them… until I used the Empathy Map.

On my own I took the small version of the template and spent some time thinking about what was going on around this individual. I looked at what they were seeing, hearing, thinking, and doing. What had changed and what might be creating stress. By writing it all out in a structured template I was able to start making connections between behaviours I was seeing and uncertainty that existed around the definition of their new role, expectations, other executive changes, and job risk. I quickly realized that the behaviours I was seeing weren’t intentionally disruptive, but were driven by stress and concern for their own job security in their new role. They were unsure of their own abilities and therefore were struggling to connect to the work.

With this insight in place I booked a 1-on-1 meeting with my coworker on the topic of one of the key decisions that I needed to get made that they were a key part of. I took time to prepare for that meeting based on my insights into their current situation and reframed the decision for them so the risks were clearly identified, the impacts were aligned to address their personal concerns, and the facts for the decision were clear. By reframing the decision from the insights that I had gained in Empathy Mapping I was able to help them see a path forward and to make a decision to get us moving forward again.

Over time their behaviour returned to our old “normal” but from that point on whenever I had to prepare for a big decision or deal with a change in behaviour I first reach for my templates and work through the Empathy Map to see if I can find any new insights that might help me keep things moving.

Empathy Mapping Template

I encourage you to take a look at our Empathy Mapping template and guide which is available for download from our Tools and Templates section. Please share with your results and situations where you find success using the Empathy Mapping technique or any suggestions you might have for improving on the tool itself. We also offer training and coaching on the use of the Empathy Mapping template if you are interested in more help in implementing it in your own business or career. Reach out to us today to explore how we can help.

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *