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. 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 will help you to position your new product around the value it creates. They provide you with a glimpse into a change in behaviours or approach which hinders your ability to push a project forward. New insights will help you identify new differentiating features which give you an advantage in the market.
Ultimately Empathy Mapping is about understanding people better by reflecting on them and attempting to put yourself in 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.
Empathy Mapping is useful in ethnographic approaches to Innovation to understand the needs or desires of a user group based on behaviours or insights that are observed. Empathy mapping helps to prompt thinking about the observations and provides a way to structure that reflection. Let’s look at a project I was involved in at a major Canadian bank where I applied this approach.
Creating Savings Through Behaviours
A key issue facing Canadians since the economic crisis of 2008 is high debt levels and low personal savings. The percentage of Canadians with enough savings to help them through an emergency is extremely low. An increasing number of people are living paycheck to paycheck and piling up new debt. We believed that the issue didn’t come from insufficient income, but rather from a lack of discipline and motivation to build and maintain the positive savings behaviour that would address those issues.
First, we built several personas which provided definition to the customer segments we were targeting with our new account. 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. We went anywhere where we could connect with our target segment to get their thoughts. We observed their actual behaviours related to spending and saving. Our goal was to gain insights into what they saw, heard, thought, believed, said, and did around spending and saving in their own lives.
Applying the Personas to Empathy Maps
Once we had collected several weeks of observations, we gathered with an Empathy Mapping template blown up to wall size and started the process. With post-it notes and strong facilitation, we captured our observations into the Empathy Map. The large visual drove discussion and we started to build a shared understanding. We were able to identify new insights by combining our observations and building on what we had each heard in our research.
With the top quadrant of the map filled, we moved to the bottom where we tried to identify areas of pain and gain from our target market. This is where the magic happened and the product features started to crystalize. We heard that our customers found it too easy to spend their planned monthly savings because there wasn’t an immediate penalty for doing so. They heard the word “savings” but they believed they didn’t have the ability to achieve a sufficient “emergency plan savings”. Because they believed they couldn’t achieve it they weren’t motivated to start.
The thought of savings meant dollars which they couldn’t afford. They believed they couldn’t achieve real savings with simple small amounts. Succeeding in savings started with a big cut to their lifestyle which was demotivating. Our customers 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. But they were unmotivated to build and stick to a savings plan.
The Results of our Persona Based Empathy Map
Ultimately it was through our empathy map that we identified key behaviours that allowed us to build our product features.
- Fixed monthly savings goal of at least $200 per month
- Penalties for withdrawing funds in a month including reduced interest payouts and fees. A penalty not big enough to prevent use in an emergency, but large enough to discourage 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. We launched a winning product that was good for everyone!
Understanding Changes in Co-Worker Behaviour
A second valuable use for Empathy Mapping is in understanding the people around you. Think about an important meeting where you need to drive people with different motivations toward a decision. It can be used in almost any situation when dealing with others. An example is when I used an Empathy Map understand a change in a co-worker relationship.
I had always had a great relationship with this individual who had recently been promoted in the organization. We had worked on several initiatives together with great success. Shortly after their promotion to an executive role, however, that relationship changed and I had a very difficult time understanding their behaviour. Emails weren’t being returned, phone calls were avoided, and 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.
Applying Empathy Mapping to Co-Worker Behaviour
On my own, I took the small version of the template and spent some time thinking about what was going on. I looked at what my colleague was seeing, hearing, thinking, and doing. What had changed and what might be creating stress. By writing it all out in the template I was able to start making connections between behaviours and the uncertainty that existed around their new role. They were struggling with 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. They were unsure of their own abilities and were struggling to connect to the work.
With the new insight, I booked a meeting with my coworker about a key decision that I needed their input on. I prepared for the meeting based on my insight from the Empathy Map and reframed the decision. I made sure that their risks were clearly identified. The impacts were aligned to address their personal concerns. In short, the facts for the decision were clear and tailored to their needs. By reframing the decision from the insights that I had gained in Empathy Mapping I was able to paint a path forward that allowed them to act.
Over time their behaviour returned to our old normal, but from that point on I first reach for my Empathy Map to see if I can build new insights to maintain that positive relationship.
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 the situations where you find success using Empathy Mapping. We offer training on the use of Empathy Mapping if you are interested in learning more. Reach out to us today to explore how we can help.
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.