empathy map

Empathy Map – Understand Your Users with Design Thinking

Jonas Sickler, Digital Marketing Analyst

Key Points

  • An empathy map is a visual tool used by organizations to understand their customers’ needs and wants.
  • Empathy maps enable more effective marketing campaigns, product strategies, sales pitches, and overall business strategy.
  • Empathy mapping helps you provide a superior customer experience throughout the user journey.

Most marketers have a sense of what their customers want. Why wouldn’t they? Brands spend millions of dollars to gather data about consumer trends and market conditions. Unfortunately, these assumptions often miss the mark because they ignore emotional drivers. In other words, they don’t have an empathy map.

As a result, companies may give customers what they don’t want, or they fail to give them what they do want. Fortunately, you can avoid these mistakes.

An empathy map delivers insight into what makes your end users tick and how to provide them with a superior customer experience.

Read on to learn what an empathy map is, why it matters, and how to create one in your own company.

What is an empathy map?


Empathy Map

An empathy map is a design thinking tool that helps marketers and product managers understand a user’s behavior. They visualize your audience’s emotional state at key moments which informs the user experience design process (UX design).

Dave Gray, founder of Xplane, first introduced the concept of empathy maps to improve customer experience and design better work environments. Since then, the methodology has been adopted by the agile community, customer teams, marketing departments, and product managers.

Within an empathy map canvas, there are four quadrants, with each giving you deeper insights into who your customers are and how you can best connect with them.

Empathy map quadrants

  • Motivators – The goals and frustrations that drive your customers to action
  • External Influences – The messages, media, and people that influence your customers
  • Internal Influences Thoughts, emotions, desires, aspirations, and fears that drive your customers
  • Actions – How your customers respond to various settings and situations
example of empathy map quadrants

In addition to the four quadrants, empathy maps often contain two additional boxes for the customer’s pains and gains. These capture the frustrations and pain points they regularly encounter, as well as what they need to achieve success.

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Empathy Map Template

Empathize with your audience at key moments to deliver greater value.


Why create an empathy map?

Thought leaders like Simon Sinek suggest that people are most likely to buy from brands they share a connection with. So, when you know your customer, you can create more effective marketing, forge stronger brand loyalty, and provide a better user experience at each stage of the customer journey.

Your team should build empathy maps to gain a better understanding of your user and your broader target audience.

These insights will improve your customer journey mapping process and help you define a stronger value proposition. It also enables you to design more effective marketing campaigns, product development strategies, sales pitches, and overall business strategy. In addition, this type of emotional UX research reveals opportunities to improve existing services and develop new ones.

Ultimately, empathy map exercises help you see things through your customers’ eyes.

Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” However, you can’t show people what they want unless you first understand what motivates them. 

When to create a customer empathy map

Ultimately, they are valuable tools anytime you need new insight into your target audience

  • Launching a new brand
  • Launching a new product or product line
  • Expanding into a new market
  • Targeting a new demographic
  • Developing a new marketing campaign
  • Adding new features to a product
  • Changing business models

Furthermore, using a customer empathy map template enables consistency across your enterprise for different audiences. For example, it can help you avoid making decisions that negatively affect your customers. In addition, it can be your blueprint for providing a superior customer experience every step of the way.

Empathy map design thinking also creates unity and clarity among team members regarding both problems and opportunities. It’s easier to align with other members when presented with actual customer data rather than competing subjective opinions.

Empathy map vs persona

Although the lines are sometimes blurry, an empathy map is like a detailed subsection of a buyer persona. A persona includes a broad spectrum of data, such as demographics, psychographics, behaviors, attitudes, values, motivations, interests, goals, and problems (or pain points).

Persona empathy mapping exercises narrow the focus specifically to the customer’s perspective — what they think, say, feel, hear, and do. They should also be based on actual user research and customer data. In other words, try to avoid making educated inferences, which often shape user personas.

At a high level, you could say that persona examples help you understand who your customers are, while an empathy map helps you understand what motivates them.

How to create an empathy map

Here are the specific steps you should follow for effective empathy mapping sessions.

1. Establish goals

First, you need to establish which persona to map, as well as the outcome you expect to achieve.

For example, let’s say that one of your business growth strategies is to expand into a new geographic market. You should choose a buyer persona example that represents your ideal customer within that location. The goal is to understand their unique perspective and desires based on their geographic location.

As a result, you can use language that resonates with them to build more effective marketing campaigns.

If you plan to launch a product in Dallas, Texas, you most likely won’t reuse the same marketing strategies that worked in New York City. A user empathy map can help you to contextualize your efforts for better results.

Determining your goals at the outset of the empathy mapping process helps provide a roadmap for the steps that follow. It shapes the types of customer information you gather, as well as how you utilize that information.

2. Conduct audience research

The most effective empathy maps are built on real data that is gathered through in-depth audience research. You want to gather both quantitative and qualitative research.

The research can take many forms, with each type providing different insight:

  • Search data
  • Social data
  • User interviews
  • Qualitative surveys
  • Analytics
  • User tests
  • In-the-wild observations

The most effective empathy maps are built on real data that is gathered through in-depth audience research.


Ideally, the audience research will involve multiple team members within your company, including key stakeholders. This results in a much more robust empathy map since each team member and stakeholder will approach the process from a different perspective. Involving more people, especially from different corporate departments, can help balance business objectives versus a customer’s/user’s needs and desires. 

It also keeps everyone on the same page regarding what customers want and the best way to meet those desires.

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3. Assess the four quadrants of the map

Once audience research is complete, map each piece of user information to the appropriate quadrant during an empathy map workshop.

The group systematically goes through each quadrant, adding the information they’ve gathered in the research phase. This can be done using a whiteboard, poster board, sticky notes (Post-it Notes), presentation templates, or a digital mapping tool. 

Base responses on concrete information rather than guesses.


4. Cluster and synthesize

After you map the user information to the appropriate quadrant, take a step back and look for related data points. Then, cluster these points together and synthesize them as much as possible. 

For example, are there related observations about what the customer sees every day? If yes, then combine those concepts into one or two main points that capture the heart of the issue. This makes the empathy map more coherent and easier to understand.

5. Summarize

The final step is to summarize the 360 empathy map and what it tells you about your customers.

  • What key takeaways have you gathered throughout the process? 
  • What have you learned about your customers that can be used to improve your products, services, marketing campaigns, etc.? 
  • Are there any gaps in your customer knowledge that need to be filled in? 
  • Are there ways you alleviate their pain points?
  • How can you help your customers achieve their goals more effectively?
  • Etc.

The key is to distill all of the information into concise, actionable items that the rest of the team understands.

It’s important to remember that empathy maps are living documents. The data you gather will eventually become stale, so you should revisit them regularly. As you collect more first-party data, augment your maps and adjust them as needed.

The Power Of Empathy

Few things are more powerful than empathy, both individually and for brands. It allows us to see the world from another person’s perspective. Empathy gives us a deeper understanding of what motivates people, and how we can help them achieve their goals.

It also has a significant impact on your business. When you empathize, you become more human in the eyes of your customers. As a result, they are more likely to become repeat buyers, extending the customer lifecycle.

It’s possible to have a great product and a frameworks for incredible service, and yet miss the mark with customers. An empathy map reduces this risk. It forces you to walk in your customer’s shoes so you can create more personalized experiences which also supports your behavioral marketing efforts.

Empathy map design thinking helps you understand your customers more deeply. And that’s a true win-win.

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