How empathy mapping can be used to help generate ideas for your business

Empathy mapping isn’t a new concept, but it’s come a long way since its first days as a UX and design visualisation tool. Nowadays, it can be adapted as a workshop for digital marketers, researchers, and PR professionals to find new outreach platforms and expand on content calendars.


What is empathy mapping?

Empathy mapping started as a visualisation tool for designers and UX professionals. However, the purpose behind the workshop can be adjusted so that it can help you identify new outreach opportunities, build on existing customer personas, expand your content calendar, and generate actionable ideas in a short space of time. Empathy mapping can also help you get into the mindset of your customers — without having to pay for expensive focus groups or time-consuming surveys.

During a session or workshop, participants add information onto a ‘map’ based on a persona (see below example).  Each section on this map represents a different aspect of that customer. Participants spend time (usually 10 minutes per map) filling in the different sections based on what they know about the customer.

This is part one of the session, with part two being the time where information from the map(s) is used to generate content ideas on a separate sheet.

Empathy map

Empathy map

Example of a filled-in empathy map for a fragrance brand

Example of a filled-in empathy map for a fragrance brand


Why use empathy mapping?

Empathy mapping is a cost-effective and time-efficient way to learn more about your customers. It works best when you have existing personas already but would like to expand on them. It’s also a great way for in-house professionals and agencies to learn more about the customer and their core needs.

Learning more about the emotional needs of the customer will help you deliver better content to them. Instead of just producing content for the sake of it, you’ll be producing content that addresses their fundamental concerns and needs. This helps to cement brand trust from a customer point of view and will help your brand/website gain influence and praise in the long run.


Who can join an empathy mapping session?

Anyone can join an empathy mapping session. However, it works best with a mix of different people from different departments. It also helps to get people who share the same interest as the brand you’re doing the mapping for. For example, if you’re mapping a persona for a fitness brand, it helps to have participants in the session who have fitness related hobbies. This will help you get relevant and valuable insights that you may not have gotten had you not included these participants.

Keep in mind though, empathy mapping sessions are not focus groups for customers. You can have participants in the group who like the brand and may even own products from the brand (or similar products). However, this should be the exception and not the rule when gathering participants for your sessions. Participant variety and different perspectives are needed for a session to run well!


How to run an empathy mapping session

Make sure you have the right amount of people for the session and that you have enough personas to map to for the size of group you have. Ideally, there should be:

  • one main person to run the session
  • one assistant who manages the timekeeping and note-taking
  • the participants

How many participants you have depends on the number of personas you’re planning to map. For example, if you want to map three personas then we recommend three groups of three participants. If you’re planning to map just one persona, then six people would be more than enough: four participants, one session lead, and one session assistant.

Once you have an idea of numbers, the session leader can plan and prep the session ahead of time. This will involve knowing the personas through-and-through, by reading them and researching any websites or publications that are mentioned in those personas. This is key: this information will be used as prompts during the actual session to help participants if they get stuck.

Remember though, the session leader and the assistant do not join any participant group permanently. They move from group to group to help the participants, keeping the session running smoothly.


Things you will need for an empathy mapping session:

  • Timer (or phone with a timer)
  • Camera (or phone with a camera)
  • Personas to map to
  • Marker pens
  • Marker pen eraser
  • Post-it notes
  • A large surface to write on for each group (paper, whiteboard, etc.)
  • Drinks and snacks (optional but recommended!)


Times per session:

Part I: Mapping

  • 10 mins per map
  • Split the participants into equal teams and assign each team a map to start with
  • The Facilitator and Timekeeper can help teams if they can get stuck by asking questions
  • When the timer goes off, each team swaps and moves to the right to work on the next empathy map for 10 mins
  • This is repeated until each team has worked on each persona


Part II: Ideation

  • 20 mins per map
  • Bring the team back as one big group
  • Ensure that each map is a balance between channels and content types (not all content ideas on the blog, not all long form copy ideas etc.)
  • Write all the content ideas onto post-it notes
  • The sky is the limit here in terms of ideas. At this stage, no idea is bad!


Final tips

Make sure you time the sessions properly (so that they don’t overrun) and that you take photos of all the completed maps after the session is done. The workshop leader will need this information to put into a workflow plan (e.g. Trello, Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets) after the session is finished.

This workflow sheet will then be shared or sent to the relevant parties so that the ideas gathered from the session can be put into production – you’ll soon be able to see the rewards of your empathy mapping session become a reality.

Catherine 'Pear' Goulbourne

Catherine ‘Pear’ Goulbourne | SEO Strategist, Oban International

Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion. Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.

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