Empathy Mapping

How empathy mapping can help focus customer interviews

At the outset of any marketing campaign, it is important to understand user needs in as much detail as possible. The empathy mapping framework provides a great way to plan and conduct user interviews that gets to the heart of the customer at an intimate level. While the concept of empathy mapping was originally tied to design thinking, it has been adapted by various industries including software design, healthcare, and education.

What is an empathy map?

An empathy map is typically a large, empty quadrant diagram, that as its filled out provides a rounded view of the customer and their relationship to your product or service. The categories for the four quadrants are typically as follows:

  • Think and Feel: What is going through the user’s mind? What matters to them?
  • Hear: What are some things the user might hear in their environment? What are people telling them?
  • See: What is the user exposed to visually in their environment? What are they watching or reading?
  • Say and Do: What might the user say or do in public? How do they behave?

To these can be added additional sections which are particularly useful for marketing campaigns:

  • Pains: What challenges, obstacles, or difficulties is the user experiencing or trying to avoid?
  • Gains: What does the user want to achieve? What are their goals and motivations?


Using empathy maps for interviews

Empathy maps can be an excellent tool to prepare for, conduct, and analyze interviews. They help create a structured framework for understanding what you need to learn about your interviewee.

Before the interview they can be useful to develop the questions that will give you the most useful insights. How does the user feel about the product/service category in which you operate? What do they think about and what is their decision-making process? What is the social and physical environment they are in? Building out a sheet with all the questions listed in the empathy map categories can help organize a user interview and keep it focused.

During the interview, use the sheet to guide the discussion, and write notes within the specific sections. If the interview starts to drift off-topic, a glance at the empathy map can help steer the conversation back to areas that offer valuable insights in the development of a marketing campaign.

After the interview, you can write up the notes using the format of the empathy map quadrant to help organize ideas. Tools like Mural allow you to store and collaborate on this information digitally. Look specifically for insights on which you can act.

Using Generative AI as a thought starter for empathy mapping

Generative AI tools can be useful for creating starter empathy maps for a given persona that can help guide the interview process, or to compare answers after an interview. For instance, using the prompt “Create an empathy map for an interview with an organic soap shopper” with Anthropic’s Claude yields the following response:

What does the organic soap shopper think and feel?

  • Feels it’s important to buy natural/organic products
  • Thinks mainstream soaps have too many chemicals
  • Feels good supporting small/organic businesses
  • Worries about products truly being organic
  • Feels overwhelmed by all the options

What does the organic soap shopper see?

  • Sees various organic soap brands and options
  • Sees “organic” and “natural” labels everywhere
  • Sees higher prices for organic soaps
  • Sees ingredients lists they don’t recognize
  • Sees soap claims that seem dubious

What does the organic soap shopper hear?

  • Hears friends talking about chemical-free lifestyles
  • Hears advertisements for organic soap products
  • Hears debate around meanings of “organic” and “natural”
  • Hears recommendations from blogs/influencers
  • Hears skepticism about whether organic is really better

What does the organic soap shopper say and do?

  • Says she tries to live a natural, chemical-free lifestyle
  • Expresses wariness about label claims of “organic”
  • Looks up ingredients and researches brands extensively
  • Asks store employees lots of questions
  • Tries out multiple natural soap brands

What pains the organic soap shopper?

  • High prices of some organic soap products
  • Confusion over what terms like “organic” really mean
  • Distrust of label claims and marketing around soaps
  • Lack of clarity around health impacts of ingredients
  • Knowing if she’s making the right choices

What gains the organic soap shopper?

  • Peace of mind from choosing natural products
  • Feeling of alignment with her values by buying organic
  • Sense of care for her family’s health and wellbeing
  • Trust in brands after research and trial and error
  • Knowledge to see through dubious marketing claims

We would not recommend building a whole campaign off this response in itself, but it is useful for creating starter questions and lines of reasoning to explore. Notice that in this instance the tool supplied the ‘pains and gains’ in addition to the core four questions, which is particularly useful in the marketing context.

Using Generative AI to analyze interviews

Once you have a recording of an interview transcribed, you can use tools like ChatGPT or Claude to analyze the text from the interview which can be faster than going through it manually. You can even interrogate the text with prompts like “tell me from this document what are the biggest pain points that the user is feeling.” This can be particularly helpful for getting to key information fast. More information on summarizing text with AI.

Using empathy maps across your marketing strategy

An empathy map you have created around your user is a useful tool in building out a marketing strategy. It can help you define customer segments, identify motivators for use in content creation, think about how you position a product or service, develop your brand voice and image, and think of ways to improve the customer experience. Think about how you can use empathy mapping to develop more customer-centric marketing campaigns.

More resources on empathy mapping

How to build an empathy map
Identifying your ideal customer
Empathy maps for marketing