The Empathy Map Canvas

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Topic Materials

The Empathy Map Canvas (PDF), Notes from The Mom Test (PDF), Index cards, Post-it notes

View the World Through Your Customers’ Eyes

To be in business you must offer differentiating value to your customers. Because your customers are the arbiters of value, it’s essential that you view the world through their eyes. The Empathy Map is a useful tool for eliciting, capturing, organizing, and understanding their worldview.

The Empathy Map Canvas
The Empathy Map Canvas by Dave Gray at XPLANE

Value is personal, contextual, and relative. In order to design a sufficiently compelling value proposition, we must understand:

  • Precisely who our prospective customers are
  • What they need to do—the “jobs” they need to perform in their lives
  • The gains (positive outcomes) customers hope to experience, and
  • The pains (negative outcomes) customers wish to avoid

To develop actionable insight, we need to “go into the wild” and talk to prospective customers. We need to get out of our own heads and into theirs. The problem is, almost all of us are terrible at having productive conversations with customers.

How to Ask Better Questions

According to entrepreneur Rob Fitzpatrick, author of The Mom Test, customer conversations are bad by default. It’s your job to fix them.

  • Talk about their life instead of your idea.
  • Ask about specifics in the past instead of generalizations or speculations about the future.
  • Talk less and listen more.

The problem is confirmation bias—the universal tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, particularly those that are deeply entrenched or emotionally charged.

Don Greer points out that confirmation bias challenges the speed at which we can productively complete the “Observe” step of the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (“OODA”) cycle. If we fail to seek and see disconfirming data, we will fail to re-orient, update our decisions, and revise our actions. As he puts it, “Knowing this about ourselves is the only way to get curious enough to discover what we didn’t know we didn’t know.”

Our friend Jake Cook—a digital marketer and user experience expert—offers a practical approach to overcoming confirmation bias in order to have productive customer conversations. He calls it the “3 x 5 x 10 challenge.”

  1. Get a stack of 3-inch x 5-inch index cards.
  2. One one side of a card, write your (draft) customer persona and value proposition—who do you intend to serve, exactly, and what’s in it for them?
  3. Next, engage a prospective customer in conversation using the techniques described in The Mom Test. Write key takeaways and quotes on the other side of the card.
  4. Return to step #2 and repeat the process until you’ve completed 10 conversations.

Jake notes, “After 10 conversations, you uncover a lot of stuff that you thought was true that isn’t, and if you’re listening, you can also identify some huge opportunities, too.”

Using The Empathy Map

Informed by the insights from your customer conversations, it’s time to visualize your thinking with the help of The Empathy Map. It’s helpful to print as large a copy of the canvas as possible (or replicate it on a whiteboard) and populate it using (moveable) sticky notes.

  • Start with the Goal section at the top of the map. Who is the subject? Be as precise as possible. What do they want or need to do?
  • Work your way clockwise around the canvas until you’ve enumerated what your target customers see, say, do, and hear.

Recall the Ladder of Inference that Laura Black described at the 3:38 mark of the timeline of “Learning Faster with Effective Feedback”. Seeing, saying, doing, and hearing are things that a video camera could record. Such observable data helps us imagine what it feels like to “walk a mile in our prospective customer’s shoes.”

  • Now it’s time to get inside your customers’ heads. What might they think and feel? What gains do they hope to achieve? What pains do they wish to avoid?

Next Steps

To be honest, most of us skip over this entire process most of the time. It can be painful to challenge our intuition regarding the wants and needs of prospective customers. The downside for not doing so is an avoidable waste of time and money.

Those who engage in productive customer conversations and organize their insights using The Empathy Map will be better prepared to craft and communicate a compelling value proposition using frameworks such as The Value Proposition Canvas and Marketing Physics.

Key Ideas

  • Value is personal, contextual, and relative, and customers are the arbiters of value. So, we need to learn to see the world from their perspective in order to design compelling value propositions.
  • Confirmation bias makes having productive customer conversations challenging. Jake Cook’s “3 x 5 x 10 challenge” and the principles of The Mom Test will help us test our assumptions productively.
  • The Empathy Map Canvas helps clarify our thinking about what our customers need to do, the gains they wish to experience, and the pains they wish to avoid.
  • The output from The Empathy Map Canvas can be used to design and communicate a compelling value proposition.