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Roosa Säävälä, April 4, 2018

You know your audience, right?

So you have decided to reshape your business, create a new website or launch a mobile app. You have been running your company for a long time, you have taken the infamous digital leap, and you have all the latest tools in your hands. You are ready to start developing the new service. Well, almost. 

Thinking about the digital product or service from your standpoint adds up to the universal buzz, but when thinking from the user’s perspective, you might give them some real value. For example when shaping a site with a business-first approach, you might get a nice site, but if you start designing the site from the user’s needs, you might get some conversions as a bonus.

empathy mapping

Do you really know your audience?

In this era, if something doesn’t work, it is very easy to dump and try something else, be it a hairdresser, exercise tracking app or multifunctional site with a webshop. But if you understand and design your service based on the minds and emotions of users, it is much harder for them to drop you off.

I know it requires a lot of work to research your users, but usually designers love to dig deep and investigate, so ask for their help! There are various exercises to help you delve into your customers. One of my favorite tools is empathy mapping, which comes to the design process after you have done your user research, analyzed your data and created user personas.

Overall your users are humans*. With the empathy map you study what humans really say, think, feel and do, so it’s mildly put a good idea to dive into this before you start visualising and prototyping the digital service.

*Despite all the hype, there still aren’t that many bots yet, but I am really excited about the robots who will soon come and steal our jobs, so that we can just put our feet to the office table and have some popcorn while watching them work.

Empathy mapping forces you to stay involved with the users for long enough to reframe the opportunities you have. It obliges you to ask feelings from your users. Exceptional services are born from the right questions and a clear focus on the motivation, fears and aspirations of real humans. These are the key factors in shaping your business. This mapping exercise allows you to see what really matters to the people you are trying to serve. And that is quite often the only thing that matters!

Turning data to approachable design

Designing with empathy is more concrete, more humane and more qualitative than statistics, analytics and numbers, which in the end are just bits and bytes. Empathy makes it easier to shape e.g. the user interface, the touch points and the tone of voice.

Forming your tone of voice from the user’s perspective will add value to your buyers and you might develop a competitive edge against other actors trying to convince the same people. You might also substantially grow your fanbase – humans tend to respect it when they are treated as humans.

For example if your audience likes certain kind of humor, why not tone some of that to your content. For a conservative target group, you’re probably better off keeping it more neutral. Each case is unique – we toned one client to sound like ‘a Nokia engineer meets chatty start up guy’ or ‘a self-important scientist meets Donald Duck’.

Who should pay attention to empathy?

In my opinion empathy maps should be created by anyone who wants to understand their customers on a deeper level. From the sales clerk of a local shoe shop organizing new models on the shelves, to the global corporation CEO digitizing an entire business model.

So, empathy mapping is about understanding human motivation, fears and aspirations. It is therefore useful to anybody and everybody, especially those who mainly operate online and have no physical contact with the customers. Knowing your audience is fundamental to creating a human friendly service.

I really believe empathy is the great divider between services that work and don’t work, and brands that manage to create their tribes and the ones that fail.