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When we say “read the room” this means that we must consider that rooms can be different: we might find ourselves sitting around a table eating pizza with our lifelong friends, in a meeting room conducting an important work meeting, or perhaps we might find ourselves at a gala evening with people who are perfect strangers to us. Each room requires its dress code, its way of behaving, and its “etiquette.”

When online, in 90% of cases, people and companies speak without realizing the room they are in.
And that’s serious.

Just as often, these people don’t even pay attention to who else is in that room with them.
And that’s doubly serious.

When writing copy or, in general, constructing creativity, it’s necessary to keep these aspects in mind to produce effective communication, but it’s not always easy to focus on them.

The Empathy Map is an extremely useful tool that allows us to see more clearly what should be the most important elements of our communication.

The Empathy Map Canvas

The Empathy Map was created by Dave Gray, and he is kind enough to tell us the story of this tool on Medium and explain how to use it.

It is as simple and intuitive as it is useful and brilliant.
It is nothing else (as if that were not enough) than a schema that forces and guides us to identify our target audience and get into their heads, explore their desires and fears, analyze their needs, and imagine the world around them. And I swear that every time I use it, I’m amazed at how much it stimulates the creative process in creating effective marketing communication.

Here you can download the latest official version of the map.
Let’s take a closer look:

01. WHO are we empathizing with?

  • Who is the person we want to understand?
  • What situation are they in?
  • What is their role in the situation?

This is where our analysis process starts, and it is precisely with this first question that the map begins to show its strength. Answering this first question already allows us to reflect on a very important issue: do we only have one buyer persona to empathize with, or is there more than one?

Probably later, going to the next points of the map, we will realize that we need to multiply our work and create different empathy maps, one for each of our buyer personas, because they have very different dreams, concerns, and external stimuli.

02. What do they need to DO?

  • What do they need to do differently?
  • What job(s) do they want or need to get done?
  • What decision(s) do they need to make?
  • How will we know they were successful?

Pay attention to this part: besides making us reflect on what the person we want to empathize with needs to do, it also makes us reflect (collaterally) on how WE can help them meet their needs. It is here that we begin to think about how to tailor our value proposition to our target.

03. What do they SEE?

  • What do they see in the marketplace?
  • What do they see in their immediate environment?
  • What do they see others saying and doing?
  • What are they watching and reading?

We start to analyze the stimuli surrounding the buyer persona we want to empathize with. What do they see? What does the market offer them? What conversations are they part of? What excites them? These are answers that will be extremely useful not only to understand how to develop our copy and our creativities but also to profile any campaigns, and how to use their psychographic characteristics to segment our market.

04. What do they SAY?

  • What have we heard them say?
  • What can we imagine them saying?

Everyone has a background, everyone has had positive and negative past experiences. Listening to them means taking an important step towards understanding our interlocutor and therefore towards correctly modulating our communication towards them. Our interlocutor’s words speak to us of keywords, expectations, objectives, hopes, and projects. After all, it is precisely to have this type of information that questionnaires exist, to “listen” to the voice of our interlocutors.

05. What do they DO?

  • What do they do today?
  • What behavior have we observed?
  • What can we imagine them doing?

Imagining (or observing… like a stalker) the daily life of our buyer persona allows us to empathize more with them. Answering this fifth point means understanding their lifestyle, habits, and daily work; a further step towards empathizing with these people and towards understanding the best way to create communication that strikes the right chords.

06. What do they HEAR?

  • What are they hearing others say?
  • What are they hearing from friends?
  • What are they hearing from colleagues?
  • What are they hearing second-hand?

Every day our interlocutor is bombarded with information from outside: stimuli that can be used, concerns that we can alleviate, hopes that we could make more “achievable.”

07. What do they THINK and FEEL?

PAINS

  • What are their fears, frustrations, and anxieties?

GAINS

  • What are their wants, needs, hopes, and dreams?
  • What other thoughts and feelings might motivate their behavior?

We’ve reached into their heads. Once we have explored their world, learned to know them, and can analyze more accurately what their desires are and what troubles them. Could it be us, with our products and services, to fulfill these desires? Can we help them solve their problems?

In any case, at the end of this journey, we now know our target audience. We can “read the room” and those who share it with us, to develop the best way to relate to them.

Conclusions

The Empathy Map is a very powerful tool. It is not complex, and it is effective. It gives us a method to better understand the audience we want to speak to and to understand what language to use to talk to them and what strings to touch to connect with them.

From personal experience, I suggest you build many maps, even dividing your team into groups and asking each of them to fill out the same Empathy Map, the one referring to the same target audience. This will allow you to collect all the maps and put them back together, ensuring that the various groups can avoid influencing each other. The result will be a map extremely rich in points of view and interesting communication ideas.

Before starting any communication activity, use this tool as a “method” to analyze your audience, and then reason about the results it will bring out. They will certainly be an excellent starting point for determining the themes, tone of voice, and the most suitable media to build effective communication.