How empathy can drive brand success

Posted on
May 28, 2023

Understanding your target audience's needs, desires, and emotions is essential for effective connection. Empathy mapping is a valuable tool for achieving this goal.

The empathy map framework, designed by Dave Gray of XPLANE, is a collaborative tool to help brand teams better understand their customers and users.

His contribution to visual and design thinking methodologies has influenced various fields, including brand strategy, product development, and customer experience.

By delving into your customers' thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, empathy mapping helps you build a brand strategy that delivers genuine connections.

In this blog, we will explore the importance of empathy mapping in brand-building and guide you through its different quadrants and development.

empathy maps
empathy maps

Understanding Empathy Mapping in Brand Building:

Empathy mapping is a powerful tool that enables businesses to develop a deep understanding of their customers, allowing for the creation of a brand that resonates on an emotional level.

The Four Quadrants, Say, Think, Feel, and Do of Empathy Maps provide a comprehensive view of the customer's experience, incorporating both observable and unobservable aspects.

Each quadrant represents a different dimension of the customer's experience, enabling businesses to gain a holistic understanding of their customers' needs and emotions.

(The questions in each quadrant below serve as a starting point for gathering insights. Adapt and customize them based on your specific brand, industry, and target audience to obtain the most relevant and valuable information for empathy mapping.)

Empathy Map Framework by Dave Gray
Empathy Map Framework by Dave Gray

1. Think & Feel:

This quadrant focuses on capturing both the conscious and subconscious thoughts and emotions of the customer. It aims to understand the customer's internal state, including their beliefs, attitudes, values, and emotional responses. By exploring the intersection of thoughts and emotions, businesses can gain insights into the customer's mindset, motivations, and the deeper reasons behind their behaviour.
  1. What thoughts and beliefs come to mind when your customers think about or interact with your brand?
  2. How do they perceive your brand compared to competitors? Are there any specific aspects that stand out to them?
  3. What emotions do they associate with your brand? How does your brand make them feel about themselves or their identity?
  4. Can they recall any positive or negative emotional experiences with your brand?
  5. How important is it for your brand to make an emotional connection with your customers?

2. See:

This quadrant emphasizes the customer's external environment and the visual cues they encounter. It involves observing the physical surroundings, objects, and visual stimuli that influence the customer's experience. By understanding what the customer sees, businesses can identify design elements, aesthetics, and contextual factors that shape their perception and impact their decision-making.
  1. How does your brand visually differentiate itself from others in the market? What visual cues or design elements catch their attention when encountering your brand?
  2. How does the physical setting or context in which they experience your brand influence their perception?
  3. Can they describe the imagery or visuals that they associate with your brand?
  4. What are the critical elements in their environment impact their perception of your brand?

3. Say & Do:

This quadrant combines the customer's verbal expressions and observable behaviours. It involves capturing both what the customer says and how they act in different situations. By analyzing the alignment or potential gaps between what the customer says and what they do, businesses can gain insights into their intentions, preferences, and actual behaviors. This helps in understanding how the customer's actions align with their stated needs and expectations.
  1. What do your customers say about your brand when discussing it with others?
  2. How do they communicate their experiences or opinions about your brand?
  3. Can they describe specific actions or behaviours they engage in when using your products/services?
  4. What motivates them to recommend your brand or share positive experiences?
  5. How do they express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with your brand?

4. Hear:

This quadrant focuses on capturing the information and influences that the customer receives through various channels, such as conversations, media, advertisements, or social networks. It involves understanding the customer's exposure to external messages and the impact those messages have on their perceptions and decisions. By understanding what the customer hears, businesses can identify the sources of influence and information that shape their opinions, preferences, and overall experience.
  1. What sources or channels do your customers rely on to gather information or opinions about your brand or industry?
  2. Are there any specific individuals, influencers, or experts whose recommendations they value regarding your brand?
  3. What conversations or discussions do they often hear about your brand within their social circle or community?
  4. How do they perceive your brand's general sentiment or reputation based on what they've heard from others?
  5. Have they encountered any testimonials or reviews about your brand that have influenced their perception or decision-making?

Developing and Utilizing Empathy Mapping in Brand Building:

Developing and utilizing empathy mapping in brand building involves a systematic process that allows businesses to deeply understand their target audience and create impactful brand strategies.

The steps to developing and utilizing empathy mapping begin with gathering customer insights through research and observation.

These insights are then organized and visualized in an empathy map, which captures the customers' thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and needs. With a clear understanding of the customer's perspective, businesses can then leverage empathy mapping to identify key pain points, opportunities, and moments of delight.
Example Empathy Map for fictional FairTrade Coffee
Example Empathy Map for fictional FairTrade Coffee

This knowledge serves as a foundation for designing customer-centric brand experiences, crafting compelling messaging, and building strong emotional connections with the target audience.

By following these steps, businesses can effectively leverage empathy mapping in brand building to create brands that truly resonate with their customers.

Research and Customer Insights:

Gather customer data through surveys, interviews, focus groups, or social listening. Use this information to identify common themes and patterns in customer responses, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of your audience.


Form a multidisciplinary team comprising members from marketing, design, customer service, and other relevant departments. Their diverse perspectives and expertise will contribute to a holistic empathy mapping exercise.

Quadrant Creation:

Create a visual representation of the empathy map by dividing a whiteboard or poster paper into four quadrants: Say, Think, Feel, and Do. For a comprehensive view, include additional quadrants such as See (environmental influences) and Hear (external feedback).

Populate the Quadrants:

Based on your research and customer insights, collaboratively fill in each quadrant. Use sticky notes or markers to capture each category's representative quotes, beliefs, emotions, and behaviours. This process uncovers valuable insights and helps identify key themes.

Analysis and Synthesis:

Step back and analyze the completed empathy map as a team. Identify your customers' most significant pain points, motivations, and emotional triggers. Look for connections, patterns, and gaps.

Strategy Development:

Utilize the insights gained from the empathy mapping exercise to inform your brand strategy. Align your messaging, positioning, and brand experiences with your customers' emotions, needs, and desires. Craft targeted campaigns and communications that speak directly to their aspirations and challenges.

Empathy mapping is a genuinely transformative tool in the brand-building process. By understanding your customers deeper, you can create a brand strategy that resonates, engages, and builds lasting connections.

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