How Empathy Maps Help You Speak Directly to the Hearts of Your Audience

As we enter the conclusion of our three-part series on content strategy, you should already know what your audience believes about the world and have a narrative mapped out that will allow you to confirm your audience’s worldviews. Now it’s time to explain the final piece of the content strategy puzzle.

This piece creates an emotional connection between you and your audience. It’s a component that makes your audience think: “Hey, they get me. They understand me. They know what I’m thinking and feeling.”

I’m talking, of course, about empathy — the ability to identify with and vicariously experience the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes of someone else.

But how do you incorporate that ability into your marketing? And why does this process help create a memorable brand?

A proven framework called an empathy map helps answer these questions about creating an emotional connection with your audience.

And when you do create that connection, your customers view your business in a new, positive way.

In this episode, Demian Farnworth and I discuss:

  • Why a minimum viable audience can make or break your business
  • Empathy’s role in marketing
  • Real-world examples of empathy in marketing
  • How emotions create positive brand associations
  • Why emotional ads outperform informational ads
  • How to use an empathy map
  • The long-term, continual process of understanding your customer

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The Show Notes



Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: How to Use Empathy Maps to Speak Directly to the Hearts of Your Audience

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. I’m your host, Jerod Morris.

Today’s episode is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform, which is everything you love about WordPress and Copyblogger, all rolled into one complete website solution for content marketers and Internet entrepreneurs.

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Over the last two episodes of The Lede, Demian Farnworth and I have been discussing content strategy.

First, we discussed a cornerstone of content strategy that too many people overlook: The worldviews of your audience. Then, in our last episode, we talked about storyboarding and how it helps you ignite a feeling in your audience.

As we enter the conclusion of our three-part series on content strategy, you should know what your audience believes about the world and have a narrative mapped out that will allow you to confirm your audience’s worldviews.

Now you just need the final piece that connects everything. It’s the piece that creates an emotional connection between you and your audience — a component that makes your audience think: “Hey, they get me. They understand me. They know what I’m thinking and feeling.”

That final piece is empathy, the ability to identify with and vicariously experience the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes of someone else.

And while it may seem that some people are naturally more empathetic than others, and in fact this is probably true, every person, and more specifically for our purposes, every content creator or business looking to empathize with an audience can be empathetic.

It just takes a little effort, a little research, and a proven framework for empathy development. That framework is called an empathy map, and it is the subject of this episode of The Lede.

Demian, we have spent a spent a good deal of time during this content strategy series stressing the importance of knowing your audience.

Before we dive headfirst into empathy, please provide, if you would, a quick recap of why having a deep knowledge and understanding of your audience is so crucial for anyone whose goal is to turn an audience into actual customers?

Why a minimum viable audience can make or break your business

Demian Farnworth: Where should product development start? The common mistake people make is that they create a product, and then they look for an audience to sell it to. The only problem is they may find that people don’t actually want that product.

At Copyblogger, we’ve been teaching Brian’s business philosophy: always begin by building the audience first. He coined the concept of the minimum viable audience.

You want to attract an audience with meaningful, creative content, and once you understand their worldviews and get involved with them, you have a pool of people and resources that you can eventually pull from.

You can ask them questions like, “What problems are you facing? What can I do to help you succeed in your career, in your life, in the sports that you play?”

Then build the product around their wants, desires, and needs, so you actually solve a meaningful problem. That was the concept around Teaching Sells. Brian and Tony Clark asked their huge audience, “If we built this, would you buy it?”

The audience said “yes,” and they had loads of orders for a product they had not even built. All they had to do was build the product, and it was ready made. There was always cash there.

You also avoid deadweight loss. It’s concept economists talk about — during Christmas you always get that gift that makes you think, “Yeah, I really didn’t want that.”

It’s the same thing with a product people don’t want — it’s a deadweight loss. It’s going to cost you money. It’s ultimately going to sink you unless you have the resources and the money like a big brand, say Procter & Gamble or Apple, to pour into the branding and the building of that desire.

That’s why you have to build that audience first, and understand your audience, before you actually build a product.

Empathy’s role in marketing

Jerod: Let’s talk about how empathy fits into that. How do you define empathy, and why does it matter in the context of marketing?

Demian: Empathy consists of two parts. First, there’s an intellectual identification with the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of someone else.

And then there’s what we’re interested in: the vicarious experience of those feelings, thoughts, or attitudes.

Here’s an example. A nurse can relate to a suffering patient although she might not know what it feels like to have cancer. She might have even lost her parents to cancer. She’s able to share the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of a particular cancer patient.

So in that way, she wants to help him. She’s driven to want to help him. The reason why we use empathy and talk about empathy in the business world is so you understand — you show that you care about your customers. You show that you care about your client.

It relates to that classic Roosevelt quote:

Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

You enter the conversation that’s already going on in your customer’s heart. And I use the word “heart” because that’s where it begins.

It’s that emotional tie-in that you want with people, and people make buying decisions based upon emotions — no matter how logical, how analytical, how smart they are. They use the logic and their rationale to justify those decisions, but they always start with emotions.

Whether it’s pride, a desire to belong, a desire to be loved, a desire for fame or for wealth, etc. Those are all emotions, and they drive buying decisions.

We have to be able to relate to people and understand their desires or beliefs. Our job, as we’ve said in the past, is not to create or change that belief, it’s simply to confirm and validate that belief through the products and content we create.

Real-world examples of empathy in marketing

Jerod: We’re going to talk about strategies for getting to that point of understanding, but first let’s provide a few examples of empathy in action — especially in a marketing context. I know you’ve got a couple of examples, and I have one too.

Demian: Yeah.

Jerod: All right. Let’s start with yours.

Demian: The “Thank you, Mom” Procter & Gamble Olympics commercial displays athletes who — if it wasn’t for their moms who did their laundry, who got them up on time, who made their breakfast — would have had a harder time achieving their goals.

If it wasn’t for Moms who helped them, raising them from someone who was helpless to someone who now succeeds on the global athletic scale, then these people wouldn’t be there. It’s a tribute to that, and that’s empathy.

Through the commercial, without using words, Procter & Gamble subtly says, “We understand you, Mom, so we make products for you to help you do your job. We understand why you do your job.”

It’s not like P&G creates products so Moms can do the laundry faster or more efficiently. It’s deeper than that. P&G wants to communicate that they know Moms want to take care of their children — that they “get” the pride that goes into raising a child.

The other side of that coin is the Dear Sophie commercial by Google, which is about a dad who records his daughter from her birth as she’s raised, through Google products, whether it’s email or a Google Plus hangout.

Again, it’s tying in: “We understand you, Dad. You’re proud of your children. You want to collect these memories.”

The emotional connections show empathy, and neither of these are making any direct sales. But their audiences get it, and they think, “Yes, I want to be a part of that,” or “maybe that will help me in some sense.” It makes that connection.

Jerod: Yes, it’s indirect selling. When I started prepping for this I thought of the Budweiser Superbowl commercial from 2013 that a lot of people probably remember.

It’s with the Clydesdale trainer who raised a Clydesdale from when it was just a young foal to when it’s ready to go out and hit the big time.

They show these shots of him peering in at the young foal through a window, almost like he’s at a hospital looking at a newborn, and feeding it with a baby bottle. It taps into emotions that parents have probably experienced.

But in the commercial, you’re looking at a horse trainer, and then of course at the end, he goes and sees the Clydesdale when it comes into town, and the Clydesdale breaks away from the pack and runs up to him.

It’s this really emotional scene. I literally get teary-eyed when I watch this commercial. And Stevie Nicks singing “Landslide” certainly helps set the mood.

How emotions create positive brand associations

Demian: And then plus, you want to drink a Budweiser, right?

Jerod: Yeah, and that’s why I think it’s a brilliant emotion to tap into — this idea of longing, missing, and wanting that special reunion.

Because I think a lot of times beer is involved with memories we have of friends and family, right? It’s that indirect association. They tap into that emotion, and it supports that positive brand association.

Demian: Exactly, and that’s what many companies, including Budweiser do. They make the point “when you buy our products, you are part of this bigger thing.”

People want to associate with this appeal of the Clydesdales. The Clydesdales have been with Budweiser forever, and so there is that history there, that tradition.

Here’s a little cultural fact for you: Budweiser is here in St. Louis, and before they were bought out by InBev, August Busch, the former CEO of Anheuser-Busch, came up with the “whassup.”

Jerod: Whasuuuuuup! (Laughs)

Demian: Whasuuuuuup! There you go! He came up with that, and that’s the goofiest thing you’ve ever heard, but it started something, right? It went viral, and people associate it with Budweiser.

Jerod: (Chuckles) Yeah.

Demian: So again, it’s this idea of keying into and understanding who your audience is. The same guy also came up with the bullfrog one.

Jerod: Bud … weis … er.

Demian: That’s right! You’re great today, man.

Jerod: Those commercials are classic. Budweiser has a lot of them.

Demian: They create empathy and people who buy the beer associate those concepts with Budweiser.

But now Budweiser has distanced themselves away from that and moved more toward the traditional family and responsibility. The Clydesdale commercial reminds me of the Ram truck one about why God made a farmer, which has almost the same type of appeal.

Why emotional ads outperform informational ads

Jerod: It’s funny because we’re talking about these Budweiser commercials, but here’s the thing. I don’t drink Budweiser. All of this sounds good theoretically, but does this type of advertising actually work?

Demian: That’s a great question. According to an extensive study by the World Advertising Research Center back in 2007, emotional ads outsell informational ones by about 19 percent.

Informational commercials just inform you about the product. Emotional ads, as we demonstrated beforehand, inform you, but they inform you in a way that touches your heart rather than your head.

The informational ones just hit your head.

How to use an empathy map

Jerod: Now let’s get into the nuts and bolts of empathizing in a meaningful way. There are proven processes that content marketers and audience builders can use to understand their audiences and empathize with them.

Demian: There are a number of ways. We’ve talked about worldviews and personal profiles, and another way is using an empathy map, a concept created by Dave Gray.

The empathy map emerged out of web design user experience, in attempt to empathize with users. It’s a simple process.

You take a large poster board or whiteboard and draw four quadrants, which you label “thinking, seeing, doing, and feeling.” Some people take it a little bit further by adding two other boxes labeled “pains” and “gains.”

Then you fill in each section with sticky notes. To get started, you sit down with your team and ask questions like:

  • How do our consumers think about our product?
  • When they use our product, what do they think?
  • When they see our ads, what do they think?
  • What do they say or feel when using our product?
  • What are the pain points when using our product?

You can inform this empathy map too, if you have already determined worldviews and personas. You look through each core quadrant and think:

  • How do my prospects think about their lives, their careers, this product?
  • How do they see their lives going?
  • What do they want to do with their lives?
  • How do they feel about success and failure?

Look for language they use that you can use in your own advertising to help resonate with them, to help empathize with them.

The nice thing about the empathy map, too, is that you can adapt this from a large scale, where you figure out how to empathize with your customers at a global level, to just writing headlines or articles.

When you want to write about a particular topic, you can just draw a sweet, little, simple empathy map on a blank sheet of paper and think:

  • How do my ideal readers think about this topic?
  • How do they see themselves within this topic?
  • How do they feel?
  • What do they want to do with this sort of topic?

As a writer, I’ve worn out plenty of tools to create headlines and this idea of the ideal customer. But in the end, we never stop learning about a reader, and we never stop learning about our customers.

You always want to understand who your prospect is inside and out.

Jerod: We’ve got a downloadable PDF of this empathy map that you’re talking about in the Show Notes that people can download and use.

Here’s a final question: If you’re struggling to understand what your audience might be thinking or feeling, what do you do to bridge that gap, to get that knowledge that you need to fill out the empathy map?

Demian: I would just make a couple of phone calls, or track down people who are your ideal readers or clients. Talk to them, and ask these questions. You don’t need a ton of people, maybe 10 to 15, and you’ll get a lot of information.

Take somebody out to lunch who’s your ideal reader or prospect, or take a couple of them out to lunch, or have a conference call with them.

The nice thing is, people like to give their opinions. So you call and say “Hey, I need to pick your brain, can you help me out?” And people want to oblige you and it makes them feel flattered. It’s a great thing to do.

Trust me, if the idea of doing that makes you nervous, you’ll enjoy it more than you probably think. Once you do one, you’ll want to do more. The only problem will be stopping once you have enough information.

Always look for ways to understand your customer

Jerod: We’ve now come to the end of our three-part series on content strategy. We talked about worldviews, story boarding, and empathy maps — all methods we can use to better understand our customers.

Through these strategies, we aim to create feelings and emotions that help us create a response from them.

Any final thoughts on content strategy before we wrap this up, Demian?

Demian: Content strategy is a long-term, continual process for marketers and businesses who always need to create more content. A common issue is that they don’t have the resources to create more content, and they usually feel like that content is not up to par.

A content strategy and looking for ways to understand your customer will help you satisfy the needs of your readers and your prospects. So never give up.

Jerod: Feel free to tweet us ideas for our next series: @JerodMorris, @DemianFarnworth.

Let us know what topics you’d like to hear us cover on The Lede because, obviously, we want to cover topics you all want to hear about.

But otherwise, Demian, this has been fun and we will chat again soon.

Demian: Here’s an idea for our next podcast: You can just make animal noises the whole time.

Jerod: (Pause) Whasuuuuuup! (Laughs)

Demian: For a moment there you didn’t answer, and I thought, “He doesn’t know what I’m talking about.”

Jerod: No, I was waiting for an opening to go full-bore with a “whasuuuuuup!

Demian: Nice. Nice.

Jerod: But yes, okay. Next on The Lede, animal sounds for 15 minutes. Done.

Demian: That’s right.

Jerod: We’ve got it.

Demian: Take care, Jerod.

Jerod: All right, I’ll talk to you soon.

Demian: Bye, everybody.

Jerod: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Lede. If you enjoyed this episode and feel like you learned a thing or two, please consider leaving the show a rating or review on iTunes. We would appreciate it.

Don’t forget to head over to and get started with your 14-day free trial of the Rainmaker Platform. Over at, you can take a tour of the platform and read what other folks are saying about it to see if it’s the right fit for you and your content.

If you missed the previous two episodes in this series, remember you can always get caught up on iTunes or Stitcher, or you can listen right on Just go to to find every episode, plus the Show Notes and transcripts.

We’ll be back soon with another new episode. Talk to you soon, everybody.

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*Credits: Both the intro (“Bridge to Nowhere” by Sam Roberts Band) and outro songs (“Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart) are graciously provided by express written consent from the rights owners.