How to Empathize with Your Audience

Walk a mile in their shoes.

Wendy Ruyle 9.30.2014


If you want to communicate effectively with target audiences, you have to be able to empathize with their situation. In order to give them the product or service they want in the way they want it, you’ve got to, as the old adage says, walk a mile in their shoes.

But how do you begin to do that with audiences you are trying to reach? An effective tool we use regularly is an empathy map. We first heard of this at a MinneWebCon event several years back but the technique is used widely in the design process. (By the way, the next MinneWebCon is coming up in April. Check it out.) This process will help you get into the heads and hearts of those you are trying to reach. And gain consensus from your team.


Start by identifying a segment of your audience. Then, go around the circle and ask these questions as it relates to your organization, product, or service.

What do they think and feel?

What really counts to them?
What are their preoccupations?
What are their worries and aspirations?

What do they see?

What is their environment?
Who are their friends?
What else is the market offering?

What do they do?

What is their attitude in public?
What is their appearance?
What is their behavior towards others?

What do they hear?

What are friends and family saying?
What does their boss say?
What are other influencers saying?

Remember to recognize that perhaps their attitude and behaviors in public are very different than their attitude or behaviors in private. You can see how going through this map will get at the pain points for each audience member. Think about how you can turn those around into a gain for them. What problem do they have that you can solve?

Once you’ve worked through this empathy map, use that perspective to fill in a second set of questions that dive deeper into how you can start to connect on a practical level.

What are some opportunities to connect?

Think about the opportunities you have to make a connection with this audience. Events? One-on-one meetings? Email? On the web? On the phone? List out all the options.

What are their intellectual expectations?

Whether for a website, service, or product design, audiences come in with preconceived ideas about what they want or need. What are they?

What are their emotional expectations?

How do they want to feel when they interact with your brand? (Note: not how do you want them to feel, how do they want to feel?)

How can you deliver on these expectations?

What content or level of service do you need to provide so they walk away happy?

How can you exceed these expectations?

How could you go above and beyond and wow your audience. You may not be able to achieve this in the first phase of your project but think big. Then, figure out how to accomplish it.

The point of this exercise is to understand and empathize with your target audiences so you can provide them with the solution they need to solve their problems. Making you the hero. Now start walking that mile!

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