Embracing the Consumer Journey Through Empathy Building

Jun 27, 2023Insights

One of the most common questions we hear clients ask is ‘what is the consumer journey for our category or brand?’. This often comes at a time when their brand is looking to drive significant growth and fuel innovation. They’re seeking to understand the steps of the journey as well as the underlying motivations and decision-making processes that lead consumers to choose (or not choose) their brand.

Over the years, we’ve often seen the consumer journey viewed as a series of steps, each one completed before the next, resulting in a purchase and taking a product home. The steps are considered to be almost transactional, and the result is often a flashy map that is only halfway actionable.

Marketers and product developers then look for experience or product gaps along the journey steps, and develop solutions to address them. Sometimes those solutions work and fill a functional need. Sometimes they don’t, and that is often because the gap they were aiming to fill stems from a higher order emotional need or experience the consumer is seeking. It’s tied to who they are as people – their experiences, lifestyles and stages, daily struggles, challenges, and goals. We believe that consumer needs cannot be fully met within their journeys without a circumspect understanding of the people, their goals, their emotions, their motivations as they traverse these journeys. 

But people are complex and unique so it can be challenging to peel back the surface layers to get to what’s really going on in their lives. It becomes even more challenging to identify themes across groups of complex and unique individuals, and then share that with an organization and have them truly embrace it. That’s where empathy building comes in, and we layer it throughout our consumer journey work.  

When we approach the consumer journey, we always start with understanding people at their core. We first dive into their lives to understand where they are today, what they value, their goals and challenges. Our approach draws on a number of increasingly introspective topics that engage System 2 thought about who consumers are at heart. This provides an invaluable contextual lens through which we then explore their experiences, goals and attitudes related to our client’s category and their decision-making processes. Check out an example of our past work here

Next, we look across the information we gathered to identify themes of higher order benefits, emotions, and goals. This information is used as the inputs into an analytical framework through which to better understand their decision making and journeys through your category. The output of this analysis ensures we’re digging down past the initial layers and documenting important learnings in the digestible form of benefits structures, empathy maps, and journey mapping couched in consumer context. 

The next key step is to help our clients and stakeholders build consumer empathy through storytelling and experiential learning before we ever show a category- or product-specific journey map. We will often use videos, personas, customer profiles or stories to help us get close to consumers. We know it is critical to first establish an understanding of who these people are, their goals, challenges, life stages, etc. Then we introduce the stages or flow of the journey, examining the decision-making points along the way and how that is influenced by who they are and their goals. 

In the end, we first develop a true empathetic understanding of consumers and then use it to view the consumer journey, comparing what is happening along their journey to the consumers’ ultimate goals, challenges, and life experiences. Asking ourselves at each step of the journey if our client’s brand is supporting the consumer’s ultimate goals and reducing their challenges with the CX and products they offer. From there, we identify where our client’s brand may be falling short and where they could level up even more to fulfill consumer needs and goals and reduce challenges. Those are the places in which we need to innovate to really stand out. 

While an empathy-driven understanding of the consumer journey requires a deeper dive into consumers, the ROI is there. If you ‘get’ your customers, they’ll feel it. You’ll end up meeting your customers where they need and want you to be, create an overall better experience for them, and build their loyalty over time.


Jill Miller


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