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Empathy Boards

How do you go about making the Copernican Shift and seeing the world from a consumer-centric perspective? To see people in a broader way, you must understand the world they travel through. This is almost the reverse of the 'path through the day' exercise-you must follow in a person's footsteps and re-create the world that person sees.

Think about the way the forensic investigators on primetime detective television shows go about solving the crime: They lay out each piece of the evidence and see what the picture that is created then tells them-which is often different from the hypothesis that they had at the beginning. What you're really doing is forensic reconstruction of a person's daily life.

To really empathize with the people you want to reach, you need to understand the visceral emotion underlying the part of their world that you are exploring. I've conducted groups with people from every age group, diving under the surface to see what drives their world, what fuels their passion.

When I take a group through guided imagery exercises, I've found that it doesn't take long before strong emotional responses pour out from the people in the group, with the intensity of their feelings often surprising them (and me). A woman who was raising three children described how she saw her family literally growing like a garden as she watered and tended it; preteen girls described the gray anxiety and loneliness that they felt between the hours when they saw their friends; and a group of men who were interested in home improvement (normally not the most expressive guys) were overwhelmed with memories of working with their dads when they were young-the smell of sawdust, paint, and glue was still vivid and clear.

Once you've dug your way down to the place where the emotion is glowing like some sort of radioactive ore, how do you maintain the strength and power of that energy?

I like to create collages, or 'empathy boards.' This is a technique that I use to try to capture the texture of someone's life and experience in a way that can be communicated to someone else visually-a way to try to hang on to the elemental drives that you've uncovered in the people you're trying to reach. It keeps you from getting lost in typical marketing jargon-it keeps the juice in your concept and stops that concept from drying out into something flat and unexciting.

Let's look at an example.

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