3 Exercises to Help You Deeply Understand Your Customers

Feb 23rd 2017

3 Exercises to Help You Deeply Understand Your Customers

This article is repurposed from our new book, “The Content Marketer’s Guide to Ideation.” This massive 187-page guide is available free as a PDF (get it here), and is also available in Kindle and paperback.


So, you’ve got customer segments. Maybe you’ve even got buyer personas complete with clever names and stock photo faces. But, do you really know your customers? Do you understand their hopes, anxieties, and fears?


After doing wide and deep research into your customers, you can multiply your audience insights by getting together with a team and running through a few quick, empathetic exercises.


The exercises in this article will provide structure to knowledge sharing sessions. They can be helpful when done alone, but they really shine when done with a group of team members from working cross-functionally to better understand your customers. The three exercises we’ll cover are:


  • Empathy Map
  • A Day In The Life
  • Pain/Gain


Empathy Map


When deconstructing your content topics and ideas, you may find that the ideation process has taken you outside of the scope of relevance to your business, or that you’ve zoomed in too far on a topic. When you lack relevance, you can get eyeballs, but forfeit business results. When you’re too “close” to a topic, you struggle to create anything interesting or helpful for your customer base.


Sometimes, revisiting the audience themselves can be a helpful exercise in developing new content ideas. Empathy Maps are a quick tool for doing that. They’re not a replacement for research, but they can be helpful for kickstarting ideation.


empathy map


The Exercise:

  1. Write your persona’s name in the middle of your sheet or whiteboard. Even better, draw a picture of the person.
  2. Create four boxes around the person, and write “Hearing, Seeing, Thinking, Saying, Feeling, Doing.”
  3. Post your ideas in each of the six boxes, riffing on your colleagues’ ideas.


Often, you’ll need to create context for yourself or a group. Context helps to create creative constraints for ideators. Try drawing the customer journey on a whiteboard, and choose specific, critical junctures as the context for your ideas.


For example, what is the customer “feeling” when they begin an informational Google search to try to solve their problem?


A Day In The Life


Your customer is the central character in your company’s universe and, hopefully, brand story. A Day In The Life is an imaginative thinking tool that can be used for two general purposes. One is to understand more potential touch points and artifacts for your target customer to expand your list of content topics. The other is to generate problem-solving ideas that can be leveraged into content ideas.


The Exercise:

  1. Identify your target audience.
  2. Write what you imagine their average day looks like, including activities, habits, and content-consumption patterns.
  3. If possible, run a quick customer survey for more accurate, data-backed research.
  4. Write a narrative or list out bullet points of his/her average day.




Jeff, a marketing strategist who’s paid to understand the cultural zeitgeist and leverage the latest mar-tech trends into business results, wakes up at about 5:30 am for the third time this morning. He has a newborn, so he hasn’t slept well in months. He’s adapted to his new lifestyle. He opens up Yahoo! News and scrolls through a few headlines. He opens his email and finds 21 new messages—more than he has time to deal with. He takes a quick shower, heats up some oatmeal, burns the roof of his mouth while eating, and, slipping his feet into his sneakers, heads off to his office job. Etc….




  • Wakes at 5:30 am for third time in morning
  • Feeds baby
  • Changes baby
  • Opens Yahoo! News to check headlines
  • Opens email and nearly faints
  • Showers
  • Eats oatmeal, burns mouth, puts on shoes
  • Goes to work
  • Etc…


Build the entire context around the problem you solve for your central character. The more everyday, common problems you can think about, the more opportunity to solve your audience’s problems.


By understanding context, you develop a deeper understanding of your customer as a human. With that will come a plethora of new topics and artifacts for you to produce content ideas from.


From creatingminds.org




Another quick exercise used to draw out the most important characteristics of your customers is Pain/Gain. People act either to move away from pain or toward gain. That’s how we all act on a daily basis. If you’re looking to influence your customers, think about what they’re running from or moving toward and address those needs.


The Exercise:

  1. Create a two-column chart on a whiteboard or sheet of paper. In the left column, write “Pain.” In the right column, write “Gain.”
  2. Ask and answer of your customers in the Pain column:
    • What do they fear?
    • What do they feel responsibility for?
    • What makes for a bad day in their life?
    • What keeps them from being successful?
  3. Ask and answer of your customers in the Gain column:
    • What drives them?
    • What does a great day look like?
    • What do they want to accomplish?
    • How will they know if they’ve succeeded?

pain gain

From Dave Gray, via Gamestorming by James Macanufo and Sunni Brown


All of the three exercises can be done within short time frames, and be effective even when done alone. You’ll need to have a strong understanding of you both your customer and the archetypal customer journey before starting. Including sales and customer service reps in these meetings can help provide valuable insights into deep customer motivations. How you put that data into action is up to you.


This article is repurposed from our new book, “The Content Marketer’s Guide to Ideation.” This massive 187-page guide is available free as a PDF (get it here), and is also available in Kindle and paperback.

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