We've all learned personas are to content marketing what yeast is to bread -- you could make bread without it, but you'll end up with a dense brick of carbs. With yeast the bread just works.

And applying personas and journey mapping to your content marketing strategy means the difference between content that simply exists versus content that moves, motivates, sparks action, or builds loyalty and credibility. So why aren't we applying this same approach to new business ventures?

We've gotten very good at evaluating the market landscape, growth potential, competitors, opportunities, and testing our assumptions about potential customers. But I'm not just talking about user testing.

I'm talking about what happens before the user testing, and even before the version one of your product. I'm talking about empathy mapping.

What exactly is empathy mapping and how do you do it? It's similar to applying the rules of persona development for content marketing purposes, but in the context of product prototyping.

1. Identify your personas

Exactly who are the people who would gain value out of this product or service? If you have it already, you could use an actual customer, but the goal here is to get as narrow as possible and hone in on who your customer truly is.

If you don't have a customer, create one. This should be as close to an actual person as possible--give them a name, age, title, occupation, relationship status, family status, and the list goes on. You might even find a picture to personify them even further and create a very clear picture for yourself and your team.

2. Map their senses

Once you have several personas, write down what your personas think, hear, feel, do and say. On the day-to-day, what is this person experiencing?

This is a good opportunity to get the Post-Its out and get the team involved. Divide a whiteboard or large sketchpad into these five quadrants and have the team jot down what they think this person experiences in each. Do this for each of your personas.

This exercise forces you to put yourself in their shoes to understand what they experience on any given day -- the questions they are asked day in and day out, the challenges they face, how they feel or what they do in relation to those challenges and triumphs, and what they think about. This intel is powerful in helping you develop for them, whether that's a product, service, or rebrand.

3. Take a journey in their shoes

With these insights, you can then begin to map the customer's journey. By first studying what they think, hear, feel, do and say, you can then apply these to your product or service and the stages they go through as they seek to solve their problem. One of two things may come from this exercise: you might uncover a new opportunity to change direction or you will discover ways to expand your product or service.

Exploring what your personas experience within these five categories, better positions you to identify trends, common challenges or pain points, and questions that may arise as they move through various stages. You will also better understand and interpret their actions within each of these stages -from the time the problem emerges to the point they begin searching for a solution, to the point they finally start using your product or service and what they experience as they use it.

Knowing what they're thinking, feeling, hearing, saying and doing within each stage of their journey enables you to not only build the features and functions to address their needs, but also create the messaging within the product or marketing to do the same. This allows you to capitalize on small moments you may otherwise miss if you simply trust your assumptions.

Mapping their journey better equips you to build a stronger version one before testing it on customers. You'll have anticipated their needs and addressed their questions by first understanding who they are and the triggers that cause them to seek a solution and progress through their journey.

Often innovators can fall into the trap of approaching new business ventures assuming their assumptions about the market or customer needs are correct. But what if these are incorrect? What if you create something nobody wants? Or worse, could you be leaving an even bigger opportunity on the table? One way to prevent this from happening is to first seek to understand your customer and the journey they're on. Develop empathy for them and apply that to your product or service, and you'll already be ten steps ahead of the majority.

Published on: Nov 30, 2016