Empathy Map vs Persona: What’s the Difference and Why Do You Need Both?

Empathy Map vs Persona: What’s the Difference and Why Do You Need Both? cover

Empathy map vs persona: what are these and what’s the difference between them?

Both user personas and empathy maps are techniques used during the UX design process to understand users on a deeper level and create a product that resonates with them.

In this article, we’ll outline the differences between a user persona vs empathy map and dive deeper into the why, how, and when to use each one to get the best results.


  • User personas are fictional characters that represent archetypal users of your product or service. It answers the question: who are we designing for?
  • An empathy map is a powerful tool that gives you a general understanding of how your customers feel about your product.
  • They are both user-centric methods for understanding your user’s pain points and motivations.
  • The key difference between the two is that personas are based on fictional users, whereas empathy maps are based on real people. Another difference is personas tell you who your customers are and empathy maps tell you what those customers’ attitudes and behaviors are.

Here are the steps to creating user personas for a SaaS product:

  • Use in-app customer surveys to conduct user research and collect enough data to define your user personas. Ask questions about their job to be done, pain points, company, and demographics.
  • Segment users based on their answers and analyze the in-app behavior of each segment to spot patterns. You need to understand how your product is helping users and identify which features they use the most to get their jobs done.
  • A user persona is an iterative process; continuously gather data on your existing customers via different methods and update personas.

A short 5-step process for creating simple empathy maps:

  • Define your primary purpose and scope of empathy mapping by answering 2 important questions: Whom does the empathy map represent and what is the desired outcome of empathy mapping?
  • Run Voice of the Customer programs and collect customer insights including what the customer feels, says, thinks, and does.
  • Use specialized software to build your map and map each piece of user information to the appropriate quadrant during an empathy map workshop.

What are user personas?

A user persona is a semi-fictional character created to represent different customer types that use a company’s products or services. It provides insight into user needs, challenges, and motivations.

Creating user personas is part of a customer research process. With it, design teams can answer one of the most important questions: who are we designing for?

Here’s an example created for one of our target audiences in Userpilot: customer success managers.

user persona example empathy map vs persona
Userpilot’s user persona example.

What is an empathy map?

An empathy map is a simple, easy-to-digest visual that organizes a user’s behaviors and feelings to create a sense of empathy between the user and your team.

Empathy maps consist of a square divided into four quadrants with the user in the center. The four empathy map quadrants capture what the user says, thinks, feels, and does.

empathy map example user persona vs empathy map
Source: NNgroup.com

Empathy map vs. persona: What’s the difference?

Empathy maps and personas are both techniques that can help you to understand your users better and dive deeper into their behavior.

However, they differ in a number of ways:

  • The main difference between an empathy map vs persona is that personas are based on fictional users, whereas empathy maps are based on real people.
  • User personas tell you who your customers are, while empathy maps tell you what those customers’ attitudes and behaviors are.
  • An empathy map can be easily influenced by people’s feelings at a particular time. For example, a user’s response when they’re sad might differ from when they’re happy. User personas are not subject to this influence.
  • Typically empathy maps are created based on a persona, and focus on what that persona says / thinks / does/ feels. So in a sense, an empathy map could be considered as a subset of persona focusing on a specific area.
Empathy map vs. persona reddit thread

Why should SaaS companies define user personas?

Personas help you understand users’ needs and desires, which in turn helps to build more successful products that will satisfy users.

Also, creating user personas allows you to group users that have the same needs into segments and deliver personalized product experiences relevant to each.

advanced segmentation user persona vs empathy map
Advanced user segmentation in Userpilot.

Why should you create empathy maps?

Empathy maps are based on understanding the people you’re designing for. They give you a holistic view of the customer’s pain points, concerns, and other valuable user data. You can then use this data to improve the customer experience throughout the user journey.

Empathy mapping also helps build empathy towards users and helps design teams shift focus from the product to the users.

empathy map example
Source: theproductmanager.com

When to use an empathy map?

An empathy map can be used at any stage of the product development lifecycle, but it’s most useful at the beginning of the design process. They’re excellent for uncovering the needs and motivations of your target audience, getting insights into the user’s emotional state, and getting teams on the same page.

Here’s when it makes sense to create an empathy map:

  • Launching a new product
  • Adding new features to a product
  • Expanding into a new market
  • Targeting a new demographic
  • Developing a new marketing campaign
  • Changing business models

How to create user personas for a SaaS?

Here are 3 crucial steps you need to take to create user personas.

Conduct user research and collect information about your users

Use in-app customer surveys for quick data collection. Collect both quantitative and qualitative data to help you refine the quality of information gathered. You can ask short and on-point questions to understand the user’s main job to be done, goals and pain points, etc.

Define your user personas using data gathered from your app’s existing users. By doing this, you will be able to create personas that are based on real users and are relevant to your product.

Welcome flows and onboarding surveys are both great ways of collecting data for user personas.

The info collected will not only be used to create the user persona but can also be used to segment users and personalize in-app training and guidance.

welcome flow jobs to be done
Postfity’s Welcome microsurvey built with Userpilot.

Analyze research findings and identify behavioral patterns

After you’ve collected the customer data with a welcome flow, segment users based on their answers and analyze in-app behavior to spot patterns. Typically, users in the same segment will exhibit similar characters.

Which features do they engage with the most to get their job done and how your product is helping them to achieve their goals?

Continuously collect data and update your user personas

Personas are not a one-time task; user needs change so you constantly need to adapt the profiles you create. You need to routinely collect feedback from your existing customers, understand how they feel about your product, and uncover product improvement opportunities.

There are several methods of collecting data on existing customers. Here are some of the most popular ways of customer research for this purpose:

  • Talk to the salespeople: Salespeople at your company know what the biggest pain points of customers are and what keeps them from buying. In addition, they are aware of new market trends.
  • Talk to CS teams or support: Since your customer success and support teams interact with customers directly, there’s a good chance they are familiar with most challenges and issues customers face.
  • Implement offboarding flows to understand why people leave: Offboarding is a term describing the broad range of activities triggered when a customer decides to cancel their subscription to your product. Cancellation flows not only help you to discover the reasons behind churn and tell you where your product failed, but also give you insights into user expectations.
Asana offboarding example
  • Use passive feedback collection methods: Letting users give you feedback at their own comfort can help you better shape up your personas with data about what’s relevant to them. You can collect passive feedback either with feedback widgets that blend into UI or use other methods such as product analytics or heatmaps.

How to create empathy maps?

Empathy maps create an intimate, emotional view of your customers.

Through this visualization technique, you can see the users from their perspective and achieve a level of understanding that will help you in the design process.

That said, here’s how to create an empathy map:

Define your primary purpose and scope of empathy mapping

The first question to ask is: who are you mapping? This is the user who you want to understand and empathize with. Summarize his or her situation and role. If you have multiple personas, each one will need its own map.

Next, define the primary purpose of the empathy map. Do you want to update your user persona? Are you expanding into a new market or maybe releasing a new feature?

Say you want to expand your business into a new geographic market as part of your growth strategy. Your buyer persona should reflect your ideal customer within that location. The goal here is to understand their unique perspective and desires based on their geographic location.

Run Voice of the Customer programs and collect customer insights

The Voice of the Customer refers to the process of gathering feedback and user sentiment on your product from your customers.

VoC has a granular approach as it focuses on asking specific questions and looking for specific answers from specific users. This is exactly what’s needed for an empathy map.

Let’s take a look at Slack’s survey which is just a small part of its VoC program.

Slack triggers the survey to relevant user segments and target personas and gathers user insights on one of the empathy mapping quadrants, more specifically quadrant “Feels”.

customer feedback empathy map

Use a tool to build your empathy map

Map each piece of user information to the appropriate quadrant once audience research is complete using a tool like Miro.

As you map the user information to the appropriate quadrant, take a step back and look for related data points. Once you have clustered these points together, combine them as much as you can.

miro template empathy map

User persona vs empathy map: Wrapping Up

User personas and empathy maps are great tools for synthesizing research observations and revealing deeper insights into a user’s needs.

Customer research is at the heart of both of those techniques, so if you want to learn more on how to collect user research data with in-app surveys and product usage analytics, book a demo call with our team and we’ll be happy to help you.

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