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Unlock Customer Insight with Affinity Mapping

customer experience design & strategy Feb 12, 2019

Katy Cesarotti | Gallery Design Studio Editor + Copywriter


Through user feedback and web analytics, you have access to tons of information about your customers: how they use your website, what content they engage with, what they buy and how often.

So how do you turn those customer data points into actionable insight?

Affinity mapping helps you sift through a mountain of data and ideas to focus on the aspects of your customer experiences that matter the most to users (and your retention rates). It’s a tactile organizational tool that can help your team find meaningful patterns in feedback. By grouping brainstorm ideas or customer insights visually, your team can connect the dots between separate data points to find the greater underlying problem.

For example, you might get one email a month from customers asking how a product feature works: you email back, resolve their issue, problem solved. But if you have a bunch of customer feedback about confusing features, you’ve identified a larger gap in the customer experience—and when you address it, you can measurably help your base as a whole.


You can use affinity mapping to…

Get to know your personas. Have a clear picture of your different audiences to craft more resonant customer experiences. Maybe you have bits and pieces of customer information stored everywhere. Maybe you just have too much information, opinions, and insights and don’t know where to start. That’s a great problem to have! The process of affinity mapping will help you simplify and understand just what, exactly, what you’re looking at.

Create a customer journey map. Track user pain points, motivations, needs, and expectations to fully understand the customer journey. In the midst of your other deadlines, requirements, and tasks, affinity mapping ensures you stay focused on the end-user.

Think outside the box. Affinity mapping is a great collaborative technique to answer open-ended questions. Once you find “gaps” in the customer experience, use affinity mapping to develop creative touchpoints that your users won’t get from competitors. Innovative customer experience touches that feel personal and valuable will encourage users to stay with your brand in the long run.

Prioritize. Look for the sweet spots where customer feedback converges: Patterns help identify where changes will make the most positive difference for the customer. Affinity mapping can also help you establish hierarchies—what fires you need to put out first, versus what challenges you can work towards long-term.

Stop, collaborate and listen. Affinity mapping is an effective group exercise—by breaking out of old silos and separate teams, you can combine customer insight into a more accurate overall picture. It actively involves stakeholders in making decisions and fosters more innovative solutions. With team members from different areas of your company, you can completely reimagine processes instead of just recreating set ways of doing business.


Six easy steps to master affinity mapping


1. Choose your data. Interview current customers to understand what’s working and not working for them. Pull website and social analytics. Gather relevant keywords and search terms. A mix of stats, facts, observations, and user quotes can give you a fully figured picture of your customer.

2. Put ’em up. Put each idea or user insight on a separate Post-It. Involve as many team members as possible to get the broadest cross-section of your collective customer insight. Post your ideas on a whiteboard or wall where everyone can move them around.

3. Start sorting. Pick one Post-It, it doesn’t matter where: this is the first idea in your first group. Then examine a second Post-It. Does it fall in the same category as the first? Make them a group. Is it different? Start a new group.

4. Run it back. Repeat until all your Post-Its are sorted. If, as you go, you feel like you need to shake up the groups, definitely do so! You should end up with somewhere between three and ten groups.

5. Prioritize. What’s most important? What should you address first? What has the biggest impact on your revenue stream? Give each category a severity ranking (Low, Medium, High) to decide what you need to address first.


Affinity mapping pro tips:

  • It’s a living experiment. Add or remove ideas or insights as you go: affinity mapping can help you identify where you need more research or find outliers in customer feedback.
  • Color code. Color coding can help you visualize different aspects of customer insight. For example, user one color for user quotes, another color for major stages in the customer journey, etc.
  • Take photos. Over time, Post-Its might start to lose their stickiness and fall off, or you might want your office walls back. Take photos in case you need to take down Post-Its and put them up later or as future reference.
  • Have fun! There are no bad ideas: the more variety and range you get on the wall, the more nuanced your final solutions will be.


About Gallery Design Studio
We specialize in B2B creative solutions that address client needs and wants at every stage of the customer journey. From a customer’s first interaction with a brand to their first purchase and beyond, we craft experiences that are engaging and easy to navigate. Our services:

• Customer Experience Design (CX)
• Web & App design (UX/UI)
• Video & Animation
• Graphic Design & Marketing Collateral
• Copywriting

Have a project in mind? Contact us!


About the Writer
Katy Cesarotti is a copywriter at Gallery Design Studio. Katy believes that, with clear and concise copy, innovators can spark emotion and drive action in their readers. She’s written for magazines, blogs and cutting-edge startups.