4 Steps to a Human-Centered Business Model

Understanding what people want and designing things that satisfy them is the most powerful way to achieve business goals.


Whether you’re selling products or services, you might find that traditional marketing isn’t working as well as you’d hoped. No matter how good your product or service is, you might have trouble grabbing and keeping the attention of your target audience. Instead of doubling down on the typical tactics, try something that might be new to you, but is a proven way to connect with customers in a truly authentic way.

We’re talking about the Human-Centered Business Model, which revolves around finding out what customers really want and giving it to them. It sounds simple enough, but so many businesses have yet to try it. Here’s what you need to know.

Step 1: Use Empathy Maps to Understand Your Customers

Empathy Map - XPlane

The Empathy Map

You have to care about what your audience wants, needs and feels in order to be successful in business. You have to put yourself in their shoes. Fortunately, using an Empathy Map will help you get familiar with your audience. More specifically, it will guide you on what your customers are: Thinking, Feeling, Hearing, Seeing, Saying, Doing; and most importantly what their Pains and Gains are.

Breaking it Down

An Empathy Map captures what your customers are thinking and feeling, concerns or fears they have, what their priorities are, and what creates emotional responses in them. Start by writing down a description of who you’re talking to. Basic demographics are fine for now. Next write down the problem they’re trying to solve.

Now you’re ready to interview them about their thoughts related to the problem they’re trying to solve and writing down their answers. Listen carefully to how they respond and jot their answers down in the most appropriate section of the Empathy Map.

  • Hearing: What do they hear from people who influence them, including news sources, social media, and where they get their information?
  • Seeing: What do they see happening in their environment? What do they see other people doing?
  • Saying and Doing: What do they say they are doing about this problem? What have they actually done?
  • Pains: Include obstacles that keep them from reaching their goals, and the pains they have by not having a good solution to this problem.
  • Gains: Include their aspirations, hopes, and dreams. Essentially, what’s their motivation? What would a solution to this problem mean to them?

When the Empathy Map is complete you’ll have a good overview of how this customer looks at the problem you’re trying to solve. Now repeat the interview process with a least 5 customers and keep and separate Empathy Map for each one. These maps will be a great resource as you continue through the process.

Step 2: Using Affinity Mapping to Define the Customer Segment

Now that you have a better understanding of your individual customers through the Empathy Maps, it’s time to use Affinity Mapping to get a picture of the entire customer segment. This technique organizes information so it’s easier to see relationships between ideas, identify any themes and create hierarchies.

Start the Affinity Mapping exercise by putting all the info from the Empathy Maps on Post-It notes. Then put all the post-its on a large wall or whiteboard so you can easily move them around throughout the session. Spend some time grouping brainstorming while deciding where to put each piece of data on the board.

Affinity Mapping is a great tool for segmenting customers creating personas and understanding your customer. We write down each goal, frustration, pain point and demographic information on a Post-It note, and then organize all the notes into groups that make sense according to the team. In the end, they have several possible customer personas that will help guide the business model.

Make sure to pay attention to tasks your audience is trying to get done. These could be practical tasks, or they could be more emotional – such as improving their self-confidence or feeling of security. Basically, what needs are your customers trying to satisfy?

Also focus on items and issues that define what makes customers feel bad, cost too much money, or have high risks associated with them. After that, the team will record , which are benefits customers could get from your products or services. These could include cost savings, improvement in social standing, or better ease of use.

All of this will be helpful in the next step.

Step 3: Define the Value Proposition for Each Customer Segment

Value Proposition Canvas - Strategyzer

The Value Proposition Canvas

After segmenting the audience, it’s time to define your Value Proposition to show how your products or services will satisfy your audience’s needs and wants. We’ll use the Value Proposition Canvas to do this. You’ll see the canvas is divided into two major sections:

  • On the Customer Segment side: Customer Jobs, Customer Pains, Customer Gains
  • On the Company Side: Products and Services, Pain Relievers, Gain Creators

Breaking it Down

Start by using the outcome of the Affinity Mapping session to fill out the Customer Jobs,  Customer Pains, Customer Gains sections.

Now you can focus on the Company side of the canvas, which goes over which of your products and services can help your audience satisfy their needs. Start by writing down the Products and Services your company offers to this customer segment.

The Pain Relievers section should focus on how those products and services directly address the needs of your customers. Do they make them feel good, save them money or reduce their risks?

Finish the canvas by filling out the Gain Creators section, which will describe how your product adds value to the lives of your customers by directly addressing the Gains the customer is looking for.

Step 4: Tie it all into Your Business Model Canvas

The last step of outlining your Human-Centered Business Model is tying all the work you’ve done so far to the Business Model Canvas to determine a few critical facts. This canvas is made up of nine parts.

Business Model Canvas - Strategyzer

The Business Model Canvas

  • Key activities: Which items you need to perform your best.
  • Key resources: Which assets you’ll use to make and capture value.
  • Key partners: Who can help you put your business model into practice.
  • Value Propositions: The products/services that will create value for customers.
  • Customer Relationships: The type of relationship you want with customers.
  • Channels: How you’ll reach customers to deliver value.
  • Customer Segments: The people and groups you’re creating value for.
  • Cost Structure: How to charge for your products and services.
  • Revenue Streams: How your business model will capture value.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed

Many great articles have been written about how to complete this canvas in full. We’re just going to focus on two of the nine parts; Value Propositions and Customer Segments. We already defined the Customer Segments with our Empathy Maps and the Affinity Mapping exercise. Now we just put them into place. Be sure to keep the actual Empathy Maps and the output of the Affinity Mapping as a reference!

Next add Value Propositions from Step 3 to that section of the canvas. It helps to keep them color coded so you can tell which Value Proposition goes with which Customer Segment.

How the Empathy Map, Value Proposition Canvas, and Business Model Canvas work together.

How the Empathy Map, Value Proposition Canvas, and Business Model Canvas work together.

What’s Next?

Now that you understand the basics of the Human-Centered Business Model, let’s talk about how we can help put it to work for your business. We’ve helped companies of all sizes from start to finish, with everything from Empathy Mapping and Value Proposition Design to market positioning and product design. Get started by downloading our Startup Roadmap today!