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Empathy-Based Research: The Immersion Play

This article is part of our series on Empathy- based Research.
You can view the full series or download the report.

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This week we highlight play 3 of 8 from our brand-new Empathy Playbook, the Immersion Play.

As a reminder, as innovation and research become increasingly dominated by quantitative data analytics and algorithms, market researchers need empathy more than ever to see the humans behind the numbers. Empathy is our ability to see and feel things from someone else’s perspective, and the key benefit is that it generates emotional insight into the feelings, motivations and needs that drive behaviour.

As a result, we’ve put together this playbook of practical empathy-based activities to help you research and innovate better from a consumer perspective.

To understand how it feels to be someone else, sometimes you need to step into their shoes, literally.


When you need the play:

The immersion play involves immersing yourself in a consumer situation, as a consumer. This may be for several hours or several weeks or longer. The simple goal is to walk a mile in a consumer’s shoes, and experience first-hand what it feels like from their perspective, in situ and in real life. It’s about getting insider information by becoming an insider yourself.

The immersion play is usually used early on in a project when you want to gain emotional insight into moods and motivations at play in a particular situation. It is considered the gold standard in empathy-based research because it provides an authentic first-person view of how it feels to be someone else, with fresh perspective and emotional engagement.

Made famous recently by companies such as Pixar, who in one example sent crew members of Ratatouille to both Michelin star restaurants and the Paris sewers to immerse in the life of the protagonist! More recently, we had one of our key clients here at Brand Genetics experiencing the joys and frustrations of wearing tights, by inviting the key male stakeholders to spend the day in them! Ultimately, running this play can provide a rich source of creative stimulus for advertising, branding and innovation projects.

Want more? You can find the full case study when Brand Genetics went undercover in night clubs around the world, to generate emotional insight into the changing world of nightlife, in the playbook.

How it works:

There are a number of ways to run the play. What’s key is to become immersed in a real rather than a simulated situation and to engage in that situation as a consumer rather than as an observer. And because empathy is about emotional insight, the key goal is to attend to your mood and emotional state.

As a “complete participant”, use these best practice tips to make the most of participatory immersion:
■ Become familiar with the setting before going into the field
■ Dress and act in character
■ Act as a full participant, rather than as an observer
■ Participate in short bursts, and then take time out to reflect
■ Use photos, sound and video to record things that surprise or move you
■ If possible, collect artefacts that have particular meaning or that have emotional significance

We also advise keeping a (mood) diary as a running observation record. In your mood diary, answer these two questions at regular intervals
■ Right now, how am I feeling?
■ What’s going on that makes me feel this way?

Then, along with each entry, note down the time, place, what you are doing and who you are with. As you become experienced with mood journaling, consider making entries directly as emotional insights in the following format “Right now, I feel…[emotion] because… [personal understanding]”

Be attentive to the key drivers of your emotional state, these may include:
■ The difference between your expectations and experience
■ Your goals and whether they are being frustrated or facilitated
■ Your experience of autonomy (being in/out of control), relatedness (connectedness) and competence (mastery)

After your immersion, you can use the insights, data, media and artefacts that you collected to create a rich first-person perspective case study to illustrate what it feels like to be immersed in the consumer situation, as a consumer.

If you want to be a more empathic business and introduce human-first insight and innovation – Brand Genetics can help.  Get in touch today to find out more!

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