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Agency Frank - Bringing empathy focus to one of the world's most famous companies

Frank, created by four Hyper Island students, is back in Stockholm after traveling for four weeks to Berlin, San Francisco, New York and Nürnberg during their personal project in the Digital Business Program. In a couple of weeks, we will continue our work and kick-off the fall with a project for Nivea in Hamburg.

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In our previous post, we explained why we use empathy to support companies and organizations to develop successful and sustainable business solutions. Our purpose is to highlight the value of feminine-coded personality traits, and demonstrate how they can be an unlocked source of strategic advantage.

Often we’ve been asked how we actually implement empathy in our work. How do we make Frank’s ‘why’ actionable? Batman said it best when he said: "It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me."

Empathy as a mindset and a toolset

To begin with, we strongly believe being empathetic is not a clear cut action - it is a continual state of mind. Therefore, going into a project, we embrace empathy in all aspects of our work by practicing it towards each other, our clients and our customers. For instance, we prioritize involving the client in our process early-on, asking for their needs and clarifying their expectations in order to create a solution that not only speaks to their customers but also matches the DNA of their brand.

Additionally, we use a couple of concrete tools to generate empathy. We make use of these tools throughout the three phases of the process: research, ideation and concept development. Without revealing non-disclosure information, we’ll explain how we incorporated empathy all throughout our collaboration with Airbnb. During our days at their headquarters in San Francisco, we delved deep into the soul of the brand to try and craft a voice that strikes a chord with consumers.

Airbnb and Frank

Empathy being at the core of both companies’ work, Airbnb and Frank seemed like the perfect match. The SF-based travel company connects people across continents, cultures, and lifestyles, allowing for many meaningful connections between people. However, a big issue for Airbnb is discrimination amongst hosts and guests on their platform and they’re putting a lot of work into preventing this. On their platform, Airbnb emphasizes the importance of belonging, acceptance and looking beyond stereotypes and biases. Though we didn’t work on the discrimination project, it revealed correlations between our mission and theirs, and as a result, inclusion became the foundation for our efforts.

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Research

We kicked-off the week with an introductory meeting with the in-house team where we discussed the brief and the deliverables. The assignment was related to one of their specific business partners. Immediately after that, we started researching the two companies and topics related to our brief. In this phase, we put ourselves in the shoes of two different types of customers via two techniques called ‘user day parting’ and ‘connected knowing’.

User Day Parting

This method involves creating one or several personas and giving them a name, a job, an address, neighbors, and interests. In that way, we empathize and find ‘pains and gains’ from the user’s perspective and a narrative begins forming. We’ve found this holistic perspective crucial to understanding the mindset of the persona we want to engage with.

Connected Knowing

The mental approach ”connected knowing”, developed by the feminist psychologist Blythe Clinche, is an effective way to resonate with the values of the user through storytelling rather than argumentation. By asking questions and building a narrative, we can understand the context and experience that led the user to his/her position and knowledge. Connected knowers aim to understand others’ ideas and perspectives. The opposite would be to do research and gain knowledge about the user through separate knowing, in which you use logical arguments and critical thinking. In other words, the mental approach connected knowing is about exploring different views and understanding that they are relative to differences in perception and consideration.

Empathy Map

In the research phase, we also found the empathy map very helpful. It is a tool where you immerse yourself in a user persona by mapping out their attitudes, behaviors and sensory experiences. When you differentiate the things the user says, does, thinks and feels in combination with the information they see and hear, you gain insights into their experiences as a whole. To summarize, taking-on different perspectives and understanding the two groups of consumers of the two companies’, we could develop an idea that speaks to both their needs.

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Negative Brainstorming

Brainstorming may be one of the most common tools to generate ideas. However, it can also be limiting, as it often reflects our own judgments and feelings which can distract from the real focus: the user’s problem. So in order to detach from our own values, beliefs, evaluations, and critiques, negative brainstorming can be helpful. This tool involves coming up with the worst solution to the user's problem, then transforming it into a meaningful one. For example, instead of trying to find parallels and common themes between two target groups, you focus on their differences.

Concept Development

Inspired by the well-known interrogation technique ‘good cop/bad cop’, we use a ‘good Frank/bad Frank exercise’ where we role-play to gain more perspective. The ‘good frank’ is enthusiastic, idealistic and almost naive about the concept, while the ‘bad frank’ is critical, pessimistic and questions every single detail. As a result, the ‘good frank’ then has to come up with answers and solutions to all the criticism which leads to improving the concept even further. Criticisms can be everything from feasibility and budget to whether the concept is truly creative or innovative.

This role-playing journey also allows us to see other identities as well, such as gender, ethnicity, occupation, age, sexuality, socio-economical status etc. Consequently, questions regarding availability and openness are raised. This lets us amplify our empathy so the concept connects with a much wider group of people.

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Having the opportunity to work with one of the world’s most pioneering and impactful companies was extremely informative, challenging and memorable (that and the food from their famous cantine). As much as we learned from the professional and experienced creatives at Airbnb, we believe we made a real contribution, added value through our empathy approach and gave a crucial outside perspective to their business.

Since our clients haven’t just been interested in the final delivery but also in our process, we will further develop our projects with them in the fall. Follow us at @agency.frank and have a great summer!


This article was written by Andrea Dahlbäck, Emma Osvald, Andrea Meilgaard and Nicoline Blincher of Agency Frank.

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