Marketing has gone through a few seismic changes in the last couple of decades. With technological advances that have made marketing more precise and greatly altered consumer behavior and tastes, marketers have had to constantly shift gears to keep up.
The ‘90s saw the peak of branding and brand marketing with a renewed focus on creating an expansive, independent company identity that could stand out in the marketplace.
The 2000s brought us the internet and the massive data overload that came with it, which gave rise to data-driven marketing. Every aspect of every customer interaction was tracked, measured, analyzed, and presented, but there was still no real understanding of the customer and their motivations. With the focus on facts, marketers lost sight of the customers beyond data points.
The 2010s brought back brands, but with a focus on storytelling. However, while the customers were part of these stories — no longer just the data points of the 2000s — they were still not the focal point. Marketers were telling stories about their brand, not their customers. Finally, though, the customers are now becoming the protagonists of brand stories. This is, in part, thanks to the use of customer journey maps.
Introduction to the customer journey map
A customer journey map is a tool that tells your customers’ story as it relates to your brand. It tracks everything from how visitors first get introduced to your brand, what steps they take to become customers, and what happens to them after that first purchase. More importantly, it does so with a combination of the cold logic of data and the warmth of storytelling.
Customer journey maps work best when they aren't presented as technical diagrams. This is because presenting them in fun, visual ways allow you to add more of the emotions and motivations that drive customer behavior. Often customer journey maps take the shape of an infographic, but they can also be videos or three-dimensional constructions. Customer journey maps help you orient your company around the needs of your customers and keep everyone (from product to marketing to sales and customer service) on the same page.
It’s not critical to get every detail perfect or to capture every single interaction, variation, and permutation of the customer journey at first. Once you have a high-level understanding of your customer’s journey, you can gradually refine your areas of focus to include the more minute attributes your customers possess and the particular conditions that influence the steps they take.
Start your customer journey map
As the saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The journey to your customer journey map begins with a single step, too. But before you pull out the whiteboard and start diagramming, you’ll need to first get some resources together.
The foundation of any good customer journey map is always data. While it’s important not to over-rely on data when putting together your customer journey (because data only tells part of the story), it is important to have a sound, data-driven foundation. The first place you should look is in your analytics platform. Since analytics have become so fragmented as the channels and touchpoints customers use to engage brands have gotten so diverse, the first step is getting all of your hard data into one place.
Dashboards are good, but they don’t always reflect the human element of the journey. For that, you need to talk to people. Make a list of everyone in your company who helps shape the customer journey, and be prepared to go down that list and interview people about their experiences. It may seem like a lot of work and is a time-consuming process, but the insight you gain will be invaluable to understanding your customers.
A good place to start is with any customer-facing salespeople in your organization. This is especially true for companies with a high-touch sales process, one in which the sales team interacts regularly with people making their way down the conversion path.
The next place to go is to customer service and support. The sales team tends to see customers at their best — when they have a clear need, they’re excited about finding a product to help them, and they’re confident about their way forward. Support sees customers at their worst — when they have a problem they can’t seem to solve. An important part of the customer journey map is understanding where snags happen and how to overcome them.
Interested in getting started with customer journey mapping? Check out this template.
Know where you’re going
Once you've derived enough insights about your customers, it's time to create a customer journey. For the first go-around, it's important to keep things simple. Focus on the core elements that make up most (if not all) customer journeys. We recommend including the following:
- Brand awareness - how audiences will discover and see the value of your brand.
- Conversion - how audiences will become paying customers.
- Relationship building - how your brand will continue to bring value to customers.
- Word-of-Mouth - how to inspire customers to promote your brand to others.
A customer journey map isn't meant to ever be a finished product; it should evolve and change as you gather insights into how audiences interact with your marketing. Over time, you'll be able to attack areas of weakness in your customer experience (e.g., driving a lot of web traffic but audiences aren't converting), build an audience profile, create personalized customer journey maps for specific audience segments, and so much more.
It’s tempting to want to map out every customer and interaction, but it’s rarely feasible. Instead, the choice most marketers face is to either map out the journey of their most valuable customer (perhaps an ideal customer profiles) or a generalized “generic customer” model. If this is your first customer journey map, we strongly recommend starting with the average customer. Not only will it be easier and serve as good practice, but it will act as a baseline for any future revisions or tweaks.
After creating a high-level framework and analyzing results, it's time to fill in the rest of the customer journey with more granular steps. As we recommended above, leveraging a simple customer journey map initially is best. But as you gain a deeper understanding of your customers, it's time to build out a more comprehensive journey that accounts for how they've engaged with your brand over time. Being responsive and adding a dose of personalization goes a long way towards strengthening your relationship with customers.
This is less of a choice and more something dictated by your current needs. If you have not launched a product yet, or are planning to launch a new one, it likely makes sense to start with an ideal future customer journey for the new product. If your brand has been around for a while and you don’t plan on changing anything anytime soon, then the obvious choice is to look at how customers are engaging with you now.
Build your customer journey map
You have your resources ready, your data collected, and know what kind of customer journey map you need. Now it’s time to start building your customer journey map.
The easiest way to get going is to find a bit of wall space and a couple of different colors of sticky notes. Three is good — you’ll want one for actions; one for thoughts, feelings, and motivations; and one for what your brand needs to do to move the engagement forward.
This is where your hard data comes into play. The actions represent the touchpoints and engagements that tell you when a customer is at a given stage. The actions section should describe, as precisely as possible, the things that you can track and measure that tells you where in the journey the customer is. Did they follow you on Instagram? Did they purchase something? Did they stop in at your retail location or submit a request for information? The more specific the action, the easier it will be for you to recognize when the customer is there.
This is where you’re going to use your anecdotal sources. You want to answer the questions “What is the customer thinking? What do they want, or what needs do they have? What are they scared of, or what concerns and objections do they have?” You want to get into the mind of a buyer at this stage of their journey. Put yourself in their shoes, interview some actual customers, and ask people who have purchased similar products. The more you know about what the customer is thinking, the better set up you’ll be for the next part.
This part will be the last one you add in, take the most thought, and have the biggest impact on your brand. This is when you consider where the customer is and what they want, and figure out what the best response from your company would be to move them along on their journey. To get the most out of your customer journey map, you’ll need to break out of the marketing world and engage your whole company — across departments and silos. Use multiple sticky notes to show who should be doing what, and come up with a comprehensive approach that fully addresses all of your customers’ needs.
To get the most out of your customer journey map, you’ll need to break out of the marketing world and engage your whole company — across departments and silos.
Begin with the end
The easiest way to begin mapping out your customer journey is by starting at the very end of the buying process — put up an action sticky note that says “Purchased!” This will be point zero in your customer journey, and for the rest of the process, you will work backwards and forwards from this point. Don’t worry about the intangibles and responses for this one for now — the first priority is to figure out how the customer got to this point.
Put another action sticky note to the left of purchase. What’s the measurable, trackable step most customers take right before they make a purchase? Is there a specific interaction that signals strong buyer intent? Something you know has a good chance of signaling that this lead is likely to turn into a customer? Put that action on the sticky note. Keep working backwards from there until you get to the first trackable interaction with a customer.
Remember, you’re not trying to solve for any specific customer at this point. You want to generalize into a typical customer journey that you can refine over time. Additionally, you don’t need to keep every single touchpoint/action sticky. If you’re a data-centric organization, that can quickly cover every wall in your office. Instead, pick out the most important ones — the inflection points you can easily spot and take some kind of action on to push the lead closer to becoming a customer.
Next, use the intangible stickies to start identifying the customer’s point of view at each action step. Focus on how they feel about your product and what they want to move to the next step. Even though you worked backwards on the actions step, it might be easier to start at the beginning and work forward. Begin with what the customer’s motivations are for seeking out a product like yours in the first place, and work from there to get to purchase. Identify not only how they feel and what their motivations are, but also where they go to address their concerns. What channels do they interact with at that step? Who do they trust to give them answers? How do they like to be contacted?
Once you've completed that, you’re ready to figure out what responses you can take to move customers along the journey. Are they confused by the multitude of competing products? Maybe a YouTube video about what all the claims and jargon mean is a potential response. Are they confused about the benefits of your product specifically? You might want a blog post or a spec sheet that clearly outlines the features and benefits of your brand. And if they’re confused by how your product works, then maybe it’s time to ping the product team and brainstorm how they can streamline your onboarding. Remember, this is a company-wide approach. Some steps might have multiple responses from you. Others may only have one. There isn’t a right or wrong number, as long as you address all of the customers’ concerns.
Take it a step further
Once you have your customer journey map from introduction to purchase, you have a myriad of options for the next steps. You can continue going past the initial purchase to create a customer retention program and loyalty map to build customer lifetime value (CLV). Or you can start breaking your initial customer journey map into different customer segments. You can build branches off of your main map to show different entry paths and how they intersect or bring in your creative team to design you a slick visual representation of the sticky-note map you made. You can also create hypotheses around various response strategies and set up experiments to test them out.
Whatever you choose to do, your next steps should include circulating your customer journey map as widely and conspicuously as possible. You’ll want additional feedback and extra eyes partly so you can continue to refine and drill down on how customers get from A to B(uy). Mostly, though, it will help you pivot your company from being a brand- or data-obsessed organization into a customer-obsessed one. The 2010s are almost over, and we have it on good authority that the 2020s will be the decade of the customer.
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About the AuthorMore Content by Chris Van Wagoner