Customer Journey Mapping: What it REALLY Means

Customer journey maps are very much in vogue right now, as customer-centered organizations continue to outperform their internally-focused rivals in every industry.

The problem is that when many people think they are mapping the user’s journey, what they’re really charting is the customer lifecycle.

Each type of visualization can have an important place in a marketing strategy. But if you’re creating a diagram of the buying cycle and calling it a journey map, you could be creating a limiting (and limited) view of how to best connect with your audience.

At this year’s Intelligent Content Conference Noz Urbina gave an excellent presentation that drew clear distinctions between the customer lifecycle and the user journey, as well as why marketers should care and how they can create their own personalized journey maps.

If you’re ready to start establishing meaningful, long-term relationships with the members of your audience, it’s time to get serious about creating a REAL user journey map.

Why Customer Centric Marketing Matters

In case you remain skeptical about the need to create another marketing document, let’s take a peek at how a customer centric approach can give you a leg up on the competition.

A recent study of 6,000 American men and women aged 18-34 by Red Peak Youth identified “user centrism” as the number one driver of brand loyalty for this group.

Being user centric was defined as, “a brand’s desire to focus on customers and make them happy.”

Jeff Fromm, president of the marketing consulting firm FutureCast and co-author of Marketing to Millennials, makes particular reference to the importance of the millennial user’s journey:

Millennials value a frictionless journey, so brands need to think about reducing friction. … And [millennials] are loyal to brands that drive value for them defined as unique, meaningful and innovative.

Lest we fall into the trap of assuming that millennials are the only group we’re marketing to, we should remember that this group is driving changes in buying behavior across nearly every demographic.

Fromm continues:

A millennial’s brand value equation is influenced by everything from peer affirmation to meaningfulness [of the brand]. I think the thing that’s surprising is how baby boomers more and more often have similar attitudes regarding the importance of those kinds of things. As we’ve seen millennials go to their friend network, not the Kelly Blue Book to buy a car, we see older consumers now often doing similar things.

Customer Journey vs. Customer Lifecycle

There are many crucial distinctions between these two visualizations, but the primary distinction is in their points of view.

Customer journeys are created from the user’s perspective, while a lifecycle focuses on the brand perspective.

I really liked Noz’s breakdown of the distinctions between these tools:

customer journey vs lifecycle

Journeys Within the Lifecycle

Customers can embark on many, many journeys, during their lifecycle, some of which will intersect your product and/or marketing messages more than others.

They’ll go on individual journeys within each phase of the buying cycle, for example, as Noz illustrated:

customer journey example 1 customer journey example 2

These are just two examples of journeys that might happen during the “Customer” phase of the buying cycle; each one would require distinct types of content and engagement goals.

What Makes a Good Journey Map

For whatever reason, it can be very challenging for product or brand marketing teams to keep their focus on the user when designing these journey maps.

We are very easily distracted by intersections with our products, departments, or marketing messages, and we like to frame discussions in these terms.

But customer journey maps will be most effective when they are 100% user-centered. Noz offered these important characteristics:

  • Customer centric language and ideas
  • Customer centric objectives
  • Can be between or within Lifecycle phases
  • NOT just a route to a conversion
  • NOT limited to brand interactions. Can consider moments and questions that are prior to any brand contact/awareness.
  • DOES NOT happen on one format or medium. E.g. Journeys don’t happen on websites, they happen in real life.

I even think the title of Noz’s presentation helps to clarify why we should be taking our time with journey maps: “Journey-Mapping for Personalization Across Multiple Channels.”

The end goal is to have such a detailed understanding of how our audience works that we can personalize our content for them on any channel. Maps that are product-centered don’t have a chance at achieving this goal.

4 Steps to Building Great Maps

Each of these four steps builds on the other, so the process of construction your customer journey maps is a fairly linear one. As a bonus, the exploration and data analysis that goes into each step will help make all of your marketing more relevant to your target audience.

  1. Building (or extending) personas.
  2. Defining scenarios.
  3. Building journey maps.
  4. Linking journeys to content models.

Let’s take a moment to note that the final step involves connecting the journey to your content.

Simply making a journey map will not get you a loyal relationship with your audience. You’ve also got to link each journey (and each step in those journeys) to genuinely useful content.

Step 1: Build or Extend Personas

If you don’t have personas for your marketing team yet, time to get started.

If you do have them, you can expand them even further by thinking about the top tasks that each one is trying to achieve and the environment or context in which these struggles happen.

Reminder: context doesn’t mean what stage of the buying cycle they’re in.

The customer journey happens in real life, so think about all the factors that might come into play. Noz suggests:

  • Time
  • Place
  • Location
  • Device
  • Weather
  • Mood
  • Anything that affects experience!

Step 2: Define Scenarios

Once you’ve got a handle on your personas and their contexts Noz recommends creating narratives built on the interplay of the persona, their task, and their context.

His example for a mortgage company:

Scenario: Alice the Shopper wants to build her financial plan because new year’s is coming up and she might try to get a mortgage next year.
Narrative: She is using some of her winter holiday at home (first on her phone but then on her desktop) to do some research to plan visits to banks in the new year. She asks her family for their experiences getting mortgages. Continued…

Once you’ve got these narratives in mind you can start to dive further into the questions that form their foundations and then create content that helps answer those questions.

In the example of Alice, the big question might be, “Can I afford a mortgage?”

Sub-questions could include, “Who do I know that I can ask? What types of mortgages are there? Etc.”

Step 3: Build Journey Maps

Now the fun part: making the actual maps of the customer journeys.

Noz suggested clustering related questions and tasks from Step 2 into phases of the journey.

Then you can unfold the narrative of the journey phase by phase. In each phase you should be looking for ways to add value with your content.

This is also a good time to review your analytics to see which phases you’re currently supporting well and which ones could use a little bit more attention. Having this data in mind will help with Step 4.

Step 4: Link Journeys to Content Models

And now it’s time for the hard part: mapping your customer’s journey to your content assets.

I call this the hard part because it could reveal some serious gaps in your existing content library that you’ll need to hustle to fill.

It can also be harder than the previous three steps because now you’ll need to start investigating ways to personalize content for a particular person in a particular context at a particular time.

Noz shared this example of the final product of all this work:

example of a content model part 1

This goes even deeper into channels, devices, questions, frustrations, etc.:

example of a content model part 2

There’s obviously A LOT of work at the back of this type of document, but it can drive SO MUCH content creation once it’s in place!

Do You Have a Journey Map?

Have you used an approach similar to the one Noz recommends to create a customer journey map? How much does it really inform your content marketing efforts?

Share with the group in the comments!

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Andrea Fryrear
About the Author:

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea loves to dissect marketing buzzwords and fads looking for the pearls of wisdom at their cores. Her favorite topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling (and less stressful) marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for business. When not scrutinizing the latest agile methodologies, Andrea can be found on the volleyball court, at the park with her two delightful kids, or baking “calorie-free” cookies. Connect with her on Twitter @AndreaFryrear, or on LinkedIn.

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