Getting Started with Mapping Content to Customer Journeys – Key Ingredients for Success

How do organizations derive real value from customer journey maps? And how do you avoid wasted time, effort, and focus? You probably have heard about the potential business advantages of a customer journey map. But how do you get a customer journey map to do these things? How does it not just end up as an expensive exercise? This series addresses failure points of customer journey maps. We will also look at content as a key ingredient in the success or failure of the map.

Today’s post discusses how to make customer journey maps more actionable. Specifically, we unpack how to leverage task-based customer journeys to unharness the power of customer journey maps. We define the difference between customer journey maps and customer journeys and discuss the roles of both. We also provide best practices for executing customer journeys and offer some secrets for success.

Making Customer Journey Maps Useful in Customer Content Experiences

With today’s demands for exceptional customer experiences, many organizations have invested time and money in the creation of a customer journey map. After doing so, they often find themselves asking the critical question: So, now what?  How do we gain value out of this exercise? When it comes time for the rubber to meet the road, the customer journey map can prove a disappointing corporate initiative. It may end as a decoration on the cubicle walls of its more ardent supporters. But a customer journey map does not need to end in tears.

Benefits of a customer journey map

A well-designed customer journey can:

  • Help retool the operational structure of a siloed business matrix by creating processes that focus on the customer as a central delivery point.
  • Provide a blueprint for how to track the customer experience across channels. And identify opportunities to connect disparate metrics and measurement strategies and approaches.
  • Reveal content opportunities and provide valuable insight into a customer-centric content experience.
  • Serve as an input to a content strategy and content design for personalization.

Let’s discuss how to turn a journey map into specific task-based journeys, to which we can map content. Such an effort makes a customer journey map tangible for content and operational readiness.

Before we dig deeper, let’s start with some definitions.

Defining the customer journey map

A customer journey map is a visual representation that demonstrates a customer’s relationship with a brand by illustrating how she achieves a goal or an accomplishment in relation to that brand. A journey map represents the “journey” she undertakes as she achieves that goal, chronicling her emotions and experiences as she does so. Sarah Gibbons, Chief Designer at the Nielsen Norman Group, provides what I consider an excellent definition and overview of customer journey mapping, including its benefits, in this 2-minute video entitled: Customer Journey Mapping 101.

Key characteristics of a customer journey map

To execute correctly, journey maps require a research and design effort that includes User Experience expertise. The key components of an effective map include:

  1. A user profile, persona, or actor
  2. The end-to-end scenario (the action)
  3. Phases of the scenario
  4. What someone is thinking as they complete the actions and how they feel throughout each step
  5. Any drivers that trigger or inspire them to act
  6. Opportunities (including ideas for content)

For an excellent write-up that shows several examples of journey maps and provides some best practices for doing so, I would refer you to a quick read: How to Create an Effective Customer Journey Map [Examples + Template] (hubspot.com). In this ten-minute read, Aaron Agius presents a fine explanation of the benefits of customer journey maps as well as the steps involved in creating one. He also provides several examples of various customer journey maps. But I would caution against a user experience novice completing a customer journey map.

Customer Journey Maps require expertise, time and cost

The effort to complete a journey map often requires an extensive engagement with a user experience agency.  The project can take weeks for user research and requirements, which are distilled into a visualization that is identified by a user type or persona. Often, more than one map exists for each primary persona or user type. If you are a smaller organization or do not have the budget to support an exhaustive effort, there are resources available to assist with the effort.

To start at the top, I highly recommend Jim Kalbach’s Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Customer Alignment Through Journeys, Blueprints and Diagrams, the most detailed, recent, and definitive source material, that sets the gold standard for thought on mapping customer experiences. (And remember, if you have a local bookstore, it is a venial sin to purchase a book off Amazon instead of offering the business to your local venue. Ask them to order a copy if they do not have it in stock, which also elevates the recognition for the author.)

Content and Customer Journey Maps

So as we noted, customer journey maps are quite useful for customer experience efforts. But from a content perspective, customer journey maps do not always get to the granular level necessary to identify specific content needs. Customer journey maps identify content more at the content-type level—whitepapers, press releases, product detail pages, etc. A content-type level journey map is useful if you want to determine who would most benefit from a particular content type.

Thus, customer journey maps show you when within the relationship with a brand a customer would engage with certain types of content. Also, you can understand the customer drivers for whom you need to write. For example: someone doing research on which service was best for her business needs might benefit from whitepapers detailing a service capability. She may not get as much value from videos that told her how to troubleshoot a software issue of the company’s product.

Customer journey maps are not particularly useful for very specific types of personalization. As sources of inspiration, guideposts for user profiling, and overall benchmarks for user insights these are important. For general guidance towards a robust personalization strategy, customer journey maps are critical. A customer journey map provides the foundation and overall picture for how a certain type of audience engages with a brand, their motivations, and drivers for doing so, and how they feel after each call to action. For robust customer content experiences, more detailed customer journeys provide a framework to identify content opportunities.

Defining customer journeys for specific tasks

What if we want to understand specific types of content to deliver to our audiences? What if, for example, we want to understand the steps a user takes  to research signing up for a rewards card for a supermarket? Would a journey map detail the specific tasks a user completes, complemented with each piece of content she requires while doing so? It can, but it generally does not. That is not its function. We would use task-based customer journeys to describe that level of customer activity.

A few years back, user experience folks designing a website or user interface might refer to such detailed journeys as scenarios, or user process flows, or even click-streams. Today, an end-user will often fulfill a task while operating through multiple channels, not only on a website. Thus, we find it more useful to refer to these as cross-channel customer journeys, or customer journeys for short. These are not a customer journey map—they do not have that level of research or inputs and are not as comprehensive. But these journeys leverage customer journey maps as an input. And they do, as a logical conclusion, provide a source of validation for customer journey maps.

A cross-channel, task-based customer journey is a series of steps a customer undergoes to complete a task. These are much smaller than a journey map. And from most customer journey maps, you can distill several specific journeys.

Customer journeys are task-based and less labor intensive than journey maps

The process to create a customer journey requires that you first identify a series of tasks that your customers need to complete. You use your journey map as a starting point for this exercise and as a primary input. You will extract specific journeys for each user type you’ve developed maps. For instance, an experienced car buyer will go through a different journey than someone who has never purchased a vehicle. Tasks for a car owner that could become specific journeys include:

  • Researching a new car purchase
  • Research converting a lease to a purchase for a current lease agreement
  • Visiting a dealer
  • The actual step of purchasing a car and everything that is involved with that
  • Servicing a car

Each of these tasks becomes its own task-based journey. That is, each task breaks down into specific steps required for its completion. A journey then:

  • Identifies the typical steps a customer would go through to complete the task;
  • Calls out the channels he engages with as he does so; and,
  • Offers the content he will receive at each interaction.

You may also include the call to action and KPIs.

The following image presents a B2B customer journey with mapped content:

Customer Journey with Content Mapping

(You can download a PDF with this customer journey example in the image here that is accessibility friendly).

You might have noticed that the details in this image could easily be created in a spreadsheet. For example, the following could each be a row in a spreadsheet:

  • Task step: Illustrates the steps the user takes to complete the task (could also be renamed to ‘steps within the task’).
  • Journey Map Stage: Defines where within the customer journey map the user takes the action (may cross into more than one stage).
  • User State: Used for peronalization purposes, not all journeys will have these. Denotes the stages of a user that are recognized.
  • Channel: Identifies the customer touchpoint.
  • Content: Showcases the content that is mapped to each step.

You should also note that the steps are clear and precise and that the content mapped to each is specific. In this particular case, the journey represented does not show all of the steps within the image. We have truncated the image because the additional steps would be too many to represent visually.  This particular journey would end with a decision. The point here is for the customer to conduct research, so as to act on it. For this user’s industry, such an act is a crucial task in selecting a technology solution. A journey should have a beginning and an ending, and the end point should be the desirable outcome you wish the user to achieve. Or put in customer-centric terms, the journey should fulfill a customer need and should complete once the need is fulfilled.

Best Practices in Developing Customer Journeys and Mapping Content

In general, the tasks to develop such a customer journey are not complicated, but the processes do involve a cross-functional, multidisciplinary team. Best practices for success include:

  1. Forming a collaborative that includes expertise from:
    • User Experience and user insights
    • Business strategy
      • Tip: You want to be able to fuse the business objectives with the needs of the user, so getting all the right folks in the room is critical
    • Content strategy
    • Customer-facing stakeholders or SMEs
    • Analytics
    • Product SMEs (brand marketing)
    • Sales (especially any customer enablement or sales strategy specialists)
  2. Looking at the steps in the journey map and breaking these into specific needs or tasks a user would wish to complete. Each of these tasks will become a unique journey. The tasks should allow for steps specific enough to map specific content.
    • Remember, the journey requires a beginning and an end or outcome
  3. Coming up with a list of key tasks and prioritizing them:
    • Remember to list these from both the business perspective and the user’s perspective. Then unify the perspectives through the steps that will be used to complete each task.
    • My free whitepaper has steps to complete such as an effort. You can use other exercises to complete this exercise. I recommend modifying the exercise that Torrey Podmajerksy uses to define business and user goals, which she then leverages to create supportive content for these benchmarks. You can learn more in her chapter on Conversions for Content-First Design in Strategic Writing for UX.
  4. Breaking the tasks into manageable steps, that account for the customer touchpoint(s) within each:
    • Identify the content at each step that will delight the customer and fulfill her needs. And also complete her action for that step or push her to the next journey step.
  5. Arrive at measurements to quantify each step.
    • You should establish KPIs and objectives for your journey and tasks.
  6. Test, test, test each solution with real customers.

And voila, you have a task-based customer journey! There are a lot of nuances within these best practices and for a complete picture on how to fully execute, I would recommend my whitepaper.

Making your Journeys Customer Journeys More Robust and Differentiating

People often ask me if there is any advice above and beyond the essential (and basic steps for crafting a journey) I can offer. Here are some tips that I have learned over the years, and which can make journeys even stronger and more competitively differentiating. These can also help you build a better journey overall and ensure that less iteration is necessary after roll-out:

  1. Collect the most important data to review. As you are looking at data to collect for users and their behaviors, always seek for quality analytics over sheer volume. Involve a data scientist or marketing scientist who can interpret the data and its integrity, and customer insights for each customer touchpoint. Keep in mind that qualitative is as important as quantitative, and quite often more important for customer experience efforts, such as customer journey project work.
  2. Do a competitive audit for each step. See what primary competition or third-party sites offer in terms of content at each step in each touchpoint.
    • This means you go through each step of your customer journey on your primary competitors’ experiences, and you see which content they offer / do not offer.
    • Do a SWOT analysis of this content, meaning you take look at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Capture content that you should offer within your journey, based on this analysis and map it to the appropriate steps.
  3. After your journey and channels are defined, associate an exit rationale for each step (why does the user leave the touchpoint?) What causes her to step away from the completion of her journey within your brand experience?  For example: Why did she leave the website? Does she need to go do research about the industry from an independent source or industry expert or find a competitor’s price, etc.? Ask yourself: is there content the user can find elsewhere he is not finding in my experience? What could I be offering to those leaving my experience prematurely? Generate a list of content from the exit rationale list. And remember, if the user must leave, such as to conduct third-party research, then you should incorporate any required activities into your journey steps.
  4. Account for why the customer does not arrive at your destination or touchpoint to begin with:
    • Does your customer not find you in a search online when she tries to accomplish the initial search? E.g., Does your website not appear in the top search results with the most frequently used search terms? (This question accounts for the top terms or keywords your targeted user would use to conduct the search.)
    • Is she not finding your content because it is not in the channels she uses?
    • Is there something within your experience preventing her from initiating this journey with your brand?
  1. Include marketing folks and technical documentation folks in the mix of fleshing out the journeys. Remember, journeys often are not purely marketing or technical in nature. Journeys require content from both areas to support the customer experience. A well-baked journey does not communicate internal silos to the customer experience through fragmented content experiences.
  2. One size will not fit all for how you leverage a persona/profile/customer identity in a journey. If you are doing a customer journey, do not forget to keep it customer focused. For task-based customer journeys with detailed steps, you may have to use personas for some, profiles for others and segments for others. And this may mean disassociation from your customer journey map archetypes, which may be too broad in some cases.

Following these six steps can help you differentiate and empower your journeys for even more success.

My final piece of advice is that a journey is not a static entity. It requires ongoing care and maintenance and that requires that you build testing and validation into your user journeys from the start. User behaviors change and evolve, as do all the inputs into your journeys. Adopting a model that tests and reviews these over time helps stand them up for ongoing success. Now stay tuned for my next article in this series which will focus on using content to measure the success of customer journey maps and journeys.

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