How Customer Journey Mapping Helps You Understand Your Audience


Graphic of a group of people representing personas at the bottom with a chart showing a customer journey across different phases.
Solving for B°
How Customer Journey Mapping Helps You Understand Your Audience

Knowing your audience is half the battle when it comes to leaving a lasting impact with your brand. Customer journey mapping is one tool that can help facilitate that familiarity and keep people coming back when you understand their needs. In this episode, Chris sits with Cynthia, Laura and Jonathan to learn about some of the ways journey mapping helps build empathy with an audience.

Table of Contents

This transcript has been edited for readability.

What is Customer Journey Mapping?

Chris Wilks: Thanks for joining us today, guys. So as you guys know, we're talking about customer journey mapping, here today. So I want to start by informing those out there who may not be initiated. What is customer journey mapping? What is it used for?

Cynthia Stipeche: Yeah, I'll take that one, Chris. Journey maps are a common UX tool. They're also a common marketing tool, and I'm sure you've heard them called user journey mapping, customer journey mapping or buyer journey mapping.

So they are a visual representation of a buyer or a user's journey, or customer's journey, through a product, or a service. It helps us visualize what they're going through, so that we can capture things like pain points or even opportunities that we're missing out on, so that we can look at that a bit deeper, and then develop strategies based off of it.

Chris: Yeah, and I think it's like you mentioned, it's visual. I think one of the beneficial things is that you can have all this research pulled together, but if it's just a wall of text, it's not as usable. These customer journey maps, in my experience, do a really good job of making the information digestible and useful.

I imagine that's by design? Do you know what the purpose of making it a more visual, as opposed to a more delivered document is?

Cynthia: Yeah, I think for a lot of folks, it's like you were saying, it's if it shows up in a report it's written, it gets a little hard to dig through and pull out those key facts, and things that you may have otherwise passed up are more noticeable when it's visualized.

The other thing about the journey map being kind of a visual thing is that you can include a lot of people to join in, to help with the journey mapping. That's a great aspect. It's really an amazing tool for collaboration with groups, and even with that, it's not typically the role of just the UX facilitator, or professionals, to get in there and do this.

It's the type of exercise that really benefits from a lot of subject matter experts being present, which is something we typically do here at BrandExtract, whenever we do journey mapping workshops.

Laura Ehrlich: I think another thing about the visual aspect of it is you're able to digest a lot of information at a glance. I think that really helps, because this is a journey, and you're able to see, from the time that this customer is first introduced to your product, or service, or brand, and what that looks like, in the ups and downs, and the touchpoints along the way, whatever.

So there's so much that you're trying to digest, and that visual map gives it to you, at a glance, so I think it makes it really helpful. And it's not to say, when you deliver a report on a customer journey, that there's not tremendous pages of text. You're talking about the opportunities that come out of it, and so many other things. But yes, that map itself, is terrific at a glance.

I was going to say, that I think the biggest thing, is that it turns the buyer's journey, or the user customer's journey, into a story, and it's a story that takes into account, every phase of their journey. This is really the point where it's like, we can really start to slice and dice, what we're offering as a brand, how they're engaging and interacting with it.

It's a lot of stuff that could get missed, and it's an amazing tool, so that it's easier to see it, show me, versus having to dig through piles of information.

Laura: And Cynthia, you nailed it when you talked about how they engage with the brand. I mean, from the strategic brand standpoint, those are the kind of things that we want to know and we're developing a brand strategy, and putting together the assessment, for a client or a customer, is how are they interacting? Is it a positive or negative experience? You're getting into the mind of the consumer.

And I also want to make a note, that when we say consumer, that there's B2C space, and B2B space. This doesn't only apply to a B2C space. We're using the term consumer as sort of an all-encompassing term, but that consumer could mean your employee, because you want to track how they engage with your brand, and are they a potential hire? And once they get hired, are they going to be retained?

So that consumer could be an employee, it could be a buyer, it could be another business, it could be an acquisition prospect. So keep in mind, that this doesn't just apply to B2C, but definitely it's a critical part to a brand strategy, because it is getting into the mind of the consumer, and how they are interacting with the brand at different stages.

Why is Journey Mapping Important?

Chris: And this is a good segue here, I think, because I wanted to talk about, why customer journey mapping is important to a brand. In what ways can a customer journey map improve, or a customer journey mapping exercise, improve your customer experience?

Laura: Well, for one thing, a customer journey map can take business insights, and turn those into long-term improvement strategies. So you're taking these little bits of information, and you're putting it together, and watching this journey of the buyer, and you have a strategy map, almost, because it's going to tell you how you need to be speaking to these people, to get them to the next stage of that journey, to address the pain points of that journey, their challenges during that stage, and how you're pushing them along.

And then even at the buying stage, you want to retain them, and you want to keep that engagement going on. So I would definitely say, it turns these little nuggets into a larger, big, long-term kind of strategy, that all ties back into your business goals.

Chris: Yeah. And in my experience, it maps out why you're undertaking these activities and these tactics, right. A lot of times, when we're developing marketing plans, and things like that, if you don't understand those personas, and what they're going through at each of the phases, then you're kind of just putting messages out, as opposed to understanding what types of messages need to go out, to achieve a desired outcome.

So I think a customer journey map, when done properly, allows you to really point to, this is why we're doing this podcast, this is why we're doing this ad, or we're advertising in this channel, or our messaging says this. Cynthia, what are your thoughts?

Cynthia: It really takes into account who you're speaking to. It's easy to put yourself in the shoes of the customer, or your target audience, and saying, I know what's going to resonate with them. Historically, this is what we've done in the past.

The journey map is a great exercise in empathy, and we, per every phase in their journey, we look at not just their actions, and what they're doing, and those key touch points, but we're literally looking at their emotional state. What are their pain points? How are they feeling? Are they up or down? What's causing that? And every journey map starts with a high level goal, tied into that specific persona, but then we actually break down the goals per phase and you can't have a journey map without a persona.

The Role of Personas in Journey Mapping

Chris: Well, that's a great segue, and JC, I want to get your thoughts on what role personas play in a customer journey mapping exercise.

Jonathan Coen: Well, I heard the magic word there, that was empathy. That is my mantra, that I try to stress to everyone, is to design with empathy, but it's not just that. It's build with empathy, plan with empathy, research with empathy, that you can't really have true empathy for someone, if you don't know them.

And so that's part of getting to the thing behind the thing, and what those motivators are, like Cynthia mentioned, think about it in your personal life, the way you communicate with someone who's really stressed out, is having a rough day, has a lot going on, they're overwhelmed. You might talk to them in a different way than you would, from someone who is just on cloud nine.

And so if you're thinking of someone who is in a purchasing journey, they're about to sign a massive contract with someone, they're probably really stressed out, maybe they're not confident, they're not sure if they're making the right choice, do they go with the right vendor?

We've got to help guide them through that decision making process, to make sure they do feel more confident in their decision making, and that when they get with you, they're they're confident that where they are, is the right choice for themselves, for their business, for their team, for their department, that they're going to get return on investment from it.

And that's part of that communication strategy that we need to have, based on the personas, and the journey mapping that we do. It could be something as subtle as just, "I'm going to use this word here, but I'm not going to use it here," or "I'm going to emphasize the same point, but I'm going to phrase it a little bit differently, pre-purchase, and post-purchase."

Laura: Yeah, I want to say one thing about what Cynthia mentioned earlier about there being a goal to this. I think that's really important. And that made me think into what Jonathan was just talking about, because depending on the persona, and there are so many different types of people: young, old, various race, creed, color, religions, and all of that plays in all these demographics, whether they're a baby boomer, all these things play into, who makes up that person, and the point of empathy, how are you going to connect with them?

So you're building that persona, but when you have that goal, you want to know that persona's specific goal. I've worked with JC a lot, on building websites, and so that persona, we will have a goal of, we want to get that person, that audience, right there to visit this website. That's the goal.

So that could be a little bit of a different journey, than I want to get that person, to buy that product. So the personas can change, and the journeys can change, depending on that goal. So you had mentioned that earlier, Cynthia, and I just wanted to emphasize, that goal itself, is really important too.

Cynthia: And that's why journey mapping is such a great tool, because it has so many different uses. It's not just for websites, it's not just for marketing campaigns, it's not just for a product of some sort, it has a lot of different applications. And for ourselves, being a brand consultancy, it comes in really handy to look at our customers' target audience, to understand what's going to resonate with them.

That gives us the secret sauce, whenever we draw out those key opportunities from the journey map, to just gain a better understanding of how to optimize the experience, so that it works for that specific type of target audience, that persona for them.

It all ties back to that brand too, right? Because sometimes it is called a buyer's journey, but in the example I gave just a second ago, if the goal is to just visit the website, that may be that ultimate goal, so it's not making a purchase, it's just how are we going to get them to go to that website?

Well, with the brand though, no matter what the goal, the brand is involved. No matter what that end goal is, we are wanting them to interact with the brand along the way. And so how they interact, how they engage, what they're feeling about the brand at that moment, all of that is going to make a difference, on where they end up, and whether or not they meet that goal.

Chris: And personas, I want to point out here, are a cornerstone of customer journey mapping exercises, right? Because we're talking about empathy, we're talking about perspectives, we're talking about buyers, and what we want them to do. Companies have different personas, they have different target markets, so the feelings, the needs, the concerns, the hangups, are all going to be based on that persona type.

Are they're going to differ based on that persona type? Yes, there are probably similarities, and that's maybe some of the power of a customer journey map, is if you look through three, four, five different personas, and you notice that there are, at this phase, there's this level of consternation, that probably points to a systemic problem, as opposed to something we can fix with messaging or something like that.

So it speaks to even more value of a customer journey map, not in simply identifying marketing messages, or approaches, or channels, but all right, maybe there's something we need to address with our business as a whole. So can we talk about, a little bit, the importance of personas in this exercise?

Cynthia: Again, the persona is a representative figure, a made up person, who represents a segment of your broader target audience. And if you have to develop a persona, and see how they're engaging, and interacting with your brand, to fully understand what makes them tick, how are we really going to talk to them, without having the persona, you're missing some key critical stuff that you could start to lean on.

Another big thing about why it's important to look at personas, and also why it's important to keep up with your personas, is that as demographics change, the decision makers in today's market, the ages are changing. So the things that resonate with that younger audience is different than what resonated with people in the past.

And today, with Gen Z coming up, it's very, very different. This is a part where, again, I think you mentioned earlier, personalization is extremely important, not just for a younger audience, but for everyone. The expectation for personalization, and for optimized experiences, is really high, but if you do develop the personas, and you do the research, and you verify that your vision, and idea of the personas, is actually backed up with research, and that's them, you get closer to where you need to be, with engaging with them, and providing the type of customer experience, or product, that's going to resonate, and click with them, emotionally, and psychologically.

Laura: One thing I can add is a quick and easy sort of definition of persona, because some people, I have heard this before, clients talk about this, so what's the difference between a persona, and your audience?

Well, your audience is the broad term. You know, maybe your audience is IT managers, that's your audience, but the persona, is Mr. Jones, IT manager. What does Mr. Jones like? What does he do for fun? What does he read? What sort of programs does he watch? What age is he? Does he have a family? What keeps him up at night? There's a really key question to really dig deep into a persona, what keeps you up at night?

Then you start digging into the pain, the challenges. So your audience is a big broad term, and you can say, IT managers. The persona is you're getting really, really refined on, as Cynthia said earlier, what makes them tick, and those are the ways that you are getting inside that consumer's head, and you are able, then, to define those messages. I think JC, was talking about messaging earlier, refining those messages, so you're speaking at them, at the right time, and with the right message during that time

Chris: And we have a great article on the importance of personas that you can check out. These personas are built on lots of research, lots of data, lots of conversations with Mr. Jones. Not actually Mr. Jones, but whoever represents Mr. Jones. So there's a lot of research, and identification, that goes into that, so it's not like we're kind of making this up.

None of this is done quickly, I mean, it does take a little bit of time, but over and over again, it's proven itself to be worth it.

How to Create a Customer Journey Map

Chris: So let's jump into how you create customer journey maps. Stuff like, what are the needs? What are the steps? Maybe, what's some prep work you have to do, before you can actually get started?

Cynthia: Well, obviously, research is really important from the get go, and I'm sure, as JC said, there are a lot of interviews, and talking to people, and surveys that go out, to determine who those key personas are. So again, like I said earlier, you can't really do the journey map without the persona. You could probably pull off a hypothetical journey map, which is based on assumptions. The goal, is always to go back, and verify that information.

But once you've established who your actors are in the journey map, you want to determine what the actual scenario, and the expectations are. What are we addressing in that journey map? And you could do a high level journey map if you wanted to, just to capture a big picture view of the organization, how it's probably engaging with a certain audience member type, but it always is beneficial to dig in a bit deeper, and select a specific scenario, to figure out how that's going to work.

And then you need to define your journey phases. That's really important. I think also having the larger goal, you need to understand the goal per each of those phases, because it does change a bit, if you go from awareness, to consideration, to the buying part, so it varies a bit. So it helps when you're facilitating a journey mapping session, it helps a group better understand how to focus their thinking when they're in a specific phase of that journey.

And then obviously, our goal is to kind of capture those actions, and the mindsets, and the emotions, of the persona that we're focused on. But we break out the journey map, initially, as a grid, and then we basically go in there and everybody contributes. If it's done in person, it's sticky notes, and Sharpie markers everywhere, and whiteboards, but sometimes we do it virtually.

We've done it virtually with clients as well, where we invite them, and we use some great collaboration tools, to just work through those journey maps together, and it works the same way, whether it's in person, or virtual, which is great.

Chris: So JC, I want to bring you in here, because it appears to me that empathy plays a role in this process, and probably a pretty critical role in this process.

Jonathan: Absolutely.

Chris: So can you talk a little bit, about the necessity, or the role that empathy has, in creating a customer journey map?

Jonathan: Well, there's that old adage that you are not your users. So taking that forward, you are not your customers. Something that may be very obvious to you, because you're a subject matter expert in something, or you really know your business, or you really know your industry, may not be as obvious to somebody else, and so we can't assume that the people out there in the world, they have the same knowledge base that you do.

Depending upon where someone is in that journey, like Cynthia was mentioning, as we look at that grid, it's, am I in an exploratory phase? Am I in a consideration phase? Am I getting close to making a decision? Am I post-decision that mindset, that that person's in, and it is critical to understand how we need to talk to them, how we need to communicate with them, how we need to listen to them as well, because we can't assume that everything's going great?

We have to have mechanisms in there in place for them to provide feedback, so we can optimize what we're doing. It's part of that listening, it's the emphasis on why we do so many, those voice-of-the-customer conversations, and those one-on-one interviews. Everyone thinks that they know their customers, and then the customer gets, actually gets in front of you, and they might tell you something completely different.

Chris: So as you guys are talking about the different phases and stages, it occurs to me, that each persona could, in theory it won't always happen, but in theory, each persona could have a different process for making decisions.

Laura: Oh, totally.

Chris: So could different stages be customized per persona, or by brand, or are we typically talking about awareness, engagement, purchase, that sort of stuff, or are these particular stages customized per journey?

Cynthia: They can be customized, and I think, typically, when we interview, and talk to our clients, we try to gain a deeper understanding of how they engage, and work with customer, historically, how do they sell? It may influence some of those stages in our journey map.

We'll also look at if it's a service, versus maybe a website, or something different, it's going to change, which is nice. We have that flexibility to alter each of those stages per the journey map, and really look at the goals of it.

Laura: Those are the typical stages, but here's an example of what Cynthia's talking about, is there may be a journey map that needs to happen. The client may come to us with a problem, where, look, these folks are aware of a brand, they already know who we are, they got us, they know who we are, but darn it, we can't get them to push that button. How do we get them to push the button?

So it's not as much focusing on the awareness stage, because there's already an awareness of the brand. We want to go a little bit further, and find out, okay, why aren't they engaging? Or maybe they're engaging, but they're not converting. So we're finding out from our clients, where that problem is. So there may not even be an awareness stage, necessarily, in that journey, because once we've determined what the client challenge is, and what their goals are, you're going to map out those stages to align with that.

Cynthia: That's a great point, Laura. You could start it at the exploration phase, where maybe they're digging in the site, looking for something. So we could start at that point, and it doesn't have to be at the "get me to the website" phase.

What Makes Journey Mapping Succeed?

Chris: Okay, so let's talk about what makes a successful customer journey mapping exercise. So is that process right for everyone? Are there certain components, or me, certain characteristics of a brand, or an industry?

Laura: I mean, ideally, we are using the example earlier, that it's good for external communications, and it's great for internal communications. We're working with a client now, they want to understand the prospective employee journey, from the time that somebody is looking at an ad, or they see something on your website that you're hiring, how do we get them to the hiring, and then how do we retain them? That's a journey as well.

So there may be more critical, or deeper journeys, in certain situations where that wouldn't be a valuable tool.

Cynthia: And I think it's just, again, it's a great tool, it's a great method for bringing people together, and talk together, collaboratively, in a organized way. And again, these are moments, where it's like, you could technically have a brainstorm, and we pin up a persona on the wall, and we just have a brainstorm, start spit balling, and everything else. And I mean it's, that works as well.

The great thing about the journey map, is that we also, beyond looking at their emotional state, and the actions that they're doing, we're really looking at the touchpoints. That gets us a bit closer to looking at these whole omnichannel type experiences.

That's one of the benefits of it, and I think that applies a bunch of different clients that we've worked with in the past, but also looking at those key opportunities that come out of it. It's like, what are we missing? What are we not doing for them? What are their pain points? And at those certain stages, it's like, we might identify pain points that we didn't even realize were there to start with.

That being said, it's important, that whomever comes to participate in the journey map, they have to review the personas, and read any available research that's provided to them, before the exercise.

Chris: Cool. JC, I want to get your thoughts on whether or not you think that this process is right for everyone. It seems like it is, and I'll inject a little bit in here for myself. When podcast hosts like me ask a question like that, usually, the answer is, no. But it sounds like, yes, customer journey mapping can be for everyone. Do you have any thoughts as to why that is?

Jonathan: Well, I mean, just looking at Laura's example there, of a client, who is interested in knowing more about that prospective hire journey map, and what are they going through, and that's trying to take an abstract concept, and turn it into something more actionable. That's a common thing that we try to accomplish for clients, when it comes to these websites we're building for them.

Maybe there's something in lead generation, or hey, we need awareness, or we need whatever it might be, but everybody needs to hire, and retain great talent, to make your business successful. Not a lot of our clients really understand what it's like, because when we talked about those generational issues earlier on, if you're hiring manager, maybe is someone my age, or maybe someone a little bit older, the people you're trying to hire, if you're looking at Gen Z, just looking at analytics data that we've got, a lot of job hunts, happen on your phone.

And so, they haven't taken that into account that, hey, maybe everybody else is looking at your website primarily on desktop, but those job hunters, they're on their lunch break, maybe, they're on a subway home, they're commuting, and they're searching for jobs on their phone, because they're not happy. And so how are you presenting that information on a mobile device? Maybe, they don't necessarily apply on the mobile device, but they're going to look.

Laura: JC, you make such a good point there, because we deal with this particular company, and they have field workers that can't be on their phone. So, you're so right, there it goes back to the persona, and what is going to work for them, and how do you reach this guy on the subway, to your example with a cell phone, but this guy who's in the field, and he doesn't touch a phone, or a laptop, he's back in the office, he's on an rig somewhere, or whatever the case may be, so yeah.

Jonathan: And there's no one-size-fits-all solution to all of this, and we can say, here's how you treat all hires, for every company that we work with, it's every hiring audience, every demographic, it's going to be a little bit different, and like you said, maybe this one's great with phones, maybe this one can't get on phones, so it's got to be tailored to who you're trying to hire.

Chris: Awesome. So what are outputs of a customer journey map, and how do you put those artifacts to work?

Cynthia: Well, one of the outputs is definitely the customer journey map itself. And if you do this in person, it's probably a big long piece of paper, with a bunch of sticky notes on it, but what we always try to do, is create a high fidelity version of that, so that it's a cleaner, kind of designed depiction of the outcome of the journey mapping session.

But even beyond that, is the actual UX report of that journey map, which we typically provide to clients, and it provides the outcomes of the journey mapping experience, and really outlines those key opportunities, which is great, and we break it down per phase, we summarize, to the best of our ability, and then definitely document each of those key opportunities, which typically, goes into consideration for improvements on their services, products, website, you name it.

Chris: Yeah, some of the tangible things that I think that I get out of these, as a digital marketing guy, I really like that there's tactics, and messaging. We talked about this a little bit at the top: there's tactics, and messaging, and things like that, that come out of this, that really help bring life to a marketing plan, or a marketing strategy.

A lot of times, you can have a rough idea or a framework for a marketing plan, but without something like this, you're relying pretty heavily on best practices, or you're relying pretty heavily on maybe past experiences with similar audiences, or similar personas. But when you do this, it really helps you fill out with pretty astonishing detail, to be completely honest, where you need to be, what you need to be saying, where you need to be within the journey, or the funnel itself, where you need to be catching this audience.

And so I think it's really instructive, to help unlock key insights and opportunities, and what it does, is it facilitates you creating better brand experiences, and then, like I said, it helps you build targeted marketing plans. And really, that's the outcome.

A lot of what we've been talking about here today, is a little bit, especially, if you're, you're uninitiated, maybe a little nebulous, right? You're like, okay, what is a customer journey map? I've never heard of this. What you can get out of this, is a roadmap, pardon the mixed metaphor here, but a roadmap of what your customer really is going through, what they're going to be thinking at different phases, and then, to accommodate that, what are the opportunities that come out of those emotions, and those thoughts, and those pain points. And so, I think, that really is, maybe not the only value, but I think that's a key value in this.

Laura: When you drill it down to its basics, you're gaining some deeper insight, and deeper understanding of your customer, and what business doesn't want that. The more about your customer, the better understanding, and the more empathy you have, the better you are going to be at representing your brand, talking about your brand, selling your product, selling your service.

You are getting to understand that customer better, and that's tremendous value in that. And when we do brand assessments at BrandExtract, we rely on that information. We want to provide that assessment back to the customer, our customer, and say, look at all of these insights, things that we have found, from both qualitative and quantitative data, that that customer journey, in developing those personas, is part of that data.

And again, that gives some really valuable behind-the-curtain kind of information to our customer, that they can then take and use, to be a stronger corporate brand, provide better products, customer service, whatever it is.

Jonathan: I was going to take a crack at my own metaphor, that doing this kind of work without personas, or journey maps, it's close to a shot in the dark. Best practices, can get you a ways, but it's hard to know exactly if this set of best practices, is the right one.

And so if you're taking shots in the dark, maybe you're hitting your target, maybe you're not, but most of the time, your business is too important to risk on a shot in the dark. You want that laser being focused. You want to know, prior to taking that shot, exactly where you're going to go, exactly where it's going to land, and that you're going to hit the bullseye, on where you need to be.

Cynthia: I think that's the key thing: we always want to know, what are those pain points? What are we not doing for them? Where are we dropping the ball? And the closer we can get into their mind, and feel what they're going through, that means that, when we take a brand from development, we get ready to activate, and then manage it beyond that, and everything else.

It puts us in a better position, to make sure, that it's like we're putting the messages in the right place, we're talking to them the right way, at the right time, so it's a more informed journey in the end.

Laura: And when we identify those challenges, and those pain points, it helps us to know what the best solution is, because at the end of the day, that's what we're trying to do, is provide these valuable solutions to these customers, so that their pain is, I just can't sleep at night. So is the solution you need, a firmer mattress? Is the solution you need, a sound machine?

So you identify the pain points, but all that additional data, is sort of leading you to, what is going to be that targeted solution for that customer. And that's going to make the customer feel good, and trust you, trust the brand even more, and you want to be developing that engagement, and that brand trust, so the more you can offer them those little bits of help, and solutions, and guidance, and get them to feel good, back to empathy, JC, but get them to feel good, and be positive, and have a great experience with the brand, and trust the brand. All of that is getting you to that end goal.

Jonathan: And that turns a customer into an advocate, and then they're doing your work for you.

Chris: Great stuff, guys. Well, I really appreciate it. I think, that's going to do it for this episode. Thanks for your time, and we'll catch you on the next one, so thanks y'all.