woman staring at map while standing in the middle of a road
PHOTO: Daniel Gonzalez

A thoughtful customer journey map helps marketers get into the mindset of their customers. They serve to cultivate a better understanding of the specific decision points encountered along a customer's path of product consideration, from awareness through to purchase and then loyalty. The crucial junctures along a customer's journey are points when delivering the right marketing materials at the right moment can make all the difference. 

Understanding what goes into this process can provide key insights into any current gaps (or additional opportunities) where fine-tuning your marketing strategy can increase your success.

This is the first in a two part series. In part one, we look at what to consider when building your customer journey map.

The 5 Stages of Your Customer’s Journey

5 stages customer journey
Customers proceed through five well-established phases when considering a product or service they might need. A typical customer journey includes these stages:

  1. Awareness: A customer first recognizes a need and becomes aware of the brand. At this stage, marketing focuses on ensuring the brand is visible to the customer and demonstrating the brand’s value as a solution fitting the need at hand.
  2. Engagement: The customer learns more about the brand by connecting and gaining information about it, possibly through following the brand on social channels, joining its newsletter list, or exploring the solution through a free trial. Brand marketing now treats customers as warm leads, and nurtures relationships with additional information that’s engaging and well-targeted.
  3. Evaluation: By this stage the customer is fully aware of what the brand has to offer. He or she is conducting more detailed research and comparisons with other brands on the market before determining what purchase to make. A marketer’s job is now to clearly demonstrate the brand’s advantages and win customers over by showcasing specific differentiators and the results a customer can expect.
  4. Purchase: Here the prospective customer is converted into a paying one. They’ve made the decision to buy — brand marketers need only remove friction by providing a clear and inviting path to completing the purchase.
  5. Post-purchase: The customer journey now wraps around and customer lifecycle marketing techniques kick in as the customer-brand relationship must continue. Most customer bases will have ongoing purchase needs, and are more likely to buy from a brand they’ve purchased from before. Marketers should accentuate these advantages with current customers through remarketing tactics and providing positive experiences that keep customers coming back for more.

Related Article: Customer Journey Mapping: Navigating a Course to Better Customer Relations

Preparing Your Customer Journey Map

Seven core components make up a customer journey map:

1. The customer journey itself. As detailed above, this critical flow from awareness of your brand to the purchasing decision and to maintaining an ongoing brand-customer relationship provides a backbone that can then be fleshed out by more detailed customer information.

2. Buyer personas. Fully-developed buyer personas are similarly foundational to your customer journey mapping. These highly-detailed profiles of invented — but true-to-life — customers force marketers to get into the mindsets of specific customer types as those potential buyers move through the various stages. Representational buyer personas will include information from their name and age to their income, job, life history, values, goals, and more.

buyer persona
A buyer persona template

3. Actions. This component accounts for the specific activities a customer will perform along their journey. Depending on the product or service, this can include a combination of first exploring possible options via web search, visiting a brand’s site, signing up to receive extra content or a demo, undergoing a free consultation, calling to speak with a company representative, engaging with the business on social media, visiting a store and more.

4. Questions and thoughts. The concerns and considerations that customers encounter along their journeys offer marketers vital insights into customers’ mindsets and prepare brands to answer these queries favorably. Questions to ask yourself, that customers are likely asking themselves: How does this product solve my issues? Does it come with other options? Is the price worth it? How exactly do I buy and use it?

5. Touch points. Touch points cover every interaction a buyer has with the brand through the customer lifecycle. These brand experiences shape customers’ sentiment toward the brand — which makes optimizing these experiences absolutely essential to earning brand loyalty. Touch points can include websites, social media, print media (earned and paid), signage, interactions with salespeople, product packaging and more.

6. Opportunities. Here is where you recognize the most optimal points along the journey where your brand can make a bigger impact with customers, and decide the marketing strategies you’ll engage in during each stage.

7. Content Needs. Content is a highly, highly effective marketing tool that can increase brand awareness, better engage customers, and deliver better experiences across all stages of the customer journey. Identify these content-based opportunities, and the content needed to fulfill them.

Related Article: Model, Measure, Validate and Optimize Your Way to Customer Journey Success

Putting it all Together

customer journey map
A customer journey map template

To create a customer journey map, focus on a single buyer persona, and proceed through the customer journey as if you were in his or her shoes. Closely (and honestly) detail that individual’s thoughts, feelings, and actions at each stage. Delineate the customer’s touch points with the brand. Then, examine these for opportunities to improve the experiences at these touch points, or even to add new ones. Determine where marketing and content strategies can best be leveraged within the customer journey.

By completing this finely-detailed approach to understanding the customer’s experience — and being sure to continually monitor, iterate, and improve it going forward —you can also greatly increase the number of customers that will complete and repeat their own customer journeys.

In part two we’ll look at how you can ensure your customer journey map is built for the long haul by focusing on the right data to develop personas, asking the right questions, and identifying specific gaps in opportunities.

Related Article: Use Design Thinking to Put Yourself in Your Customers' Shoes