A Customer’s Journey Is Not Linear: How to Connect Dots to Optimize Marketing

See an ad. Click the ad. Peruse an item. Buy the item. The purchase process from point A to point B seems like it should be simple enough, right?

When marketers and designers have scrupulously laid out so much valuable information about each and every product, it seems like a customer’s steps from consideration to confirmed purchase should be straightforward and lightning fast. Unfortunately, it’s usually not. What in our minds seems linear and crisp is, in reality, a lot more like a winding map through several mountain ranges. It’s curved, sometimes tumultuous, and often even circular.

We call this process — from first glimpse of a brand or product to purchase, and post-purchase services — the customer journey. Like any journey, it can seem unpredictable… until you know the common pitfalls and detours people take when they’re on them.

Embarking on the Customer Journey

According to HubSpot, the customer journey is the process by which a customer interacts with a company in order to achieve a goal. Their goal, that is. A key part of understanding and mapping the customer journey is starting from a place that is customer-centric. While yes, any company is still going to have their own important goals to meet, routing a business strategy that corresponds to a customer’s pain points and personal goals makes for easy flow because you’re meeting them where they’re at – instead of having to wrangle them to wherever you want them to be.

This process of establishing a customer’s goals can be deceptively difficult, if only for familiarity’s sake. While you may know what your company offers, what your products are like, what problems they solve, how your website works, and the simplest way to execute a purchase, your customers (or potential customers) aren’t. Simply put, doing the work to truly map out your customer’s journey on paper (on spreadsheet, poster board, or PowerPoint slide) and all the touchpoints they have with your company gives you enough distance to anticipate the journey accurately.

So, to begin making a customer journey map, you must collect ample data. Simply asking them about their purchase process and experience interfacing with your company is a good place to start, as are using surveys, conducting user testing, and doling out questionnaires. Why would a customer contemplate a purchase but never make one? Why would they spend significant time on your site or speaking with a customer service rep only to abandon the purchase in the final steps? These are important pieces of information for you to know, as they can lend insight into your customers as well as any weak spots in your branding or website experience.

Armed with new customer-centric knowledge about the journey ahead, you can synthesize the data into something called buyer personas. These personas are fictitious example customers created to personify the information you’ve collected about your customers, allowing you to put yourself in their shoes and empathize with their needs, wants, and frustrations. Using what you know about this persona’s movement across your company’s touch points – like social media pages, targeted ads, email newsletters, blogs, and shared links – you can begin to map out their movement to and from your site before making a purchase.

Download our free guide: How to Create Buyer Personas for Your Business

And yes, this movement is often switchback in nature, moving from social media to website to back to social media, where an Instagram ad may nudge a customer back to site. Customer contemplation can often last days or weeks, and during that span of time they can interact with a multitude of touchpoints. That’s OK, though – because you’ll have all those touchpoints on your customer journey map.

Making Marketing More Meaningful

There’s a big reason that customer journey maps can be of particular salience with the marketing team: If a customer can’t reach their goals through your touchpoints (and ultimately your brand, customer service interface, or website), they’ll try again with a competitor. When you can understand a customer’s intended journey, you can structure your touchpoints to create the most effective, efficient route possible, eliminating roadblocks that would thwart the purchase process.

This is where that concept of meeting customer’s where they’re at comes into play. If marketers have enough insight into buyer personas and the customer journey, they’re able to create content and materials that customers are already searching for. It syncs customer goals with company goals, because sales and marketing objectives are based on what the customers really want.

This kind of a map also denotes customer pain points. The data allows marketers to see what throughout the touchpoint process is interesting and helpful to customers, and what isn’t. It allows marketing teams to see which touchpoints feature prominent drop offs, where the route loops back on itself, and where notable obstacles to journey completion may be in the way, such as far too many steps to take (and a journey far too long).

When considering an integrated ad experience, a customer journey map also allows the shopping experience to be more seamless for customers – they don’t have to pick up where they left off because of information saved about their preferences, targeted ads that show products they’d already specifically viewed, and recognition of repeat site visits. If costs are prohibitive, customer journey map data will illuminate this.

What’s even better is that a customer journey map can be shared with company stakeholders, integrating mission and objectives across departments. When everyone is going in the same direction, it’s that much easier to reach the destination – for the company and the customers.

Customer Journey Mapping

If the idea of crafting a customer journey map seems fabulous in theory but daunting in execution, don’t worry. There are tools of all kinds to assist with plotting these maps, and they come in an array of formats. You can use spreadsheets, tables, or illustrations to lay out your data in a way that’s digestible for the whole team, and there are even a few specific kinds of maps.

HubSpot has customer journey map creation tools, including free templates, that allow you to take advantage of the insights these maps can offer without having to hire an app developer. Types of customer journey maps include current state maps (how a customer moves through the buying process while interacting with your company), day in the life maps (the customers’  whole days, including all the experiences outside of interacting with your customers), future state maps (how customers will move through the journey in the ideal future), and service blueprint maps (which chart the people in the company who will interact with customers along the way).

Learn more about HubSpot + Gate 39 Media

Experience maps map how customers move through each behavioral stage of purchases as well as how they experience them. The information from these kinds of maps closely resemble customer journey maps, which are touchpoint-oriented, and the two can even be integrated together. (Think: How do touchpoints show up during different behavioral stages?). Compare and contrast different map templates here.

Once you have your customer journey map crafted, there are even ways to use the data gleaned to create a totally integrated experience for customers through a customer relationship management solution (CRM). A CRM is typically used by sales teams, as they track sales leads and prospects, but it’s equally beneficial for marketing teams, as it can pinpoint impact of marketing efforts, see who is engaging with content, hyper-segment email lists, and so much more. The result? Getting even more people on the customer journey you’ve mapped.

While the lack of linear progression from contemplation point A to confirmed purchase point B can be confusing, it’s also rife with possibility – after all, there are now far more touchpoints that interact with our customers. All that marketers need to begin navigating this challenge is a map.

Need some direction? Contact us to learn how to create better customer experiences.

You may also be interested in: