What’s missing in your consumer journey map?

A prospective client called today to solve a problem. She was working with an agency tasked with creating a consumer journey map. Her problem? The agency had never done one.

Lately I’ve heard a lot about consumer journey maps, which I began utilizing over a decade ago. It’s a tool that helps professional marketers walk in consumers’ shoes. These maps are a means to a strategic framework that informs how to go to market. A journey map is not an end in itself.

In today’s dynamic media marketplace, understanding the consumer experience clearly has value. Across every B2C and B2B category, the customer’s decision-making process has changed. It’s become more complex and fast-paced. No longer can clients simply assume that their customers filter down to them through a purchase funnel. In reality, they probably never did.

While the idea of a consumer journey map seems straightforward enough, building a strong one requires successfully integrating two halves: art and science. Ignore either, and you risk wasting precious resources.

The science half seeks data-driven insights about how your customers think, feel and behave. These insights come from a variety of places: website analytics, search, syndicated research or primary research ­– to name a few. The key to identifying the facts that matter is to understand the clues your data reveals about the barriers, gaps and opportunities your customer faces when moving from one decision to another.

Draw your journey map based on your insights and critical thinking. The most valuable maps are crisp and concise. They soon lead to a strategic direction, the true goal of your strategic process. Maps mired in complexity have the least value. You know the kind. They appear in 6-point font, spanning multiple pages with rambling bullets and undifferentiated tactics. The problem with such maps? They’ll sit in your desk drawer and gather dust.

Now you’re ready for the art half. This is fueled by creativity. The most fertile ideas tap into your insights. These ideas should push you to think beyond what you’re currently doing. If any ideas make you giddy, you’re onto something! Of course, they must fit your resources.

When done well, journey maps spark strategic marketing decisions that move customers toward choosing you. They point you to the ideas to act upon and what to measure. For marketers with finite budgets, this makes all the difference in their plan’s effectiveness.

So is anything missing in your consumer journey maps? If so, you may be confusing them as an end product rather than a powerful tool in a strategic process. Identifying data gems, then distilling the essential insights they reveal into actionable ideas is a task that can vex even my strategic communications graduate students. Journey maps may seem nuanced and complex, but in the end, they’re dead simple.

Michelle Fitzgerald is a communications strategist and principal at Brew: Creative Media in Minneapolis. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the Professional M.A. in Strategic Communication program at the University of Minnesota.