Today, two-thirds of the touch points a consumer has with a brand during product evaluation are customer-initiated. A typical customer journey may involve searching internet reviews, browsing websites, and getting word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or family. Customers may also visit stores or compare products with past experiences and available alternatives. In fact, according to Google, shoppers now use an average of 10.4 sources of information to make a purchase decision.

Because most buying decisions involve self-driven education before making an online or in-store purchase, it’s all the more important for marketers to understand the steps and context that led a buyer to them. In a recent study of digital and e-commerce marketers, 63% rated customer journey analysis as the most valuable input to increasing website purchases, making it the top-ranked competency cited. But effective customer journey mapping also requires diligence, research, flexibility, and perspective. Actionable customer journey maps should paint the consumer in his or her full context, requiring teams to consider and account for a significant amount of multi-channel complexity.

Here’s our three step framework for how to create useful customer journey maps to inform your marketing strategy:

1. Gather your inputs

Because so much of customer journey mapping is about understanding customer and business context, always start by performing and gathering your research up front. This will often include:

  • Collecting first and third party data on customer behavior from market research, consumer surveys, observed actions and other sources
  • Analyzing your own website, CRM and channel data for insights about who your customer is, why they need your product, and where and how they buy it
  • Creating customer personas, archetypes or ideal buyer profiles

The key is to understand four things about your customer:

  1. Identity – Who they are, what do they value?
  2. Situation – When, where and how will your brand present in their life?
  3. Motivation – Why will they interact with your brand and product? What’s the goal?
  4. Outcome – What will make them satisfied and mark that goal complete?

This customer profile will be the foundation of your customer journey map. After all, you have to understand someone first before you can walk a mile in their shoes.

2. Audit touchpoints

Research where and how customers interact with your brand, and build a list (for a quick start, download our content distribution channel checklist). This should include offline and digital, as well as other important non-marketing interactions like customer service.

It can also be useful to weight and rank the importance of touchpoints. For example, in physical retail, merchandising and packaging have become increasingly important selling factors, a point often under-appreciated by digital marketers. Consumers want to look at a product in action and are highly influenced by visual attributes. According to McKinsey research, up to 40 percent of customers change their minds because of something they see, learn, or do at the direct point of purchase—observing visual packaging, shelf placement, or interactions with retail employees, for example.

Ikea, for example, segments its priority touchpoints into three areas: (1) online [digital], (2) in store, and (3) out of store, then prioritizes by the strategic importance of each particular touchpoint to the customer’s overall brand relationship and purchasing behavior:

Ikea Customer Journey Map

3. Tell the story

Once you’ve profiled your customer and assembled your checklist of channels and touchpoints, the goal of the customer journey map is to tell the customer’s story and clarify their specific needs — as well as how you can meet them. Although customer journey maps share similarities with a traditional marketing funnel, they are not necessarily linear, adding new loops and dimensions to a classic path-to-purchase model. A customer may progress from one stage (or device) to another based on a number of factors and triggers, and they may interact with some channels and touchpoints while skipping others completely.

Your journey map should be tailored to your specific customer profile (and how you reach and interact with them), but a few guiding principles and good design approaches apply.

First, overlay your journey map with some linear framework for Stages the customer progresses along. This can be highly detailed and segmented, or more broadly generalized, but should follow a general progression from Need Recognition to Solution Research (and Search) to Purchase Evaluation to Product Usage to Continued Usage (or Repeat Purchasing) to an end step like Consumer Advocacy or High Satisfaction.

The specific steps you use and level of detail will be what’s right for you.

Next, against the stages you’ve outlined, map out the story of your customer, paying particularly close attention to their:

  • Activities (Doing) – What’s the story of your customer’s typical day that leads them to interact with your brand? What is your customer doing, stage by stage? What actions are they taking to move themselves on to the next stage?
  • Context (Setting) – What else do we know about the customer? If your customer experience is heavily or entirely digital, what devices are they on at a given stage?
  • Questions (Thinking) – What are your customer’s open questions or uncertainties preventing the customer from moving to the next stage of their journey?
  • Motivations (Feeling) – What does your customer ultimately care about? Why and how do they care about you in context? Why is the customer motivated to keep going to the next stage? What emotions are they feeling?
  • Brand Relationship (Touchpoints) – What are the touchpoints and opportunities between you and the customer? What barriers stand in the way of them moving to the next stage?

Want to take your work further? Download our template to start mapping your customers’ journeys.

For more on how to successfully develop customer journey maps, watch former DreamWorks story developer James Buckhouse’s talk on how to design stories at Transition 2016.

Also, for non-designers looking for help creating and visualizing your map, I’d recommend looking into software tools like UXPressia and Autopilot