Editor's note: James Rohde is research director at Schmidt Market Research Inc., Pittsburgh.

A customer journey map is a depiction of an individual’s perspective of their relationship with a service, product or brand, over time and across channels. The purpose of creating a journey map is to quickly demonstrate the impact of specific interactions on a desired experience among a specific customer type.

So, in the end, journey mapping is a research-based solution that informs business strategy. But part of the problem with simple statements that include industry-specific words is that they are too easily thrown into irrelevant conversations that rob them of their meaning. While partially frustrating, this works to the favor of the industry because it forces these statements to either prove their universal worth or quickly show their limitations. We have seen a lot of this in the last few years with the growing constellation of research solutions – ethnographies, eye-tracking, neuro-based research, micro-surveys, and, recently, big data.

At the risk of joining the chorus of the blindly optimistic who turn up at each of these mini-revolutions, I think journey mapping is different. The difference is that journey mapping is more of a data structure that is intended to incorporate many different data components. It is a mechanism to breathe life into the raw data left behind by the consumer experience that is being explored. This gives journey maps the privilege of drawing their strength from the accuracy of their underlying methodologies.

The easiest way to determine the experience to focus on is to identify the consumer behavior you are interested in supporting. The more specific you can be the more tactical the map. Some examples: converting more consumers to customers; converting customers to loyal advocates; increasing customer spend per transaction; increasing app downloads; and converting in-p...