Breathing life into the data

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.

Identify the consumer behavior

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-person customer service to mobile app servicing.

Just as we want to be specific with targeting a specific behavior, we want to be explicit with the persona or segment that we are interested in understanding. The end solution is meant to highlight the connections between brand interactions and impact; so, to make that accurate and actionable we must acknowledge that different segments of people will have different goals that drive their interactions with any one touchpoint. Often, the brand, product or service in question will have an existing segmentation in place that can be leveraged.

However, here there are some essential criteria of an actionable segmentation that must be covered to be useful for a journey map. If any one of these basics are missing, it is worth revising or updating the customer segmentation. Segmentation should be steady, show division and have substantial segment proportions.

Steady. Customer segmentation is not meant to be fluid. Segment classifications should enable you to accurately know something about the targeted consumer that is true for long enough that you can create and execute a brand strategy. Additionally, to know something about the consumer you must be able to identify them in the marketplace with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

Historically, this was the difference between an attitudinal and product-based segmentation. The attitudinal segmentation had longevity but was so impractical to leverage after the study that it became void of meaning. The product-based segmentation is easy to execute but was so void of insight that its functionality is often limited to short-term tactics.

Thankfully, there is no longer any reason to choose one over the other. Segmentations today are based on behaviors and attitudes. “Based” is the key word – this is not the same as profiling attitudes on top of a product segment. Nor is it the same as profiling behaviors on an attitudinal segmentation; for our segments to work for us, we need to ensure that we are identifying them along the parameters required to leverage their insight. Segments should be defined by the attitudes and behaviors that make them unique from the rest of the population.

Division. Segments need to be unique enough that they are clearly differentiated from each other in ways that are meaningful to the brand, identifiable in the market and uncover predictable attitudes and behaviors. This has become much easier over the past few years with the proliferation of big data. Much of the information that is worth noting has long been available but now that people are actively talking about these data sets, the ease of appending this information to segmentation study data has been a phenomenal evolution. This includes things like internal purchasing data and media consumption habits sourced from data brokers.

These additional data sets combine with attitude and self-reported behaviors to provide the type of robust data set that allows for clear segments to reveal themselves. Most importantly, the segments are revealed in ways that can be measured and defined by the consumers’ attitudes and behaviors. This allows for unique segments that stand apart from each other in ways that are meaningful to the brand and identifiable in the market. As a result, insights are discovered that can be leveraged for strategic planning and segment IDs can be predicted in the market so that strategy can be executed.

Substantial segment proportions. When a segmentation data set is completed, analysts face an incredible temptation in micro-segments. These are segments that are differentiated in meaningful ways but represent too small a proportion of the market to be strategically viable. The challenge is to find the ways that these micro-segments roll up to form a true segment. While each segmentation paradigm is unique to its objective, a relative sense of scale could show a dataset revealing hundreds of micro-segments that eventually roll up into eight or nine primary segments. These primary segments are what typically become useful to strategic planning.

Current state of the journey

Up to this point we have identified the consumer action we are interested in supporting. We know that we are mapping out the consumer interactions that surround this action in the context of the most recent segmentation paradigm. Mapping out the current state of the journey is the depiction of the interactions and their related impact. This is to represent what is currently taking place from the perspective of the consumer, which requires a couple steps of data collection to take place: internal work sessions; consumer IDIs by segment.

Internal work sessions. The purpose of the internal work sessions is to identify all the touchpoints that have been made available for consumers and define how consumers were intended use each touchpoint. We want to know how consumers were intended to experience the brand and what consumer action was expected after each interaction. It is probably becoming clear why the segmentation is so important since it is expected and probable that different segments are going have different needs associated with any one touchpoint.

As an example, think about all the reasons a person might visit a physical branch to do their banking. Now consider how those reasons would be different based on that consumer’s dependence on technology, travel habits, investment products or marital status.

Consumer IDIs by segment. These are deep-dive interviews designed to map out the consumer interactions up to the action we have posted as the end of the map. We are interested in pinpointing some specific data points during each interview, so organization and strong moderation is critical.

  • Stages of the journey (need-states): What is the consumer trying to do? What is motivating them to accomplish the task? What process are they going through to accomplish their task?
  • Tools the consumer is leveraging to accomplish the task: technology; people; places; content or media.
  • Interaction experience: thinking; feeling; doing.

The internal work sessions and consumer IDIs should inform the order of the need-states that lead to the final behavior being mapped. Additionally, these interviews will determine how the consumer can be described at each point in the process. This portion of the process yields the most compelling visuals.

Opportunity to improve the experience

The purpose of understanding the brand’s relationship with a consumer group over an allotted experience is to quickly identify the interactions that roll up into the desired action you want to see replicated in the market. If the opportunity exists for increasing the desired action, then there is opportunity to improve the experience. This could take the form of fixing an experience that is dissatisfying to customers or changing an experience that is satisfying but not driving the intended behavior.

Regardless, once the current state has been mapped the next step is to identify where the most productive changes to the map should be. This requires some degree of forecasting that accounts for the reach and impact that your intended change will have on the audience.

Again, having a firm grasp on a recent segmentation is critical. Changes to an experience will impact different types of customers in different ways. Plus, the investment needed to change the experience will be taken into consideration with the size of the audience it is going to affect and the potential for gain available based on the intended impact. In short, is the effort to make the change going to impact enough people, who will spend more to make it worth the investment?

Measurement of KPIs

As with any strategic objective, measurement of KPIs is critical to monitor successful execution. In the short term, this helps keep the team on the right path. In the long term, this should call out when it is necessary to redirect efforts to a new tactic or strategy. Alongside the voluminous internal reporting, some form of continuous brand measurement is often used to determine how these strategies are moving forward.