It’s been super interesting to see how the definition of the “Customer Journey” has evolved over the years. It’s a divisive topic for sure, and as sure as water is wet, there will always be conflicting interpretations as to what exactly the Customer Journey is.
You could almost imagine an anchorman-style standoff, where each news team is a collective of marketing professionals that share an ideology as to what really defines the Customer Journey – That is, of course, assuming the Customer Journey, and the touchpoints it’s comprised of, are still relevant, because of course there are those that will argue that it has fallen into obsolescence, unceremoniously usurped by the customer experience.
Now, obviously a person’s interpretation of the importance/relevance/existence of the customer journey is defined by both that person’s role with the brand, and the brand itself, but after more than eight years of poring over the intricacies of the brand-customer relationship, we’ve come to a few conclusions.
Assumptions about the customer journey
Before we delve into all that, let’s start with a few assumptions. First of all, defining a customer journey is not the same as simply defining touchpoints. The journey is comprised of one-or-more touchpoints, and while both are complementary, each has a fundamentally different focus. Next, the customer journey is not the same as the customer experience. Compared to the journey, the customer experience is driven more by emotion. It looks at looks at the motivations, the inspirations, the frustrations. If the journey looks at the effect, the experience looks at the cause. It’s meso vs. macro, assuming touch points are the micro.
So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s my two cents: All three ideas (because they are ideas, really) must be considered both individually and collectively, because all three impact your business both individually, and collectively. Imagine a person taking a pragmatic approach to improving their health… they’re not going to just adjust their diet, or just focus on exercising more often. Fundamentally both are key contributors to overall health, both need their own considered approach and both need to work together in the overall health plan.
Imagine your brand is a country
Indulge me for a moment and lend me your imagination. Imagine your brand is a country, any country. In fact, better yet, go ahead and create your own country. For example, I’d have perfectly-powdered mountains to the North, sun-drenched beaches to the South, rainforests to the West, and an oasis-strewn desert to the East.
Now, consider this:
- Touchpoints are your country’s infrastructure, but not just roads and buildings and power supplies and so on. They also represent historical landmarks, environmental features, and topography, tourist attractions, political ideologies, government, etc.
- Customer Journeys are the journeys (in a literal sense) that are allowed to happen because your touchpoints exist. For example, you can take a vacation, do your grocery shopping, vote for your President (or Prime Minister, or Queen or whatever hierarchy you have in place!)
- Customer Experience is how the country affects a person as a whole, on both a meso (journeys) and micro (touchpoints) level.
Now, here’s the important part…. Just as a journey can’t actually happen without the touchpoints in place, the touchpoints must be designed with the journey in mind. For example, say you’re designing a National Park on your country’s West Coast. From a touchpoint perspective, you’ll have to pour over every detail of the National Park: number of lakes, types of trees, ideal camping sites, entrance and exit points etc. From a journey perspective, you‘ll need to make sure the folks on the East Coast can easily find out about and research your National Park, and that getting there is almost as enjoyable as being there. Similarly, each journey should be complementary to the overall experience or ambiance you’re trying to create (i.e., the experience could be lackluster if each journey isn’t underpinned by that same ambiance.)
In essence, each journey should be a perfect complement to the last, a seamless segue to the next, and an accurate reflection the overall experience.
There is a caveat here though: we must assume that a person’s role will dictate their interpretation and focus. For example, it’s natural that channel-specific marketers will pay more attention to individual touchpoints while the C-Suite will obsess over the bigger picture. But without understanding the correlation between execution at a micro level and objectives at a macro level, it is impossible to optimize your brand marketing.
Properly defining touchpoints, the customer journey, and the customer experience are all equally important to a brand’s marketing success, and brands must give each aspect the attention it deserves. But since a person’s interpretation as to how each is weighted (in terms of overall importance) is dependent on a number of factors, it is crucial that everybody fully understand and appreciate how each contributes to the bigger picture. And this isn’t a one-off exercise. It’s a process that should be in perpetual motion. It’s a living, breathing “thing.” It should change and adapt and morph on a whim. As soon as it stops evolving, your brand stops living.