What better way is there to inform business decisions than to use research designed to understand the entire process that customers go through to obtain something they want from that business? It is exactly that process, starting when a person realizes that something is needed, and ending when he or she has acquired it, that sheds the brightest light on how businesses should develop and improve their products and services, and devise strategies to most effectively communicate with their target population. Nowadays, this research is often called a journey mapping study, but historically, has been known by a number of different names. Nevertheless, journey mapping is an important program of research regardless of what it is called, and yields insights that are foundational and pervade a wide variety of business goals and objectives.
A map of a person’s journeys details the exact steps they take, what stops occur along the way, the amount and types of information that are collected, the importance of various reference sources with which people interact, and the amount of time each step (and the entire process) takes. In addition, studying journeys shows exactly where pain and pleasure points exist, and this helps organizations pinpoint how to win the hearts and minds of customers and prospects.
Journey maps provide a “walk in customers’ shoes” viewpoint for marketers to fully appreciate people’s perspectives on important customer-felt relationship aspects and other matters concerning the relationship between a brand and its customers. Simply put, a journey map enables organizations to empathize with their customers.
Journey mapping may be considered a conceptual framework used to capture respondents’ descriptions of the sequence of events that transpire as consumers interact with brands whose products and services are sought for purchase. This type of research has far-reaching effects in that it can be used to inform business decisions about product development/refinement, advertising/communications testing, and customer experience optimization programs.
However, while journey maps may currently be all the rage in marketing research, in fact, this sort of research has been around for a long time, being known by different names, variations on a theme, and methodologies. One can argue that any kind of research study that centers on revealing processes that people go through in order to accomplish a task or achieve a goal involving the purchase of a product or service, or the use of what was purchased, may be considered a journey map study.
For example, ethnographies entail the study of the culture of a behavior, according to anthropologists. By using a combination of observation, interview, and participation, ethnographers seek to reveal how individuals and groups, formed on the basis of some commonality, interact with other people, places, and things. The ethnographer documents these interactions and postulates cultural themes and collective schemas on how people behave and the attitudinal drivers of that behavior. Indeed, the term “Deep Hanging Out” was coined by anthropologist Clifford Geertz to describe the anthropological research method of immersing oneself in a cultural, group, or social experience on an informal level for the purpose of studying processes that people go through in their interactions with an environment. As a result of this kind of study, journey maps may be delineated.
For that matter, your typical, garden variety shop-alongs, in which participants are recruited to go on some kind of shopping expedition while an interviewer observes and queries the shopper to understand behaviors being witnessed while probing to unveil key attitude-based drivers of those behaviors distinctly resembles journey mapping. In a shopalong, there is a starting point and an ending point, and in between there are various stops along the way that indicate the underlying consumer psychology that is sought by marketers to inform the development of their programs and business initiatives.
Journaling may be considered another close cousin to journey mapping. This kind of research requires participants to compile their relevant experiences in a place that can be reviewed and analyzed by the researcher. Specifically, participants are given incentive to document their experiences in a central site in dealing with an organization’s products and/or services. It has a start and finish line, and everything in between becomes the grist for the mill in devising strategies and tactics that enable an organization to improve its offering to the market and strengthen its position in a competitive landscape.
I, myself, have been closely involved with journey mapping studies, both qualitative and quantitative in nature. Of course, years ago, we called these studies by different names. Sometimes we called them “purchase cycle” studies; other times we called them “path to purchase” studies; other times we called them “purchase process” studies. Regardless of the different monikers, they are all quite similar. They could be qualitative, quantitative, or a hybrid of both methodologies in some way, but all journey mapping studies must have the following characteristics to qualify as one:
For some of the more sophisticated journey mapping studies that provide the luxury of ample quantitative data collected from a survey, the set of items can be used in a series of multivariate statistical techniques to summarize the data (factor analysis, regression analysis) and segment travelers into different groups (k-means cluster analysis, discriminant function analysis) on the basis of the patterns observed in their journeys. In other words, a journey mapping study can be executed with a segmentation analysis overlay.
But complexity of project notwithstanding, journey mapping research may be considered the one study that is uniquely and distinctly designed to imagine the travelers’ journey as a recorded video. The researcher’s job is then to ask the traveler to access that video, rewind it to the beginning, and then hit ‘Play.’ Viewing people’s journey’s this way is an enlightening and advantaged position to be in vis-à-vis the organization’s competitors. So, no matter what the research piece is called, it should be valued as a rose by any other name.