By Marcia Riefer Johnston published November 5, 2015

Wonder What Content to Create? Try a Customer-Journey Map [Template]


Editor’s note: Because our readers continue to find this topic valuable, we’ve updated this post.

I recently attended a workshop in which we created a customer-journey map for content planning. Before doing this exercise, I had only a fuzzy notion of what a customer-journey content map might look like, how to make one, and why anyone would bother.

It turns out, this map looks like a spreadsheet. You make one by filling the cells. You bother because doing so helps you answer the perennial question, What content shall we create?

Let me back up to clarify the term “customer journey.” In this exercise, we didn’t talk about the customer journey in the way that marketers typically see it: a journey through a funnel’s ever-narrowing phases – awareness, consideration, preference, and (kerplunk!) purchase – as helpful as mapping content to those phases may be. We talked instead about customer journeys as things that people want to accomplish as they interact with a brand. We mapped content to customers’ goals.

The exercise I share here was part of a full-day workshop at the Information Development World conference in San Jose. The session – The Next Generation of Content Strategy: Building a Performance-Driven Model – was led by independent content strategists Paula Land and Kevin Nichols. They covered a lot of related topics; I wish I could cram all of them into this post. The content-mapping exercise alone had such value, though, that I focus on it to give you a tool you can use right away.

How we created our customer-journey maps

Paula and Kevin kicked off this exercise by breaking us into teams. They asked each team to imagine itself in charge of deciding what content Starbucks should create for two personas: Faye Weaver and Lila Chan.


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In addition, each team received a customer-journey map template.customer-journey-mapClick image to download

Let’s say you’ve just received those three handouts. What would you do?

Choose your key personas (column 1)

In our exercise, the first column, Persona, was completed: Business Traveler in one row, Student in another row. Starting with the customer may seem obvious, but content decisions don’t always happen that way. Have you ever created content because your boss had a pet idea or because you found a certain topic fascinating? I confess that I have.

Column 1 is column 1 for a reason.

Kevin and Paula noted that when we do this exercise for real – when we choose our own personas – we would prioritize in keeping with the 80/20 rule, choosing personas that account for most of our anticipated business.

Takeaway: When deciding what content to create, start by selecting the personas (or typical customers or segments) on which you want to focus for your business goals.


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Identify possibilities for personalization and data gathering (column 2)

The second column, User State, was completed with Anonymous for both personas. In some cases, users are logged in (for example, when they’re using certain apps), so the system knows information about them, including who and where they are.

The user state determines the potential for personalizing (adapting) the content as it’s delivered. The user state also might determine the potential for gathering data that could help the organization learn about user preferences and needs.

For the purposes of our exercise, having the user states provided simplified our assignment; since our customers were anonymous, we knew that we wouldn’t have to plan for customized content experiences.

If you were using this worksheet in real life, you’d probably want to bump the User State column further to the right, maybe following Channel. After all, how can you think about the user state until you know whether you’d want to put the content in an app or on a poster?

Takeaway: When deciding what content to create, consider how much your system might know about the user and how you might use that information to enhance the user experience.

Choose customer goals that line up with business goals (column 3)

The third column, Journey, was blank for both personas. As noted in the beginning, Kevin and Paula suggested that we define customer journeys as customer goals – things people want to accomplish as they interact with a brand.

In the context of this exercise, a customer journey answers this question: What does this persona want to do?

Of the infinite customer journeys we could have chosen for either persona, we were instructed to choose those that we imagined would support Starbucks’ goals. My teammate and I chose one journey per persona: “Get a cup of coffee” for Faye (business traveler) and “Get a part-time job” for Lila (student). We justified prioritizing these journeys because Starbucks needs to sell coffee and hire people.

Customer-journey maps take a lot of forms. After the workshop, Paula clarified for me that some maps do follow a purchase funnel. Some follow tasks. “The main thing,” she wrote, “is that there isn’t just one way to do it. You do it in the context of your project.”

Takeaway: When deciding what content to create, consider what your key personas want to accomplish as they interact with your brand. Focus on those customer goals that matter most to your organization; content marketers need to keep one eye on customer needs and the other on business needs.

Break down those customer goals into tasks (column 3, continued)

After choosing customer journeys (goals), we broke them down into customer tasks that might require discrete pieces of content.

For Faye’s get-a-cup-of-coffee journey, we listed these tasks (she wouldn’t necessarily do them in this order – customer journeys are rarely linear):

  • Find the nearest store
  • Go to the store
  • Choose a coffee
  • Pay for the coffee

For Lila’s get-a-part-time-job journey, we listed these tasks:

  • Find all nearby stores
  • Find out what people say about working at those stores
  • Research the benefits for part-time employees
  • Research Starbucks’ actions related to social responsibility
  • Apply for a job

Each step in the journey was given its own row in the customer-journey content map.

Kevin noted that while the Starbucks example comes from the world of retail, the worksheet also works for B2B purposes by asking the same basic question: What do our customers and prospective customers want to accomplish as they interact with our brand?

Takeaway: When deciding what content to create, break down customer goals into tasks that can be mapped to information needs.

Identify appropriate channels (column 4)

In the fourth column, Channel, we considered which communication channels our personas would probably use. Paula and Kevin reminded us that channels include print materials (brochures, coupons, product packaging, posters, etc.) and places where people interact (events, telephone calls, checkout counters). They also reminded us that customers sometimes use multiple channels at once. Who hasn’t consulted a smartphone while watching TV or working on a computer?

In other words, we live in an omnichannel world, a world that Noz Urbina says “is about understanding and optimizing for the entire journey across all channels.”

We conjectured that Faye, in seeking her cup of coffee, might use these channels:

  • Starbucks store (including employees face to face or over the phone)
  • Starbucks app
  • Hotel lobbies (flyers, employees)

We imagined that Lila, in seeking her part-time job, might use these channels:

  • Starbucks store (including employees face to face or over the phone)
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter)
  • (reviews by employees and ex-employees)
  • Campus job fair

All channels in a user-journey step are listed in the same row.

You could come up with more and possibly better choices. In the exercise, we weren’t aiming to get it right. We wanted to become familiar with the framework. We were learning by doing.

This column got me out of my automatic thinking. When you’ve delivered information in certain ways over and over, it’s easy to go with your default distribution channels (another blog post, print poster, and so on). Standing back and looking at the range of channels from a customer point of view gets you thinking of new possibilities.

Takeaway: When deciding what content to create, consider which channels your key personas are likely to use. Avoid mindless repetition of what you’ve done. Avoid guessing; look at user research. Plan for all relevant channels, including print and venues for human interaction.

Brainstorm content ideas (column 5)

Finally, after we had filled in the first four columns as a basis for making customer-centric decisions, we were ready to fill in the last column: Content. To keep us from getting stuck thinking in terms of web-based content, Kevin and Paula defined “content” as any information that is recorded. A cave drawing, for example, is content. So is a script.

We jotted down a few of Faye’s possible content needs:

  • Store locations, maps, directions
  • Coffee choices
  • Quick-payment options
  • Employee training: Tips for answering questions Faye is likely to ask

Then we brainstormed content needs related to Lila’s customer journey:

  • Career info: job openings, policies, etc.
  • Stories of corporate social responsibility
  • Employee training: tips for answering questions Lila is likely to ask

Given more time, we would have done the actual mapping, assigning channels and content to each task. Then we would have identified gaps between Starbucks’ existing content and the content Faye and Lila needed. Finally, we would have decided which projects to tackle first.

Each piece of content gets its own row.

No worksheet fits every situation. Paula and Kevin noted that we might want to change their column headings or add columns to include other factors, like content types, formats, metrics, or triggers. (Triggers are the motivations – “I’m thirsty” or “I need to pay bills” – that start a customer on the journey.)

Takeaway: Map your content to the tasks in your customer journeys, specifying which channels and formats are likely to work best.


Next time you’re faced, yet again, with the question of what content to create, try a customer-journey map. It gives you a way – to borrow a phrase from Noz Urbina – “to mentally go on a full, rich, and physically detailed ‘virtual reality tour’ of the consumer’s context.” Noz calls this “an essential skill for the modern strategist.” (Yes, if you’re deciding what content to create, you’re a strategist.)

To make your own customer-journey map using this exercise’s worksheet, follow these steps:

  1. Choose your key personas or segments.
  2. Identify possibilities for personalization and data gathering.
  3. Choose customer goals and tasks that might require information.
  4. Identify appropriate channels.
  5. Brainstorm content ideas for each task.

After that, you don’t get to put your feet up for long. Paula and Kevin suggest revisiting your customer journeys every six months. People change – who knew? A content marketer’s job is never done!

How do you map your content to customer journeys? Please let us know in the comments.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a member of the CMI team, she serves as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

Other posts by Marcia Riefer Johnston

  • Chris Conner

    I like to map the customer journey as a series of questions that need to be answered. This aligns with your employee training, but extends to all of your content. For example in Faye’s journey: Where can I get coffee? What coffees do you have? How can I pay? Can I sit down? Do you have WiFi? And so on.

    For B2B, it can be: How can I do my job better? What solutions are possible? How does this one work? After I buy it, How can I be successful with it? Creating content is then assembling the answers in bundles that make sense and distributing in channels you know the persona prefers.

    The best part about the journey map is that once it’s made, you rarely need to change it. Even when you develop a new product, the customer questions are the same. You only need to update the answers. You’ll save a ton of time year after year.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Chris, Thanks for this note. I appreciate the connection you’ve made to how you might frame questions in a B2B context. Do you already do something similar to this mapping?

      • Chris Conner

        HI Marcia. Yes. My process isn’t identical to yours but I coach clients to start with a persona and map out all the questions they might ask along the journey, grouped by stage. I think this is the key element to making content marketing easier. Otherwise, companies can waste a lot of time guessing about the content they need. Another benefit is that when you decide to create an asset, you have a ready made outline (the questions to be answered in that asset) for your subject matter expert so they aren’t starting by staring at a blank screen.

        BTW, If it wasn’t obvious, I really enjoyed your post.

        • Marcia Riefer Johnston

          Chris, Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for letting me know—and thanks for filling us in on your process, particularly the way you base your content on user questions and then share those questions with content developers.

  • Noz Urbina

    Hi Marcia,

    I’m delighted to read your post! (But when am I not delighted to read your posts? Especially when I get a mention?).

    My own technique for customer journey mapping, when I tie it into adaptive content modeling, is more similar to Chris’ below; possibly not a coincidence since I too work mainly in B2B.

    The difference is how to treat column 3 – the journey itself. We both split this into stages across time and it quickly bursts the bounds of a single column. This template perfectly addresses “the perennial question, What content shall we create?”

    And that’s more than enough to fill a workshop, so I think it’s a great thing as it is. However, you linked to my adaptive content posts so I have to raise this point: When modelling adaptive content we have to answer that question, but we must add the second-most important question: *When* is this content required?

    To really go on our ‘virtual reality’ journey and capture it, then the spreadsheet grows quickly. I find that when I make a flat list of tasks, I often forget something. Using columns to map tasks over time grouped in stages helps me visualise. I can imagine each stage and feel for all the nooks and crannies in the user experience. For example, to use Chris’ example, to answer a user question like “Which products should I put on a short-list for team to research?” may have several sub-tasks.

    I find that it’s often in these hidden (from us) spots, that content needs are revealed. I have had participants have really ‘ah-ha’ moments when they took their content, which they thought was the right content to satisfy the user needs, and lay it out across the time dimension. They saw that although they had good content, they weren’t necessarily ticking all the boxes, and they weren’t surfacing the right content at the right *moment* to optimise customer experience.

    Paula and Kevin are awesome and brilliant so I don’t think I’m teaching them anything they don’t know – in fact I think you/Paula alluded to this when mentioning that there’s no one right way and that stages are used too. Still, I thought I’d make it explicit and wave my “4D content” flag: always think of content in terms of breadth, length, depth, *and* time.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Noz, Thanks for this enriching addition to the conversation. I especially like your description of your clients’ aha moments when you lay their content out over the time dimension of the user journey.

      Would you please give an example of what a “4D” spreadsheet might look like? Is it as simple as what you describe as “using columns to map tasks over time grouped in stages”? Would you please list examples of stages you’ve used and tasks you’ve grouped within them? (If you’re feeling generous, please attach an example image showing some journey column headings and subheadings to give us a peek into your approach.)

  • Marcia Riefer Johnston

    Patty, I’m happy to hear that this template came in handy for you right away. Thanks for letting us know. I agree with you about persona quotes—if they’re based on appropriate insights. They’re like masterfully written dialog in a good novel: Just a few words, and you instantly “get” that character.

  • Marcia Riefer Johnston

    Noz, Thanks for taking the time to share this “mind-blowy” comment. Now I’m more curious than ever about what kind of columns and tabs you might end up with for that kind of 4D spreadsheet. Probably it’s beyond the scope of this conversation, but if you think of a way to share a snapshot here, I’d love to see it. Thanks again.

  • Krassimira_Iordanova

    Attitudes and emotions play a very important role in a customer journey. The attitudes define our behavior and our experiences as customers influence our attitudes. You mentioned…”a customer journey answers the question: what does this persona want to do?” In order to answer this question, you should pay attention to what does the persona feels, thinks, says and does.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Thanks for this insight, Krassimira.

  • Yuri Vedenin

    Marcia, this is a really great article, thank you for sharing!

    One of the reasons why I love it, because just a few weeks before you published it I had been thinking about exactly the same topic for several weeks 🙂 And what made me thinking about all that is a great book “Content Strategy for the Web” by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach. Also I used to work (and I am still working) with some content creators and I think all of them need such kind of tool.

    And thank you for the template as well! We at UXPressia have recently released a list of free customer journey maps templates for different business domains – We will think about reviewing them based on your article and your free template as well if you don’t mind for sure.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Yuri, I’m glad that you found this article helpful. I couldn’t agree more about Kristina and Melissa’s book. That’s quite a set of templates you’ve created. Thanks for taking time to comment.