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Why – and How – to Map Out Your Customers’ Journeys [Template]

In one of the most useful workshops I’ve attended, 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.

Why 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 sales 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.


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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.

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?

Customer journeys answer this question: What does this persona want to do? @MarciaRJohnston #contentstrategy Share on X

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.

#Content marketers need to keep one eye on customer needs & the other on business needs. @MarciaRJohnston. Share on X

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.

Update:  In a comment on the original version of this post, Noz Urbina notes that when he models adaptive content, Column 3 “quickly bursts the bounds of a single column” because it needs the added dimension of time:

We must immediately add the second-most important question: When is this content required?

In a follow-up comment, Noz adds, “We’re mapping out contextual, personalized content that hopes, eventually, to address what a single individual wants at a certain moment (in a certain state).” To accomplish this, he suggests “using columns to map tasks over time grouped in stages.”

That, he points out, is simple to say but not simple to do. “Today’s content strategies (are) simply not so simple,” Noz says. “I personally find it exciting as heck.”

Today’s content strategies aren’t simple—but they are exciting. @nozurbina. #contentstrategy Share on X

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 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.

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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 — “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, when you’re deciding what content to create, you’re playing the role of 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