Integrate your brand story

Designing a customer journey map for small businesses

April 8, 2024
A woman integrating her small business brand story into a customer journey map

If you’ve taken the time to write out your brand story, then you already have a strong foundation in place. The next step is to allow it to inform your marketing strategy and integrate it into all your marketing collateral. 

So here’s a question for you to consider. Does interacting with your organization feel like one smooth experience?

All touch points are part of the customer experience. Imagine it as a digital conversation your business has over time with your customers. And each step along the way should seem like they are conversing with the same person.

But it takes a lot of work to design and deliver a consistent experience. This is especially true because customers don’t always follow the linear path you might expect them to. And sometimes, they take long breaks along the journey, which is okay if you’re able to rejoin them again later.

When hand-offs are clunky, you lose customers.

That’s why it’s so important to consistently and clearly integrate your brand story into an intentional customer journey.

We work with businesses all the time to craft an overall narrative that guides their customer naturally from one touch point to the next. In fact, architecting these journeys is one of our team's favorite activities. 

Mapping your organization’s customer journey may seem overwhelming, but we’ve broken it down into straightforward steps that we’ll walk through in this guide.

  • Map the current process
  • Evaluate the customer experience
  • Refactor the journey
  • Deploy the critical touchpoints
Download the SMB Marketing Checklist and go through it with your team to see if you have what you need.
Download the SMB Marketing Checklist and go through it with your team to see if you have what you need.

Map the current process

It can be tempting to scrap whatever you have today and start from scratch. But you’re better off starting with where you are.

A clear and visible representation of the current journey customers are experiencing will be invaluable to you as you identify and develop smoother and better-aligned journeys.

This can be a messy process. When I’m facilitating, I like using a whiteboard and sticky notes or a digital whiteboard like Miro. 

To get started, write your ideal customers down the left side of the board. If you don’t know who you’re ideal customer is, it might be best for your team to pause and work through the brand story and messaging framework.

Once you have the ideal customers on the left, draw three vertical lines on the whiteboard to divide it into four parts. Give the sections these titles.

  1. Discover. How are customers currently first introduced to your brand? Is it social media, referrals, ads or something else?
  2. Learn. What’s the process they go through to learn about who you are and what you offer? What questions do they have? What obstacles do they need to overcome to feel comfortable buying?
  3. Buy. What’s the catalyst for deciding to buy? Where do they buy (website, phone, in person)? How does the buying process play out? What is the most common first product a customer buys?
  4. Return. How many customers buy a second time? What draws them back in? Do they refer others?

Those were a lot of questions, and you may be thinking, “I’m not confident in the answer to some of them.” That’s ok, in fact, it’s really normal.

Whether you feel confident in the answers to the questions or not, we strongly recommend businesses and nonprofits interview some of their ideal customers to hear their experiences. You don’t need a ton, 3-5 interviews will actually give you a decent picture of the current process. 

A clear and visible representation of the current journey customers are experiencing will be invaluable

When you draw out the current customer journeys, forgo the temptation to fix problems or add new solutions that aren’t currently part of the process. At this stage, you’re just reporting.

I find it helpful to keep a section of the board reserved for issues, solutions and ideas. When they come up, just write them over there and let the team know you’ll come back to them at a later stage in the customer journey mapping process. This will help you keep your team focused on creating the current map.

Evaluate the customer experience

Now that you have the current map drawn out, it’s time to take a few minutes to evaluate the current customer experience.

This stage doesn’t have to last long but take the time to ensure your team has answered the following questions.

  • Where on the map are conversion rates high?
  • What’s the most common path customers take?
  • Where do drop-offs or delays most commonly occur?
  • What paths or customer segments are missing?

Make notes directly on the map itself. I like using a different color marker to help the evaluation stand out. 

Now that the customer journey is visible and evaluated, it’s time to iterate and improve.

Refactor the journey

Ideally, this session is continuing the same day so that the current customer journey map is in your team’s short-term memory. 

I find it helpful to have a second whiteboard so everyone can see the current map but have a clean space to draw a new version of the map. This is one area where a digital whiteboard is really helpful because you have an infinite canvas.

This time we’re going to just focus on one ideal customer persona. Choose the persona that is the highest priority to your organization.

Now divide the board into the following columns.

  • Awareness. How does the customer become aware of your activities? What questions are they asking as they become aware of or try to understand the problem they’re facing? What channels do they use, and are they physical or digital?
  • Consideration. What triggers the customer to consider your product or service? Are they comparing it with other alternatives in the market? What questions do they now have? What understanding will they need to be comfortable making a decision?
  • Decision. What concrete choices does the customer make at this point? How are they comparing the options? What factors are most important in their decision? How do they buy the product or service?
  • Delivery + Use. How does the customer finally receive the product or service?
  • Loyalty + Referral. Does the customer engage with your service again and become a repeat customer? How will an ongoing connection be cultivated? Do they introduce others? What channels do referrals typically come through?

These represent the phases customers go through as they engage with your organization. They will go at different paces and take different paths, but they go through the same stages. 

Now divide the broad vertically into these categories.

  • Customer actions. What does your customer do in different stages of the customer journey?
  • Customer goals. What does the customer want to achieve in each phase of the customer journey? What is your customer’s “job to be done” in general, and how does it show up in different phases?
  • Touchpoints. What touchpoints act as the moments of interaction between the customer and the organization? What is the specific collateral or channel the customer uses to engage with you?
  • Experience. How well do you fulfill the customer's expectations? What is the perceived level of customer experience? What are the customer’s thoughts and feelings at the points in the journey?
  • Paths. What are the likely paths this customer persona will take along their journey? This is a combination of customer actions, business actions and touchpoints. 
  • Business Goals. What is your company trying to achieve here? What is success at each point of the journey from a company’s point of view?
  • KPIs. What are you measuring in each stage to determine how you’re doing business-wise? 
  • Organizational Activities. What does your organization do to support and improve customer experience at each stage?
  • Responsibilities. What roles or departments are responsible for the customer experience in each phase of the journey?
  • Technology Systems. What tools and technologies do you use to engage your customers in each phase?

The board is getting pretty big at this point, and you haven’t even started filling it out!

Here is a blank customer journey map template so you can see what the board should look like when it’s ready for you to start drawing out the new map. 

The order of filling out your customer journey map might feel a little less conventional. 

I always have teams complete the top section (above the paths) followed by the bottom section (below the paths). Then, when the top and bottom are complete, they begin to draw the paths. 

This approach to drawing a customer journey map allows it to be informed by the goals of both the customer and the business. 

As you draw out this new customer journey map, refer back to the issues, solutions and ideas lists you created when mapping the current process. Don’t feel a need to implement any or all of them, but be sure to review them for inspiration or to directly add to the map if they help your ideal customer more easily progress toward their goal.

Customers take all sorts of different paths, and it’s easy to get lost in the weeds as you try to work through the process. 

The steps in the path should be specific, like “schedules a discovery call” or “begins a 4-part starter nurture campaign.” You could even list out the themes of each of those for emails, but you’re not writing the emails themselves. That implementation will come next.

You can repeat this process for different versions of your ideal customer.

The SMB Marketing Checklist will help you know if you have the essentials to market your small business.

Deploy the critical touchpoints

Now you have at least one ideal customer journey map. And likely a handful of others. In total, you have identified a variety of social posts, landing pages, resources, downloadables, and emails.

You probably can’t create everything at once, so you need to prioritize!

I recommend choosing one path to start your implementation with. Create all the collateral along that path, connect the parts via automation, and let it run. Take time to evaluate and iterate on this path before you build out the others. 

How long feedback takes will depend on your volume. If you already have a high volume of customers you’re engaging with, you can get the feedback pretty quickly. 

By refining the top prioritized journey, you can leverage your initial learning across all the other journeys you create.

Action Plan

Imagine your ideal customer moving seamlessly from an Instagram post to your website to scheduling a call with you. All along the way, they feel like a friend is guiding them to what they want and need.

In the end, they are thankful for your being able to engage with your small business or non-profit.

Customer journey maps can get complicated. Customers take all sorts of different paths, and it’s easy to get lost in the weeds as you try to work through the process. 

Architecting customer journeys really is part science, part art and fully collaborative. Like I said before, it’s one of our favorite sessions to facilitate with small businesses and non-profits. 

So if you want help, just ask. We'll start with a story session to hear your story and explore together what a best next step might be.

We'd love to work with you to craft an overall narrative to guide your customer touch points. When the map reaches the right level of clarity, we’ll help you prioritize the right paths for your ideal customers and current business realities. If you want help implementing all the writing and design along those paths, we’re here for that too.

Frequently Asked Questions

Customer Journey Maps

What is a customer journey?

A customer journey is the process that a customer goes through when interacting with your company, from the initial discovery phase to the final purchase or interaction.

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What is a customer journey?

What are the stages in the customer journey?

Awareness - Consideration - Decision - Delivery + Use - Loyalty + Referral

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What are the stages in the customer journey?

Why is mapping the customer journey important?

When you understand the journey, your can meet the customers where they are.

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Why is mapping the customer journey important?

How do I start creating a customer journey map?

Start by defining your ideal customer personas, then map the current process by identify the different touchpoints where your customers interact with your business at the phases of the customer journ

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How do I start creating a customer journey map?

How often should I update my customer journey map?

Certainly whenever your products or services change and at least annually.

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How often should I update my customer journey map?

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