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Designing better messages

Customer journey mapping, is the kind of thing marketing folks are always doing in some way when we think about our audiences, but the “design thinking” takes it to another level.

The best ideas often come to us from outside our own fields of practice, so recently I jumped at the opportunity to attend a day-long workshop with Greenville’s Design Thinkers Group. The topic that day, customer journey mapping, is the kind of thing marketing folks are always doing in some way when we think about our audiences, but the “design thinking” takes it to another level.

My one-day foray into design thinking revealed an intensely human-centered approach to creating products or services, solving problems, or finding opportunities. Rather than starting with the usual goals, it begins with the experiences of the people at the center of whatever’s being examined.

The workshop drew participants from a wide range of backgrounds, but here are a few lessons that were particularly useful when thinking about communication.

Small Data

Customer journey mapping was a distinct experience from working with avatars, the characters that marketing specialists create to use as hypothetical customers. Instead of characters based on an amalgam of demographic and market trend data, we focused on what just one person might think, do, need, want, expect, and experience. I think of it as “small data.” Big data can tell us when someone is most likely to open an email, but small data lets us explore why and exactly how. It’s a promising way of responding to the increasingly fragmented audiences we’re all trying to reach.

Big Hearts

I was surprised and delighted to see how prominently empathy figures in design thinking. Most organizations have some awareness of the customers’ “pain points,” but design thinking calls us to look at their emotional and mental states from moment to moment. It calls us to care, not just solve a problem or encourage a certain emotion with our communications.

Small Details

Our facilitators, Marc Bolick and Rose Doyle, practiced what they preached. The workshop required affixing dozens of colorful sticky notes to huge pieces of paper we mounted on walls and windows. Fittingly, the group leaders told us the best way to pull a sticky off its pad so it rests flat on the wall, ensuring everyone can read it. They even advised about which brands stick better than others. Their emphasis on how such tiny frustrations could impact our experience was a perfect reminder to re-examine every single element of our messaging.

Big Changes

I have no doubt any team that undertakes customer journey mapping with this level of attention to detail will find solutions. The process might also expose problems that were otherwise hard to see. Even better, it reveals opportunities that just wouldn’t come to mind any other way. It’s worth noting that even though our workshop groups were tasked with looking at the same experience through multiple customer journeys, we uncovered similar solutions that could address several different problems. With that in mind, I wouldn’t venture into this process unless you’re prepared to do something different when you’re done.

“You can sit down if you want to, but I don’t encourage it.”

This was one of the first instructions we received from Bollick, but maybe one of the most important takeaways for me. The workshop required a lot of walking left to right, moving in close, and stepping back for a wider view. Yet, it occurred to me that taking a customer journey was also a way to see how far our own organizations can go. Most will do ok without this kind of customer-centric exploration, but if the opportunity comes to you, I don’t recommend sitting it out.


This article originally appeared in the Upstate Business Journal.


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