Journey Mapping: Choosing the Right Map for your Marketing Needs

Young woman with long hair standing outside holding a map

Journey maps seem to be catch phrase that is tossed about and lauded as a silver bullet that will correct all marketing and enrollment functions and ensure that programs are enrolled at or above goal in perpetuity. And that’s just not possible.

Even if you already have a map, journeys and the expectations of prospective students and their influencers are constantly evolving. So it’s important to consistently review and revise your maps—you might find that you need to toss out what you know and secret shop and create a new understanding of your marketing ecosystem.

Once you work out which kind of mapping you need, make sure you give yourself enough time to carefully consider who your users are and properly map your experiences. An incomplete map will not yield improvements and could harm your user experience in the end. Additionally, some of these maps might surface issues that you can’t directly address without having a larger organizational conversation, so make sure you set a scope and manage expectations about the maps possible impact.

Whether you are starting from scratch or starting over, knowing what kind of map you need is the first step. Here’s a run down of four common types of mapping for your student shopping experience.

Empathy Maps

All mapping should start with an understanding of your target user. Whether your users are your prospective students, their parents or potential university partners, you should understand the user’s mindset.

First, you have to define your user. A persona can be a very helpful tool to get a group on the same page about who your target user is. It can help you or your extended team set aside your pre-conceived thoughts, and try to understand your user’s thoughts and feelings. A simple persona starts with basic demographic information, and then can be as complicated as you would like to make it. Here are three questions to get you started:

  • Who is your user?
  • What is the user hoping to accomplish?
  • What actions do you need them to take to help them reach that goal?

After you’ve quickly jotted down some thoughts about who your user is and what they are facing, it’s time to start with the empathy map. Now we explore the questions:

  • What are their hopes and ultimate goal?
  • What are some of the users frustrations or roadblocks?
  • Who or what influences their feelings?
  • What are they thinking and feeling throughout the research / shopping / selection process?

Empathy maps are the perfect starting point for revising any marketing touchpoint or service, and should help define which problems should be solved, as well as shed some light on how they can be addresses.

Journey Maps

After you know who your target user is, and what they are seeking from a product (program) or experience, it’s time to think about their relationship with your institution. Journey maps examine a users experiences with your brand, and usually takes the form of a timeline that documents possible interactions across channels over a set period of time.

A journey map isn’t an exhaustive inventory that will document all of your marketing touchpoints for all users. A journey map is a user-centric document that should help you identify gaps and make adjustments to make the product/program selection process easier for a specific group of users.

That means that a journey map starts with a persona – we need to know who is being represented so we can focus on their goals and expectations. From there, we start to examine what their experiences are like when they interact with your brand. Start from a place without awareness – what is their first impression? What do your paid search ads look like when they search for your name? Or a program that you expect them to be searching for?

Whenever possible, it’s helpful to have conversations with the users, focus groups, surveys and first-hand feedback is the best way to really understand how users are interacting with your marketing ecosystem. If you can’t gather this information first-hand, talk to your admissions and enrollment team. They are working with these users every day and they will know what is motivating them, and they will also be able to share anecdotal information about what prospective students have been saying.

By focusing on specific interactions within a decision process, a team can examine each touchpoint and make sure that it is meeting KPIs and develop strategies for improving conversion or avoiding drop-off points.

You should be revisiting and revising your journey maps on a regular basis. Every time you identify a gap or area for improvement, prototype it, test it and then add it to your documentation to improve your understanding of your users.

Experience Maps

Journey maps are focused on a user interacting with multiple platforms, systems and departments. An experience map generalizes that, and creates an overview of how you expect all users or a “generic” user to interact with you.

These maps often align to typical marketing or enrollment funnels, or a more contemporary “content flywheel” and it groups all users and all of your products together into overarching phases. Experience maps can help your team understand general user behavior and can also be used to blend multiple disparate journey maps into a consolidated experience that will be consistent across multiple user journeys.

Experience maps can help be a bridge to changing service behaviors – when you group multiple journey maps that have similar needs, conversations about new workflows become easier. The same team can work with different user groups in similar ways with minor differences to make sure that the users individual needs are still met.

Service Blueprint

Changing workflows is exactly why you may need a service blueprint. These maps act as a guide for your enrollment or admissions team, so they have an understanding of what point in the decision process the user is currently in. These blueprints must be a collaboration between marketing and admissions, so that all touchpoints can be accounted for, and aligned.

These blueprints are also typically organized as a timeline, spanning minutes or months, and typically have milestones like filling out a form for more information, having a conversation with an admission counselor or starting an application.

Service blueprints can help map complex admissions requirements to ensure that there are not additional roadblocks added when it comes to gathering all of the supporting materials needed for an application, or getting a stealth applicant caught up and invested so that they won’t melt away after admission.

Mapping for Collaboration

We all know that a students’ enrollment isn’t decided in a single moment – it takes days, weeks, months or sometimes years of cultivation and strategic efforts between marketing, communications, admission, enrollment, financial aid and faculty. That coordination of multiple departments, omni-channel experiences and multiple touch points can be aided through every one of the maps outlined here.

Use these maps to break down silos, improve student experiences and foster an organization-wide understanding of user expectations.

Melissa Batalin

Melissa Batalin

Melissa is a savvy experience designer devoted to creating compelling, consistent brands, and has worked in higher education for more than a decade. She connects dots and uses her design background to naturally bridge creative and digital strategy transforming creative chaos into productive structure and achieving complex technical checklists with expertise and empathy.