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Level-Up Email Campaigns With Customer Journey Mapping

I became a huge fan of customer journey mapping (CJM) the first time I was introduced to it. And after a few years of mapping, tweaking and presenting maps, my team and I started looking for other more exotic uses of this technique. The law of the instrument1 at its best, I suppose. Well, seek and ye shall find.

Customer journey mapping2 is a visualization technique that helps marketing specialists, user experience designers, and product and business owners see the journey people take when interacting with products and services. It is a great way to put on your customer’s shoes and see where your business fails to deliver a great user experience.

The way CJM works is pretty straightforward: You collect user research data, break down the entire funnel into steps (i.e. stages) and describe each stage from multiple points of view, such as your business goal, the customer’s goals, touchpoints (the very moments of interaction), customers expectations and pain points, their thoughts and feelings, etc. In the end, you have a table that looks something like this:

an example of customer journey map.3
A customer journey map example (Image: UXPressia) (View large version4)

From this table, you can tell at which points customers are not happy, and you can come up with some ideas to improve the situation.

Сustomer journey mapping is mainly used to find flaws in the entire path of the user, but I was curious if there was some unconventional way to use this technique. Turns out there is, and here the story of how it found me.

It’s Not A Journey Map… Or Is It? Link

After reading Baremetrics CEO Josh Pigford’s brilliant article5 about an email campaign that Baremetrics created to reduce churn and convert customers, our team at UXPressia decided that we needed something similar for our app.

Fast-forward a few weeks, and we had a sequence of emails ready to fly to our users’ mailboxes. They looked somewhat like this:

A chain of printed emails that we hung on our board6
A chain of printed emails that we hung on our board (Image: UXPressia) (View large version7)

These printed emails stuck around on our whiteboard for a while. Then, one day, while we were having coffee after a long and tedious CJM workshop, one of the participants glanced at the emails still hanging on the board and asked, “What’s this journey map for, guys?”

“Oh no, that’s not a journey…” — I was about to say that this was not a journey map, but I suddenly stopped. Our guys looked at each other. “Are you thinking what I am thinking?”

Yes, our email campaign had stages and our business goals, so it could be. After all, we made a tool for mapping customer journeys, so it was a great opportunity for us to put it to the test. The question was: Is it OK to just cut out one channel from the entire user journey and focus on it solely?

On the one hand, customer journey mapping is all about a holistic approach, so it isn’t entirely right to focus on just one channel. On the other hand, we want to follow the “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” principle from the agile manifesto8.

Besides, we tried our best to make our emails as personal as possible. Today, email campaigns are no longer carpet-bombing monologues. They are more of ongoing conversations in which we try to bond with our users. And customer journey mapping is all about finding a better and more personal approach.

So, why not try?

Everyone in the room started pitching ideas. Someone noticed that we had our goals linked to every email. “If we could add our user goals and see if both goals match…” he said.

At this point, it was clear that this was going to become a map. But two CJM sessions on the same day? You have got to be kidding. We took a break and agreed to sleep on this idea.

Doubts, The First Draft Link

The next day, after rebooting our brains, we gathered in the same room and asked ourselves, “What is the problem we are trying to solve here?” And is there any problem in the first place?

Well, have you ever seen how email campaigns are stored, organized and manipulated? We had a Google Doc with text and pictures, and it was kind of fine, although it was not easy to get a bird’s-eye view of the whole campaign all at once.

Email campaign in Google Docs9
A screenshot from Google Docs, where we built the initial email campaign (Image: UXPressia) (View large version10)

Our campaign was not very long and complex. It was a sequence of about 12 emails in which we welcome our users, give them tips and do some upselling.

Now, imagine if you had a longer campaign consisting of 50 emails triggered at different moments. I remembered my friend telling me how his company had an enormous spreadsheet file linking to different sources with multiple emails.

And there is no way to evaluate each letter out of the context. Setting up your campaign in some tool like MailChimp or Intercom would make your campaign a lot less messy, but you would still have to open each email to see the details.

Email campaign set up in Intercom11
This is how our campaign looked in Intercom (Image: UXPressia) (View large version12)

Turns out that hundreds of people working on email campaigns have terrible experiences themselves while crafting a better experience for others. Trying to unweave webs of interrelated email letters scattered over a spreadsheet would drive anyone crazy. This had to stop.

So, we rolled up our sleeves and drafted the first map using emails from our campaign.

The first draft of our email journey13
The first draft of our email journey (Image: UXPressia) (View large version14)

By mapping out the whole chain of emails on a single canvas, we could finally see everything in one place. Timing, email texts, business goals at each stage, as well as goals of each letter — it was all there. Having it all aligned in such a way instantly raised (and even answered) questions like:

  • “Are we bombarding our users with a number of emails from the same person? Would it be more appropriate to introduce someone new?”
  • “Is the timing correct and in line with the overall experience?”

And these questions were way easier to answer once we saw the whole picture. This alone was valuable enough because this clarity turned out to be a huge time-saver.

For example, shortly after the launch of our campaign, we noticed a pretty high unsubscribe rate from our emails. We tried to understand why this was happening and what we could do to fix it. Then, we looked at our email map and realized that the time gap between the first two emails was quite short, so we increased it. Guess what? The unsubscribe rate slowed down. This would have been more difficult to troubleshoot without the clear picture we had from customer journey mapping.

But we decided to take it up a few notches.

Leveraging Personas Link

Persona example15
Persona example (Image: UXPressia) (View large version16)

Remember I said we were trying to find a better and more personal approach? That’s what personas are best at. And having a well-researched persona when creating this email campaign was a game-changer for us.

By that time, we had already defined our customer personas, so it was no biggie to take each email and read it as if the reader was our persona.

A Brief Example Link

In one of our letters, we asked our users to tell us about themselves, so that we could make some suggestions and offer personalized help just in case. We expected them to drop us emails with some really short stories. So we “read” this email to our personas. Hey, picture a bunch of fellows reading to a poster on a wall. Bonkers!

Our team reading email to personas17
Our team reading email to personas (Image: UXPressia) (View large version18)

We tried to understand why this or that persona wouldn’t answer, and we realized that what we had in mind was not the way to go. What if our business-owner persona didn’t have time to sit there and compose emails? What could we offer to eliminate this objection? A quick call? Meh. Maybe. An online poll with predefined answers? Better!

So, using personas certainly had a great impact on our email campaign in the end.

Campaigns For Different Personas And A/B Tests Link

Example of a CJM for A/B tests or multiple personas19
Example of a CJM for A/B tests or multiple personas (Image: UXPressia) (View large version20)

By the way, what if you have multiple personas in your email campaign? That poor spreadsheet! Unless, again, you use customer journey mapping. In this case, we’d be able to easily map different letters to corresponding personas — and even find where these emails intersect!

Example Link

In her case study, one of our customers told us an interesting story. She was working on a complicated email campaign for multiple personas. The tricky part was to bring together all possible scenarios and see which email she should write for each specific case.

And she was quite amazed by how customer journey mapping saved her a lot of time and effort. Once all emails had been mapped out, it became apparent which letters repeated, so she could merge them into one.

This applies not only to scenarios like this one, but also to A/B tests. Imagine doing the same without customer journey mapping. Ugh! But wait, the best part is yet to come.

Email Campaign On CJM Steroids Link

And here is it. Once we started putting our campaign on CJM steroids, there was no going back. Customer journey mapping offers a ton of sections that we could use to take our email campaign to a whole new level. We tried some of them, and the results were quite surprising.

User Expectations and Goals Link

User goals on our email journey map21
User goals on our email journey map (Image: UXPressia) (View large version22)

Adding user goals and expectations to our map cocktail changed the way we saw our email campaign for the better. When sending an upsell email, is this what our user expects from us at that very moment? Does the goal of this letter match the goal of our customers?

By that moment, we had already rolled out our campaign, so we had some stats on hand. And adding these sections and answering these questions made us realize why the unsubscribe rate for some of our emails was so high. Speaking of which…

Key Performance Indicators and Other Metrics Link

KPI section in our email journey campaign23
KPI section in our email journey campaign (Image: UXPressia) (View large version24)

Now, what if we had real statistics under each email? Seeing how this or that letter performed enabled us to instantly find where our campaign hit the dirt. It did require some maintenance, but in the end, it was totally worth all the effort.

Quote or User Response Link

Quote section in our email journey map25
Quote section in our email journey map (Image: UXPressia) (View large version26)

Because we believe that email campaigns are conversations rather than monologues, we expect our users to say something back. Why not add some of their responses to our map? They could be from a single quote or an entire response. And based on their reactions, we were able to draw an…

Experience Graph Link

Experience graph based on KPI and user responses27
Experience graph based on KPI and user responses (Image: UXPressia) (View large version28)

The experience graph made it so easy for us to see the whole flow of our email campaign. Tracking performance enabled us to see which emails failed most and which did the best job. For us, this was priceless.

Problems and Ideas Link

Finally, once we had identified problematic emails in our campaign, it was time to think about what caused fails and how we could improve their performance. We pitched some ideas and started testing them ASAP!

Wrapping Up Link

An email journey map we ended up with29
An email journey map we ended up with (Image: UXPressia) (View large version30)

When we finally called it a day (or, rather, a night), everyone was so inspired. Using customer journey mapping to map our email campaign turned out to be not just a huge timesaver, but a well of insights, too. Not to mention that we were able to achieve a 40% open rate! Not a bad result in today’s world, where users develop email-blindness syndrome31.

Of course, using CJM for mapping email campaigns will not work for all cases, but it was a lifesaver — and not just for us.

One of our customers transformed their existing email campaign the same way shortly after our debut. What they did was compare the email journey they created with the customer journey map they already had. Once they saw all emails on a single CJM canvas right next to the customer journey map, they got quite a few insights, like:

  • The first email in the campaign promoted the web application heavily right after a user downloaded the mobile app. The business goal at this stage was to decrease the number of users leaving the mobile app, but they were encouraging people to do just that!
  • The second email was pushing people towards providing more personal data. But from looking at the CJM as a whole, it was obvious that the timing was completely wrong: It happened at the stage when the majority of users were not yet ready to share anything — they simply hadn’t yet perceived any value from using the app.
  • The third email promoted the blog, which indeed had some great content. But the content was focused on just two personas, whereas the email campaign was sent to everyone. The majority of users were obviously not interested, so they kept unsubscribing.

These were not all of the insights they had, but even with these, it was pretty clear that the campaign needed some rethinking. Even more importantly, they already knew what had to be changed.

Anyway, here are some ideas about when transforming an email campaign into an email journey map will work for you as well:

  • You are working on a massive email campaign that you want to be consistent and well crafted as much as sympathetic and humane.
  • You believe that your team should try CJM, but people hesitate to engage because of the time commitment and unclear value. Seeing how it works for one channel would be less time-consuming and might help to convince your team to try a full-blown customer journey map after all.
  • You want to present campaign content to clients or stakeholders (which would be way more attractive than the bunch of separate files mentioned before).

The worst-case scenario here is that you would put your emails in order and save a lot of time in the long run.

Plus, you can do the same thing not just with emails but with virtually anything, be it call scripts for support or sales, alongside postal or face-to-face interactions.

Oh, and one more thing. We created a free template32 you can use to start mapping your email journey now! It has a predefined persona and all the sections we used in our own journey map.

But what about you? Have you tried using CJM for email campaigns? What insights can you share? Do you know of any unusual uses of CJM? Share your ideas in comments!


Footnotes Link

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Founder and CEO of UXPressia, an online platform for visualizing user experience. Get in touch.

  1. 1

    Bryan Chalker

    November 6, 2017 3:03 pm

    Ummm…not saying this article isn’t informative, but shouldn’t it have a “sponsored by” tag or something?

    Yuri, you have have “Founder and CEO of UXPressia, an online platform for visualizing user experience.”, in your author sig, linking to your commercial products that does exactly what your article lays out.

    • 2

      Markus Seyfferth

      November 6, 2017 3:18 pm

      Hi Bryan, thanks for this but the article isn’t sponsored, and I think it’s also perfectly fine to have authors mentioning the company they work for in their bio… I mean who wouldn’t?

      • 3

        Bryan Chalker

        November 6, 2017 4:12 pm

        “mentioning the company …in their bio”? Huh?

        All of the screenshots used in this “non-sponsored” article are taken from his company’s app. Did you not actually look over this article?

        I think most of us would just prefer to be given a heads up if an article is being written as a promotional one.

        • 4

          Markus Seyfferth

          November 6, 2017 5:10 pm

          Dear Bryan, there’s only one link back to their free template in the article. And of course, it’s fine to put a link to their company into the author’s bio, which was your initial point I was responding to.

          Also, we paid the author for writing up the article, not the other way around.

          Last but not least, we would not accept anything that is marketing copy, with tracking links and so on. And please be assured that if it was a sponsored post, of course, we would mark it as sponsored!

        • 5

          Hello Bryan,

          It is sad that my article seemed promotional to you. But it would have been weird to use screenshots from some other platform since the campaign was originally created in UXPressia. Plus, as this is an article where it is impossible to go without imagery, it would have been even wrong not to use screenshots at all.

          I surely agree that promo materials must be marked as such. But this is not the case. The
          purpose of my article was to show a new (for those who are not away of that yet) way to improve the way businesses communicate with users. And I really hope that you could take something useful from it!

          • 6

            BRYAN CHALKER

            November 9, 2017 5:31 pm

            Hey Yuri/Markus – actually I did get a lot out of the article. Was timely info I needed for an upcoming project.

            I’ll pull back my original concern, thinking it was an “unofficial” sponsored article. These days it feels like it’s hard to get info with integrity…paid reviews and comments on Amazon, Youtube, Yelp, etc. Hate being a cynic on these things, but due diligence keeps me that way ;P

          • 7

            Markus Seyfferth

            November 9, 2017 5:52 pm

            Hi Bryan, no worries, fully understand. Actually, your comment made me think that we should mark our sponsored posts in a more obvious way, so I was adding a note at the beginning of this article, not just tagging it as ‘sponsored’. I’ve seen a couple of similar concerns here on Smashing over the last months, so I think it really is important to make it as clear as possible whenever we publish a sponsored post. In the end, I think it helps all readers to identify what’s sponsored and what not. So, thanks for that! :-)

  2. 8

    Wow, this is a really interesting article! It fits perfectly within the projects we are currently doing with our marketing team.

    UXpressia is a cool site with some free stuff as well, nice.

    Just a quick question (might no be the right place here). Since this is a bit longer article, is it possible to put up the reading time up front? Like for example Medium does? Is that something worth considering for you guys?

    • 9

      I’m so glad you found it useful and thank you so much for complementing UXPressia!

      As for putting up the reading time, my personal opinion is that this is a great idea and this usually helps me as well to set my expectations before reading.
      Though I think it’s better to ask someone from Smashing Magazine folks (e.g. Markus) about that (;

  3. 10


    November 9, 2017 5:32 pm

    (can’t edit my comments, but forgot to say…)Thanks guys


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