How to Read the Complex Digital Landscape to Better Track Your Audience Journey

Engagement Marketing


As an avid hiker and kayaker, I understand the value of deciphering complex landscapes to identify the fastest, safest, and most successful journey. As a marketer & consultant, I often apply the same skills to decipher digital behaviors. To engage audiences as individuals, we must be able to track personal progress within the audience-brand journey. The map audience interactions to specific journey milestones can help regulate messaging, optimize spend, and prove to stakeholders that marketing delivers daily results.

In this blog, I’ll review the value of audience journey mapping. I’ll also describe how to define, align, and leverage journey-specific knowledge to optimize marketing results.

Journey Mapping Defined

Many marketers have not heard of digital journey mapping before. A digital journey map is a visualization of every experience a customer or prospect has with your business in the digital world. Leading solutions deliver unique capabilities to marketers that assist with this visualization. They also make it possible to outline the specific steps within one or multiple buyer journeys to visualize audience progress towards a deeper brand relationship.

Each company has a unique approach to building relationships with audiences. As such, each brand has unique definitions of success and progress toward established and growing relationships. With this in mind, marketers need a solution that can support those definitions and accurately map appropriate indicators of progress for specific business needs.

Audience Journey Mapping Examples

Let us start by simplifying a more detailed audience journey into five main stages: identification, engagement, conversion, cross-sell, and advocate. As seen in example 1 below, more sophisticated engagement platforms offer the capability to set up specific buckets for tracking individuals that have attained a given journey status, as well as to define custom criteria for reaching that status.

Customer Journey Mapping Example 1

Example 1: Sample generic audience journey map for tracking conversion towards ongoing brand engagement, conversions, and advocacy.

Three elements need to be available to accomplish buyer journey tracking:

  • A platform to define of customized journey stages
  • A platform to define customized indicators of stage progress
  • The ability to leverage qualification for a given stage to manage campaign communication, campaign and channel cost management, as well as overall performance reporting

Additional examples of audience journey maps are included below:

Audience Journey Map Example 2

Example 2: A sample audience journey map with additional layers of tracking. These layers are specific to the medical recruiting industry.

Sports Fan Customer Journey Map Example

Example 3: A sample sports fan journey map.

Example B2B Audience Journey Map

Example 4: A sample B2B audience journey map.

Identifying Your Journey Stages

With access to the right technology for defining and tracking audience journey progress, as a next step marketers need to define the stages within the audience journey. A one-size-fits-all approach does not apply, though some general guidelines can assist in establishing the right categories.

Consideration #1: Track Relationship Progress

The easiest place to start in defining stages for your journey map is to include the targeted categories of relationship progress. As noted within the generic audience journey map example, these stages demonstrate an increasing involvement with a company as contacts journey towards initial purchase, ongoing purchases, and even advocacy. By starting with these generic stages, it is possible to refine the specific categories of progress for each company. Are there specific labels your company uses for a given stage? Do you have sub-stages?

Consideration #2: Track Internal Handoffs or Potential Process Bottlenecks

In addition to the relationship stages, it is important to consider adding critical handoffs or phases. For example, while product proposal review may not be a standard stage within your process, it may be helpful to track pre-and-post proposal interactions to see if the additional communication or brand differentiation would help speed up or enhance the proposal process. Any critical hand-offs between teams are another stage to consider adding to your tracking.

Consideration #3: Track Major Milestones & Repeating Evaluation Phases

For larger, more complex relationship development or selling cycles, it may be important to create additional stages that indicate relationship health. As seen in the example below, many industries have ongoing project requests that will span multiple years. Add a recycling stage to listen for the presence or absence of a project. Additionally, project evaluation milestones can deliver additional control over communication and follow-up that is coordinated through the right engagement platform.

Milestone Tracking Customer Journey Mapping

Example 5: Long sales cycle audience journey map. Repeating evaluation of project status evaluation.

Defining the Right Metrics for Tracking Progress

As seen in the example audience journey maps, there can be a wide variety of stages to track progress towards conversions. Taking a closer look at these examples, the purple arrows represent “tracking rules” that define the digital behaviors indicating an audience member is moving  towards an increasingly positive outcome. Apart from flexibility within stage definition, marketers need the capacity to listen for any kind of digital interaction, evaluate the value of those interactions, and apply them to the journey model.

Metrics Consideration #1: Need the Right Platform to Capture Interactions

One challenge marketers face for both audience-communication alignment, as well as journey mapping, is the access to the right depth and breadth of digital information to fuel the progress. For example, many companies have custom objects or activities within their systems of record that they would like to use to evaluate progress. Additionally, the recency & frequency of interactions, or the absence of interactions, can be indicators of the forward movement or lack of interest of audiences.

Metrics Consideration #2: Keep It Simple to Start, Grow Over Time

When I first started using a more sophisticated means for tracking audience journey progress, the temptation was to get overly granular with the indicators that denote forward progress. While it is vital to have a system that can capture the right granularity and frequency of interactions, it is also essential not to over-engineer the tracking of results. Start by identifying the most critical digital interactions that denote progress, then add secondary digital behaviors to supplement any gaps or refinements.

For example, many interactions can be consolidated to an overall engagement score for the engaged stage. Instead of adding rules for every type of top-of-funnel interaction, look for key conversion points such as filling out forms, completing applications, engaging in an online chat, etc. Look for the easiest starting point for interest indicators, then fill in gaps over time.

Applying Journey Stages to Communications & Reporting

The final piece and ultimate value of creating audience journey maps is to use the overarching status of contacts as part of their communications strategy and to track the impact of marketing. Here are a few scenarios for applying journey tracking:

Communications & Reporting Consideration #1: Optimize Marketing Spend

With the added visibility into where people are at within their relationship with your brand, it is easier to ramp up, ramp down, start, or stop communication. This allows marketers to recover marketing dollars by strategically assigning resources where and when they are needed to deliver outcomes.

For example, instead of adding all contacts to your remarketing messaging, consider adding specific segments and audiences to targeted messaging. It is also possible to stagger more expensive forms of communication, such as direct mail, so that they are only used when forward progress through the journey has slowed.

Communications & Reporting Consideration #2: Optimize Nurturing & Personalization

Coupled with the optimization of marketing spend, it is possible to leverage journey status to assign communication with a greater degree of personalization. Consider mapping specific messages and calls-to-action to targeted stages within the journey. Adjust the timing and intensity messaging and offers based on journey progress to improve the impact of campaigns.

Communications & Reporting Consideration #3: Prove Impact

Beyond the optimization of marketing programs, the ability for marketers to visualize the in-flow, outflow, and balance of audiences within journey stages makes it easier to prove that marketing is making an impact on revenue. Often times, marketing is having a massive impact on the perception and forward progress of brand consideration. To prove the impact on the journey towards conversions, marketers must track the intermediary digital indicators of progress, not just the addition of new names and conversion of contacts—audience journey tracking enables a higher degree of visibility into marketing impact over time.

Customer Journey Mapping for Your Company’s Future

We must incorporate the full landscape of digital interactions to completely understand the progress of audiences toward a conversion. To accomplish this, marketers must integrate solutions that can track this progress using definitions that match their specific business needs. Leading marketers are incorporating audience journey mapping into their marketing because it allows them to optimize marketing spend, improves the use of personalized messaging, and delivers more tangible proof of marketing ROI.

As always, I hope this article has been of use to my fellow marketers, and I welcome additional commentary and feedback below. Here’s to proving the impact of marketing throughout the complete audience journey!