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Sometimes, customer journey and the user goals are overrated—content strategy comes to the rescue

Content strategy helps you plan for the customer's intent and their hidden goals for specific moments too, and not only for their ultimate goal.

Customer journey has been part of content and design work for many years now. When the product teams started planning device-independent design for an omnichannel user experience, they worked on planning customer journey, journey mapping, and scenario mapping and many such content and design methodologies. The goal was to design a product for the customer-centric experience. In digital design adjacent disciplines, we saw service blueprints in service design and citizens-governance interaction maps in civic tech.

In all these cases, we identify the customers’ goals and map their expected steps in the onboarding to take their journey forward, for their desired outcome.

The way customers find, interact with, and use many new and modern products, the customer journey is getting complex to anticipate and design. Even the customers’ goals of interactions are loosely defined to the customers themselves. For example on Twitter or in Slack communities, people tend to spend some time to see if there is anything useful or interesting which might mean different things to different people, and is not clear enough to be unified for a design plan.

Customer journey or customer moments

In many such products, customers do not have a journey per se. They live and decide in moments—random and unpredictable moments, without a momentum. Even on Amazon, customers might be looking at some products without a clear goal, they might use the search option without a clear goal. They might be happy to decide within the moment, for quick in-product browsing experience based decisions. Customer journey is the sum of these random and independent customer moments, sometimes on a start-resume mode.

We should design and plan content for these moments. It does not change our core methodologies or frameworks drastically—but it prepares us for how customers make decisions. This is where content strategy helps.

Example 1: Word of mouth acquisition

Take an example where a product gets some traffic or leads by word of mouth. We do not know what a customer A tells about our brand or product to their friend B. We have little control over their conversation and how B might be prepared when they evaluate our products.

We design our product for A, but B does not have a customer journey. Our marketers have set up some processes and tools to measure this word of mouth acquisition (see this excellent post by Reforge) but our product may not be prepared to onboard B. It means that we need to plan content and interactions for the customer moments, by working more closely with the marketing team. B might make some decisions or form an opinion about our brand in specific moments.

Product content strategy brings a holistic customer user case perspective at a granular level regardless of the design methodologies that we might be following. Content strategists are experienced and well-positioned to bring the right flexibility in the interaction design, to frame the messages, and to anticipate the new directions for what the users might want to see, know, do, or learn in specific scenario. They make sure that the product responds for specific customer moments, to take their journey forward.

Do the users know their goals?

I am part of a few Slack communities and so often I login to see without a clear goal. I am just looking at the conversations, I rarely use search to find a specific topic, or specific user. It might be true on Twitter, or Amazon, and many other products. This behavior or these habits influence our digital interactions habits when we use work-specific tools too, for example Notion, or our ride sharing or health and wellness apps.

This means that we need to design for:

  • What the customer might want to do (based on predictive intelligence, our domain experience, or whatever data literacy advises us to plan for)
  • What the product wants the users to do (we all need to have an eye at product metrics, such as DAU)
  • What the customers might actually end up doing (content plays a huge role here).

Customers need the right wayfinding, advice, and sometimes confidence and incentive to move forward. Content strategy helps you plan for the customer’s intent and their hidden goals around their success criteria for specific moments too, and not only for their ultimate goal. This is because:

  • Content informs when the customers are thinking, content helps in the pause
  • Content also helps in pace layers mapping when different types of customers are on the same moment of decision but their interaction patterns are different.
  • Content builds assurance which means that product content strategy should be strategically baked in the IA itself to respond at the right time.

I often see that product teams are hiring UX Writers for their product content. Either the UX writers should be trained to think and work as product content strategists (when their orgs cannot afford expansion in the team and when their UX Writers have the bandwidth), or they should hire content strategists to bring this big picture perspective to work with UX Writers for an effective product-content experience.

Example 2: A patient visits a doctor

Think of a patient who is waiting for their turn in a hospital to see a doctor.

  • Their goal is: To ask some questions about the diet and precautions, and they have a checklist of questions in the app for reference
  • Their sub-journey while waiting there: To see the doctor, ask questions, make notes if required, thank the doctor, and come back.

Imagine what actually happens when they meet.

The patient sees a chart in the doctor’s cabin that shows how patients who have a specific symptom A, B, or C, in a specific age group are advised to undergo specific scans. This patient quickly relates to that new information. The app in the patient’s phone updates the information in real time, and the doctor advises a new scan for which the patient might need some time to decide—sometimes in the moment. They may not be prepared for a new set of questions—the cost of scan, the time period and the cycle of scan-reports-analysis-treatment, any impact on their work or lifestyle, and so on.

A new set of variables enter their discussion which means that the entire narrative changes within a minute. The user goals are changed now.

Journey and goals are important: We need to look at these differently

Many discussions in the omnichannel customer journey focus on providing the right content at the right time on any device, in the right language, and in the context of how the customers might need or use the information. But customer journey is not a sum of all user stories or job stories; this is a complicated (not complex) mesh of many customer moments.

Customers may not know their goals, or they might be willing to experiment (such as on shopping website, or while planning a coupons membership subscription for a chain of restaurants).

I am a fan of customer journey mapping and I advocate aligning the product vision with customer-centric design process. However as I see it around, our lack of focus on the foundational IA or domain-mapping driven content structure leaves a lot of gap in this alignment.

We need to design structured content baked in customer-centric interactions—content that is free to adapt itself for specific types of interactions by the customers who might not even know their goals. Product content strategists bring the right kind of message-driven experience design awareness in digital products—we do not need to sweat over the complexities in the customer journey or their goals.

Related post: Content types for modern product interface

This topic is part of my advanced course in product content strategy, content design, and UX Writing. See the course details for how we can find and add more meaning to our work.

Vinish Garg

Vinish Garg

I am Vinish Garg, and I work with growing product teams for their product strategy, product vision, product positioning, product onboarding and UX, and product growth. I work on products for UX and design leadership roles, product content strategy and content design, and for the brand narrative strategy. I offer training via my advanced courses for content strategists, content designers, UX Writers, content-driven UX designers, and for content and design practitioners who want to explore product and system thinking.

Interested to stay informed about my work, talks, writings, programs, or projects? See a few examples of my past newsletters—All things products, Food for designInviting for 8Knorks. You can subscribe to my emails here.

Vinish Garg is an independent consultant in product content strategy, content design leadership, and product management for growing product teams.