You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

Journey mapping is a technique long known to marketers at companies like IBM and Clorox but has only recently caught on in higher education circles.

In an article that dates back to 2010, the Harvard Business Review defines it as:

“a very simple idea: a diagram that illustrates the steps your customer(s) go through in engaging with your company, whether it be a product, an online experience, retail experience, or a service, or any combination. The more touchpoints you have, the more complicated — but necessary — such a map becomes.“

In the past two years, the number of higher education conference sessions, articles, and interest in Journey Mapping has seemed to increase. And for good reason. When used strategically and collaboratively with campus partners, we find that it provides a clear way for various departments on a campus to create a shared vision for communicating to a specific audience during a defined timeframe.

Journey mapping is designed to put you in the shoes of your audience.

We recommend the following three steps to start:

  1. Start by laying out every touchpoint in the current communications plan (emails, phone calls, social campaigns, etc.).
  2. Articulate how you want the audience–ideally– to feel in a specific timeframe. For instance, during yield we may want admitted students to feel “proud of their choice,” or “engaged with our College.”
  3. Next comes the empathy part: how is the audience typically feeling during this time? You can ascertain this through surveys or anecdotally. During the summer, for instance, incoming students might be feeling “overwhelmed” or that they’ve missed something.
    • By aligning touchpoints, ideal feelings, and actual feelings, you now you have a visual representation of your journey map and can find holes or opportunities to better align actual feelings with the ideal feelings.

The results reveal themselves. For instance, if you want your audience to be “excited” but you are only communicating with them about transactional items, you have an opportunity to shift your tactics to better align with your goals.

So often, in a brainstorming session, there is a tendency to look at what other competitors are doing or what is the latest trend that you saw at a conference. Using journey mapping–sometimes called empathy mapping–puts your audience at the center of your brainstorming. As the group develops ideas and opportunities you can always point back to your audience needs to set the right context and tone.

Here are three things to think about as you begin trying to journey map on your campus

  1. Get organized

Getting organized is critically important to a successful journey mapping exercise. You need to get the right people in the room. Hint: it needs to be more than just the communications team. All of the key constituents need to take part so that you can achieve a shared vision through effective brainstorming.

  1. Find the right space

The visual impact and value to having everyone seeing all of the information at one time cannot be understated. You will need a room that is large enough to fit everyone comfortably and have enough wall space. You will have post-it notes and lists at the end of your exercise and you need to capture the great planning that was done.

  1. Follow through

Before you start, the communications team needs to understand that you will probably be creating more work for yourself by the end of the process. And you need to be able to then execute what you as a group decided to do. But the work will be more rewarding because it is audience-centric and focused on a goal.


We have experienced successful journey mapping exercises on our campuses around the summer melt process, admissions yield season, and program specific communications. But it could be used for any audience you communicate with regularly. Imagine the possibilities of mapping out your leadership donors experience against how you currently communicate with them. Or the experience that your current parents have and how you want them to feel as brand ambassadors. The possibilities are limitless.

P.S. Customer journey mapping is closely related to experience mapping, which Michael Stoner discussed in a column several weeks ago. The essential difference is that customer journey maps typically view an individual’s specific interaction with an organization. An experience map is broader and views interactions more holistically.

Paul Redfern is vice president for communications at St. Lawrence University. in Canton, N.Y. He is a frequent presenter on marketing and brand topics at national conferences and serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the College and University Public Relations and Associated Professionals (CUPRAP).

Jamie Yates is executive director of communications and marketing at Gettysburg College.

Next Story

More from Call to Action