Did Micro-Moments Ruin My Buyer’s Journey Maps?

Blog Post
March 23, 2017

Google indicates that mobile had a 20% increase in market share, while time per visit declined 18%. eMarketer predicts that by 2020 mobile will represent 74% of digital ad spending. These and similar findings led Google to conclude that mobile consumers move through their journeys in spurts rather than sessions, and that the “micro-moment” is the new battlefield where brands achieve success or failure.

As is true with any new business idea, operationalization lags innovation. Statements from Google like “you’ve got to anticipate the micro-moments for users in your industry” provide a noble call to action, but they lack specificity. Are all micro-moments equally relevant? Which contextual facts surrounding a given micro-moment are pertinent to a business? And, what is the precise definition of a micro-moment?

The micro-moment finding upends how we think about the buyer’s journey, which is traditionally pictured as a sequence of steps leading to a purchase. Do micro-moments replace buyer journey steps? What happens to omni-channel marketing if we have one set of buyer journey maps for mobile using micro-moments, and another set of maps for the remaining channels using the traditional steps toward a purchase?

In this article I describe how Harte Hanks integrates the wisdom of the micro-moment into the discipline of mapping the buyer’s journey. The result is a blueprint for becoming more competitive in a mobile-driven, omni-channel world.

Old Maps

The traditional buyer’s journey consists of a sequence of stages toward a purchase. These stages can differ somewhat by industry, but follow a general sequence as pictured in Figure 1.



Figure 1: Traditional Buyer’s Journey Map

These buyer journey maps have helped marketers examine what is happening during each stage of the buyer’s journey. Perhaps most importantly, they have encouraged us to place the buyer and their needs at the center of the company’s universe. In other words, buyer journey maps help us be customer-centric.

New research on buyer behavior across multiple disciplines (e.g., economics, psychology) and sponsors (e.g., Google, Forrester) tells us three important things. Buyer movement through their journeys is often sporadic. Buyers make progress with a spurt of activity, and then there are lulls of inactivity. Second, buyers are opportunistic during their journeys. Some of this relates to the time pressures of modern life: some buyers want to make quick progress in their journeys whenever and wherever they can because they don’t have a lot of time. But it is also a fundamental assertion that they are in charge. Today’s buyers are often highly self-directed. They are going to shop their way and don’t care whether suppliers envision a logical sequence of steps for them to follow.

The third finding is that buyers are often emotional rather than linear and methodical. Numerous writers, perhaps most notably Daniel Kahneman, call attention to the emotional dimension of buyer decision-making. This side of human behavior moves quickly and instinctively. It is not concerned with slow, careful, logical analysis. It is impulsive or spur-of-the-moment and is easily swayed by emotional triggers such as fear, anger, joy, sadness, etc.

Traditional journey maps imply buyers move in a straightforward, linear progression from one stage to the next and that there is no skipping around. Obviously, the traditional maps do not align with new buyer behavior realities. So, we need new buyer’s journey maps.

New Maps

We at Harte Hanks are on a mission to update buyer’s journey maps so that they more closely approximate actual consumer behavior. We think the map in Figure 2 is a closer approximation of reality. The map shows six outer circles or stages in the buyer’s journey. Each stage is pictured as barely engaged in the buyer’s journey by a small overlap with the inner circle. This figure captures a starting point. It says the company is ready to engage with the buyer at each stage of the journey, and makes this known through their website, advertising, and so on. So, the buyer can initiate engagement in any one of the six stages if they choose to do so.



Figure 2: Modern Buyer’s Journey: The Starting Point

Once the buyer chooses to engage with the company, the buyer’s journey map changes. In other words, the map is dynamic. Each stage or outer circle moves more deeply into the buyer’s journey according to the buyer’s behavior. Ideally, the company has data that tracks buyer behavior in each stage. The data then provides an estimate of how deeply the buyer has engaged with the company on each stage.

Take an illustrative female consumer who is thinking about their summer vacation in the mountains three months into the future. She starts her journey with a price check on several leading backpack brands, including the one she bought three years ago. She has not yet given serious consideration to whether it is suitable for the upcoming trip. In fact, she doesn’t want to do that yet.

At this point in the journey, this buyer only wants a rough estimate of whether a full-scale backpack review will result in the painful conclusion that they can’t afford a new one. The only recognized problem is affordability, and emotional pain avoidance is the driving theme at the start of the journey. She wants to make a rough estimate of whether she can emotionally afford to start a more engaged buyer’s journey. The start of this journey is pictured in Figure 3. The Recognize and Search stages are pictured as lightly engaged because only one problem is recognized yet (affordability), and her search only includes a few price points. In contrast, the Evaluate stage is deeply engaged and the whole journey at this moment hinges on this assessment.


One Buyer’s Journey: Initial Pain Assessment

Figure 3: One Buyer’s Journey: Initial Pain Assessment

Figure 3 provides a conceptual approach to mapping this particular buyer’s journey. The starting position of each stage is set as the baseline, indicated by the dotted lines. Then as a stage becomes more engaged in the buyer’s journey, it moves in toward the center. The metrics implied by the dotted lines are “outcomes.” Borrowing from the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework, an outcome is an actionable need statement. When the buyer seeks to achieve an outcome, the associated buying stage moves further into the buyer’s journey. Outcomes are explored in more detail later in this article.

Without knowing the full story behind the buyer’s journey, we cannot draw an accurate map. The traditional linear view of the world for this buyer tells us to draw a map something like the one in Figure 4.


Figure 4: Incorrect Map Based on a Linear World-View

Figure 4: Incorrect Map Based on a Linear World-View

The linear view assumes that every buyer seeking price information has already completed the Recognize stage, has moved on to the Search stage, and is not yet in the Evaluate stage. The linear model leads us to the wrong conclusion. It misses the possibility that this buyer is making a quick but serious evaluation. Figure 4 does not fit the actual story unfolding from the buyer’s perspective. In other words, the linear view is disconnected from the context surrounding the moment.

To meet the needs of today’s buyer, companies must avoid making false assumptions about the buyer. This means they need an approximately accurate description of the buyer’s journey for a given moment in time. Such a definition drills down through three levels:

  1. The problem the buyer wants to solve (e.g., avoid long journey with no purchase)
  2. The job that is active in the buyer’s journey at this particular moment (e.g., assess affordability)
  3. The micro-jobs the buyer wants to complete in the micro-moment (e.g., find a few price points).

The only way we can accurately describe the buyer’s journey on the three levels is to access comprehensive contextual data for this buyer surrounding this moment in their journey. For example:

  • Do we have a purchase record for this buyer? We should, since they purchased a pack from us previously.
  • When was their last purchase from us? They purchased a pack from us three years ago, but they may have purchased other items from us between then and now. If so, what and how much did they buy?
  • What previous steps did the buyer conduct on this journey? For example, did they come straight to our site, or did they arrive via a search on something like “best backpacks?” Did they visit our site within the last several days or week?

Even if we have full contextual information, it is hard to make heads or tails of it without something called “personas.” Personas are like buyer segments, but there are critical differences. Traditional buyer segments focus on demographics, and they are thought to summarize that person’s personality and buying behavior over time. In contrast, a persona is a temporary behavior pattern. It fits the person well, but only for a single journey, or perhaps for only part of a journey. Individuals can assume one persona when purchasing item “X” and another persona for item “Y.” The active persona depends on what they are buying and what problem they are trying to solve in the moment.

Companies conduct segmentation analyses of contextual information to find personas. Once the personas are defined, they are used to make hypotheses about specific buyer journeys and what the buyer might want to do next. In our backpack example, say we previously identified two generic personas: the “quick price assessor” and the “detailed evaluator.” Then we would want to know if this buyer engaged in any recent Recognize or Search activities. If our best guess is that this is their first step in their journey, then we might hypothesize that, for the moment, they are in the “quick price assessor” persona.

Once we select a persona, what are some viable strategies? First, we can anticipate the needs of the quick price assessor persona by featuring entry-level prices with phrases like: “as low as” or “starting at.” The objective is to encourage this persona to continue the journey.

We can be ready for the possibility that a buyer in this persona will jump to a new but related persona such as the “speedy purchaser” persona. But it is also entirely possible that our backpack buyer may slow down and become a “detailed evaluator” once they conclude a backpack purchase is feasible. So, we need to treat personas as temporary hypotheses rather than as fixed personality traits.

Share Stage

A new type of buyer’s journey stage is presented in our map: Share. It encompasses the buyer’s need to share their purchase and use experiences with others. Our intent here is to capture the buyer’s needs to not only assess product performance as an owner but to also share their experience and conclusions with others.

Humans have been talking about their purchases since the ancient days of barter. Humans are social animals. We need to talk about a lot of things, and a big one is our latest purchase. Social media is full of humans talking about their buyer and user experiences. We can now capture, track and analyze sharing behaviors thanks to digital social media. Before, it was much less visible to suppliers, but it was still highly relevant nonetheless. In the old days, “word of mouth” was the important social behavior, but it was very hard to measure. If we don’t explicitly capture the post-sale social dimension of the buyer’s journey in our maps, we are essentially burying our heads in the sand.

Companies are scrambling down the learning curve to stay abreast of consumer behavior as it relates to social media. Should we pay attention to whether our buyers make Facebook posts about us? Should we encourage them to post reviews of our products on our own site? How much effort should we make to get our customers to post reviews on independent sites? Is there a useful role for us to play in highlighting the full range of benefits we offer so that they do not get lost in the shuffle of experiencing a problem here and there? These questions are answered by observing what buyers need to do during the Share stage of their journey. The mantra is: help the buyer do what they want to do during every stage of their journey.

Affiliate Stage

Another somewhat unique stage we include in buyer’s journey maps is Affiliate. Here the timeframe shifts to the long-term. Humans have a need to make their lives easier, and this has a direct tie to our need to identify with brands. The Affiliate stage reflects the buyer’s desire to determine whether they want a deeper relationship with the supplier. This includes a decision about the likelihood of repurchase, but also taps into the buyer’s possible intent to affiliate with the supplier and be loyal to them by visiting their website more frequently, exploring other products and services they offer, etc.

From the supplier’s perspective, the Affiliate stage is also concerned with customer retention and profitability. In the long-term, these issues are important to both the buyer and the solution provider, and it is relevant to both B2C and B2B purchases. Again, it is important for companies to know what their buyers want to accomplish during this stage so that they can be ready to assist effectively when the buyer is ready.

Jobs-To-Be-Done and the Buyer’s Journey

The buyer’s experience throughout their journey is critical to every company’s future. Marketing must take a lead role in driving quality and profitability throughout the buyer’s journey. To do this, marketers much grasp, in exhaustive detail, exactly what buyers want to accomplish during their journeys. We have adapted the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) concept to meet this challenge and give specificity to buyer’s journey maps. This is a highly reliable way to describe exactly what buyers want to accomplish during their journeys. It also helps us define what a company must do to meet buyer needs at each stage of the journey.

We recently commissioned a study with Strategyn (the leader in JTBD methodology and application) in 2016 to study and define buyer journeys for home furnishings, transportation, health products and clothing. The jobs-to-be-done across these retail purchases are provided in Figure 5. These 18 jobs have broad application across many types of buyer journeys.


Jobs-to-be-Done During the Buyer’s Journey

Figure 5: Jobs-to-be-Done During the Buyer’s Journey


Buyer journey mapping can be aligned with micro-moments by identifying the “micro-jobs-to-be-done” for any given job. These micro-jobs are also called outcomes because they reflect how buyers measure success. The outcomes from our research on the first stage, Recognize, are listed in Table 1.

Table 1: “Micro-Jobs” or Outcomes for the “Recognize” Stage

Outcomes describe what success looks like in the eyes of the buyer. Companies can convert each outcome into a question. The phrase “How can we help the buyer …” can be inserted at the start of each outcome. For example: “How can we help the buyer minimize the time it takes to determine how frequently the problem is occurring?”

Each outcome has implications for how to design the customer experience. The seven outcomes for the first job provide numerous clues about how to improve the customer experience. For example, if I make in-home coffee/espresso machines, can I help the buyer minimize the time it takes to determine how frequently the problem is occurring by:

  • Adding web content such as a YouTube video on “How to determine whether my current coffee maker is meeting my needs?”
  • Designing an interactive mini-web survey on “satisfaction with my coffee maker,” including a personalized comparison to prior survey responses?
  • Offering an interactive chart using prior survey responses to plot current coffee maker satisfaction versus the likelihood of buying a new coffee maker, and allow a user to enter their level of satisfaction and see how likely they might be to purchase a new machine?


If marketers want to own the customer experience, first they must exhaustively define every potential outcome across the entire buyer journey.


During our research we found well over 100 micro-jobs or outcomes for the retail buyer journey. Once these outcomes are defined, it is possible to:

  • Define the importance and satisfaction of each job in the buyer’s journey.
  • Identify the greatest opportunities for enhancing customer experience.
  • Segment buyers by job importance, satisfaction and opportunity.
  • Craft personas around key buyer segments.
  • Identify which touch points can be reengineered to yield the greatest profit impact.
  • Align content strategies with targeted buyer segments.

Learn more about our approach to the buyer's journey and bringing human interaction back to marketing.