Interview with Brian Clark: How Customer Experience Maps Help You Develop a Smarter Content Strategy

Empathy is essential because it allows you to feel what your audience members feel, but what if you could get inside their hearts and walk a few steps in their shoes as well? You can. Here’s how …

Well isn’t this a pleasant surprise.

After we published the third installment of our three-part series on content strategy, Brian Clark informed me that he had the perfect follow-up topic for the next episode.

Sure, Mr. Clark, I think we can make room for you in the schedule. 😉

Consider this a bonus fourth episode in the content strategy series — and it goes next-level.

In this episode, Brian Clark, Demian Farnworth, and I discuss:

  • What is a customer experience map?
  • How customer experience maps and empathy maps help you develop an audience-first content marketing strategy
  • How to use a customer experience map if you have several customer personas
  • Getting started: Do you review the current customer journey or the ideal customer journey?
  • How do you get data to make a customer experience map meaningful?
  • The speaker lineup for the Authority Rainmaker 2015 conference
  • Why Henry Rollins is the perfect fit for the closing keynote at Authority Rainmaker 2015

[episode no=”75″]

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The Show Notes



Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: Interview with Brian Clark: The Next Step After Empathy Maps

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. I’m your host, Jerod Morris.

Over our last three episodes, Demian and I have been talking about content strategy. Specifically, we have discussed the importance of understanding your audience’s worldviews, mapping out a narrative with storyboarding, and using empathy maps to feel what your audience is feeling.

Consider today’s episode a bonus fourth installment of the content strategy series, and we have a special guest on hand to enhance the discussion. You may have heard of him. It’s Brian Clark.

All right, Brian. Welcome to The Lede. It’s always a pleasure to have you on the show, and even though neither Demian nor I have a voice with that voice-of-God quality like Robert Bruce, I hope you’ll still feel comfortable talking with us.

Brian Clark: You’re all right. Demian, I don’t know.

Demian Farnworth: I’m fired. (Laughter from everyone.)

Demian: I’m just here. I won’t go away.

What is a customer experience map?

Jerod: After our last episode on empathy maps, Brian, you told me that you had the perfect follow-up topic for us. So let’s dive in. What are customer experience maps, and how do they build upon empathy maps?

Brian: We’re a content-first, audience-first company, and a lot of people trying to get into content marketing have to reverse engineer that mindset. They have separate marketing teams, sales team, and then after the sale at the enterprise level, generally, they have a customer experience team.

The customer life cycle, here, is viewed from the brand’s perspective. What steps does the customer take in relation to the company?

It’s all completely disjointed, and the really forward-thinking CMOs right now at the enterprise level are trying to make it all customer experience.

A customer experience map is mapping segments of that whole life cycle, but it’s from the customer’s perspective, as it should be.

I got into this, and I found this really cool thing that customer experience people do when they’re trying to get marketing to use the same process, and we already kind of do this, but it’s a really interesting way to make it tangible for people.

I looked at a few examples of customer experience maps, and we’ll explain this a little bit more, but the first aspects that jumped out at me were “thinking, doing, and feeling.” They’re all the same elements of an empathy map.

Here’s an easy way to think about this: We talk about the buyer’s journey or the customer’s journey — they’re the hero. We’re the mentor. Our promise is to be helpful and to provide solutions. You empathy map in order to literally put yourself in their shoes.

And then a customer journey map is various segments of what people often do — from unaware potential customer to initial purchase. That could be one segment, an aspect of the overall life cycle or journey.

You understand what it’s like to be in their shoes from empathy mapping, and then from customer experience mapping, or customer journey mapping, you walk in their shoes, from their perspective, and understand the hurdles they face.

What challenges do they face? Where are points where they feel great, where you want to give them a good job, a high-five? All of those different phases.

How customer experience maps and empathy maps help you develop an audience-first content marketing strategy

We’ve been talking for years about buyer’s journeys, customer journeys — they’re the hero. We talk about Joseph Campbell and esoteric stuff that makes sense to us because we live it.

But the process of empathy mapping plus customer journey mapping is a process that allows you to make this very tangible and develop a content marketing strategy if you’re just getting started.

Remember that article Michael King wrote for us about filling the gaps in your content strategy?

He talks about customer experience maps in that article, and I went back to that after I kind of rediscovered the concept, and it’s solid. It really works.

Demian: In an article by Chris Risdon from Adaptive Path, he writes that the experience map is “an artifact that serves to illuminate the complete experience a person may have with a product or service.”

Now my question for you, Brian, is this: Why not a company? Why not a complete experience a person has with a company?

Brian: I think that’s the goal of the customer experience map, except that again, going back to this kind of enterprise terminology, which is weird for people to hear from us, but customer life cycle, again, is from the brand’s perspective. It’s the entire thing.

Instead of a funnel, the customer life cycle is what’s replacing the traditional sales funnel. Because it doesn’t end at the transaction. We know that. Remember how we represent our view of our audience with concentric circles?

Coldest, out there at the edge, is social media, all the way in to the red-hot center, which is customers. Repeat and recurring customers are at the very center. That’s how we view audience.

They don’t stop being our audience when they buy, right?

The audience-first mentality and the customer experience, holistic view of marketing all the way through customer service are completely congruent.

It’s just that we use content, when a lot of enterprise customer experience people do not. And I see it as a perfect match.

In customer experience, they talk about touch points and moments of truth, where you interact with the customer and you’re either going to fulfill your brand promise or you’re going to fail.

We do that with delivering our products, our services, and our support, but we also do it with content.

With the Rainmaker Platform, for example, when you complete the design phase of building your site, you’re congratulated with the affirmation, “Good job. Here’s what to do next.”

Or if you get hung up trying to build a membership site, then you’re prompted to go look at the membership site building guide. That’s within a SAS environment, and that’s customer success, which is a discipline that’s related.

But again, isn’t the success of our customers and clients the goal?

Whether we’re providing hands-on service, or we’re selling products and we want them to buy more, or we’re doing something recurring, customer success is the goal.

We’re going to talk more about this, and Demian, I want you to write the magic customer experience post that is better than the Adaptive Path post. Which is going to be tough, because that’s a great post.

Demian: It is a good post.

Brian: It really is.

How to use a customer experience map if you have different customer personas

Demian: What if you have more than one ideal customer? What if you have several persona profiles?

What if a customer first get exposed to us through social media. Then they go into the posts. They subscribe. They get a few e-mail newsletters, and they say, “Oh my gosh! This is a great little community here.”

Then they join Authority. Maybe they come to the Authority Rainmaker event, and they end up becoming a Rainmaker.

But then you have another type of customer — the StudioPress guy, who comes to it from a totally different path. If you have multiple persona profiles, how does somebody then go about with the experience map?

Brian: Well, that’s a good point because just within our company, our customers range from the StudioPress design-oriented person to the content marketing freelance writer, or someone who might go to our certification program versus maybe a pure entrepreneur.

But go back to the empathy mapping process. You have to look at those segments. Do you take it to buyer personas next?

You know who’s going on that particular journey, and if their experiences are that, the path is different for sure. We know that. But if the experience of the path is different based on who that person is, then I think you have to take that into account.

See how tangible that is compared with these very esoteric, philosophical principles? You really have to take it down and you go step-by-step, and you’re forced to think about what they’re thinking right now. What are they doing?

Is this a challenge? Is this a motivating moment, or is this a success moment already? How do we make them all into success moments?

Demian: Say someone has three ideal persona profiles, and they invest the time to create these experience maps.

How did someone make this experience map not philosophical and esoteric? In other words, what’s the take-away? Why invest all of this time into experience maps? What should they be walking away with?

Brian: I think when we talk to some people about The Hero’s Journey and the prospect as Luke Skywalker, you’re Obi-Wan. Some people get that right away. They just get it, and they run with it, and they start mapping.

They effectively do the same exercise on their own, and I think other people are like, “Okay, I get that conceptually, but what do I do with it now?”

I think we’re at that spot where people get it conceptually but they need a process.

And you know me, for years I’ve been trying to get people to do things like I do, and as Sonia likes to point out, I’m a big freak.

I do a lot of stuff in my head that other people don’t. Even when I write, I don’t really do the typical first draft.

I kick a lot of stuff around in my head, and then I come to you guys and I’m like, “Okay, here’s what we’re doing,” and you guys are like, “What?” (Laughs.)

So even in our case, this is a process where it’s a collaborative effort where we can all sit down together, and I might have gotten started, and we’ve got a rough outline, but then you fill in the gaps and you’ve got this very concrete process.

And I think any organization, from the single solo freelancer who does content marketing strategy and implementation all the way up to an agency, or a software company like us, can really get some serious insights by following these processes.

Empathy mapping came from the design world more than the marketing world, and customer journey mapping has been typically used after the sale instead of part of a holistic, integrated marketing experience.

What we bring to the table with our philosophy is this whole idea of “it’s an audience.”

Whether you’re a prospect, or you’re a customer — a transactional customer, a repeat customer, a recurring customer — you are all part of an audience.

It’s kind of like the group hug thing. The ones nearer to you are obviously more intimate, and the Twitter people out here, you’re like, “Come on in! Come on in!”

With the concentric circle approach, each step is an act of conversion — a greater degree of belief that you are the solution to the problem.

Getting started: Do you review the current customer journey or the ideal journey?

We did that short, little podcast with Tom about what belief really means and how it precedes trust. Both internally, but also from a teaching perspective, I think we’ve got processes now.

And it’s funny because we discovered empathy maps as a way to explain something important, and we’ve discovered customer experience maps as a way to make use of what we find out about people, and I think we will start using them in-house and get it out of my head.

Jerod: For people who want to take the next step and start doing this, specifically this journey mapping, where should people look first — what is the journey now or what the ideal journey is?

Do you need to have two of these different maps so you can see where you are, see where you want to go, and then obviously start to make the changes that you need to get there? Where is the first place you should look?

Brian: That’s an excellent question, because you have to be honest and see what the journey is from their perspective right now, and you may not like what you see. But if you don’t figure that out, how can you fix it?

Once you see it from their perspective, then you have the ability to fix it through content, through better customer service or product or service improvement. The initial map is designed to identify reality and then alter it to benefit them, which benefits you.

You don’t just map it out and that’s it, because often you’ll find that’s not the greatest experience for people.

Demian: What does that actually look like? Is it a drawing? Is it a story? Should they have a five-foot poster on their wall of this experience map? Is it design? Is it just words?

Brian: It’s a design. It’s a visual mapping strategy. Again, I confess that even when I get things out of my head, I do it in narrative format because that’s the way I think, and I’m not saying you can’t do it that way.

But it’s collaborative and a visual experience you get everyone to look at on a whiteboard. In the show notes, we’re going to have a couple of great examples that we found in the last few weeks.

They’re great examples of customer experience maps that actually worked in the real world, so people will understand.

But it’s striking that I’ve never seen anyone mention empathy maps used in conjunction with experience maps, and yet they are completely congruent. One is a person, and one is the path.

How do you get data to make a customer experience map meaningful?

Jerod: In Chris Risdon’s article, he mentions that you need both qualitative and quantitative information data for this map to truly be meaningful.

He uses the example of Rail Europe surveying 2,500 people. And for us at Copyblogger, we can do a big survey like that because we have a big audience. We have a survey coming out in a couple of weeks.

But for the single guy or the small agency that doesn’t have that built-in audience, it can be a little bit intimidating to think about the cost to do that research.

How can they get the quantitative data, then, that will help them make this journey map meaningful?

Brian: I think for the most part that’s going to be something you incorporate into your service offering, and then you tap into the client’s customer base. That’s typically how it works.

But you mention a pretty smart thing, because we’re talking about using this for your own marketing.

For example, for content marketing freelancers, consultants, or small agencies, what you do to get clients is exactly what you do for clients except, obviously, the context of the strategy changes from you to them.

When you don’t have that initial audience, you have to dig deeper.

The great thing about doing this type of work is even if you don’t have that direct access to an audience yet, you can still go out and research, and you almost have access to too much information.

Look at the work Lee Odden and Jay Baer have done, and they both have those business models. There’s a lot of best-of-breed information out there that you can extrapolate from, so that’s what I would do.

But once you get going and have direct contact with an audience, there is no better method than going directly to them.

And you know, we do a lot of listening more than we do asking because sometimes you can figure things out that you might not have found out if you asked.

Demian: And Brian, this is your case with Copyblogger.

Maybe it’s your story that is the customer experience, because a lot of the products we have built are because of your experience. If you’re just the solo freelancer or small business owner, you can start with your own story.

And that will mirror a lot of experiences already out there as far as that product, and that will resonate and attract that audience. So that’s a good place to start, too.

Brian: That’s an interesting point, because that’s another variation of The Hero’s Journey. You have the reluctant hero, which is you. “I learned this, and I didn’t really want to share it, but I felt like I should,” and then they become the hero and you become the mentor.

Look at the entire body of work of Star Wars, even though it’s painful to look at the prequels. Originally, Yoda was Obi-Wan, the mentor, and then Obi-Wan went on the journey, and then he became Skywalker’s mentor.

That’s a good point. It doesn’t apply in every context, though it happens to apply in ours.

Jerod: Well, as usual with these Lede conversations, the 20 minutes have absolutely flown by. Demian, I’ll actually give you the pleasure of asking the final question, if you’d like to.

Authority Rainmaker 2015

Demian: All right, so let me set this up.

In May 2015, we’ll have Authority Rainmaker 2015 — our second conference, our second live-gig public conference.

I think it’s safe to say the first one was a success. We sold out 400 tickets five months before the event. People who were there loved it. We loved it. So it was a good success.

My question for you is, last year’s keynote speaker was Seth Godin. This year’s closing keynote speaker, I think, is pretty peculiar. It’s this guy named Henry Rollins, right?

Can you explain why you chose Henry Rollins for this event? What does the spoken poet, punk rocker, aggressive, angry guy have to tell other content marketers and business owners?

Brian: Well, thanks for the question, Demian, because no people in the company who don’t know why Henry Rollins is there get to come. So we just saved ourselves a plane ticket right there. (Laughter from everyone.)

Demian: Can you explain the choice to the audience, then? I know. (Brian laughs.) Not only am I fired, but I’m prohibited from the conference now.

(Brian and Jerod laugh.) “Just write content for us, Demian, that’s all we really care about.”

Brian: It’s all working out perfectly. (Laughs.)

Demian: Yeah.

Brian: That’s actually a good question. So of course Henry is our closing keynote. He’s the guy who will kick you in the ass on the way out the door and make sure you go do the work, considering the things you’ve just learned.

We also have Daniel Pink, who will be our opening keynote, and Sally Hogshead, who has done amazing work with her fascination and positioning studies — all of these great things that are relevant to content marketing.

I wanted Henry to close, number one, because I’m a big fan, not just from his Black Flag days.

In the ’80s I heard Black Flag, and I was like, “Who are these angry people? I like this!”

But that was about it. I became a bigger fan later with the Rollins Band and then with his spoken word career, and when he started his own publishing company.

Black Flag basically produced their own records, put on their own shows, and went on their own tours. These were the original DIY media people. And that’s another way to think about content marketing.

You’re not getting a deal with a media company, you are a media company to the degree that you’re making and gauging content and building an audience.

Henry did all those different things pretty much on his own, and then he went to mainstream radio and television and film afterwards.

To me, he’s just the epitome of a guy who works hard — he’s generous, he’s true to himself, he’s the epitome of authenticity.

Who better to hear from after you’ve ingested all of this amazing information to make sure that you go off and do the work? And that’s really what we’re hoping for. But we’re just about to announce the full lineup.

We’ve got people like Danny Sullivan. Ann Handley is the only non-company person who’s returning because we’ve just got to have Ann. Bernadette Jiwa, Michael King, Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute are other speakers.

We’ve got a really strong show from the educational standpoint. We’ve got some really strong, on-point in the traditional sense, keynote speakers, and then we’ve got Henry, who will beat you up if you don’t go do it.

Demian: Is there any connection between the Black Flag logo and the Rainmaker logo?

Brian: I don’t know. You tell me, Demian. (Laughs.) We may have to do a visual demonstration of that at the conference.

It’ll be like a video introduction with the Rainmaker logo bars going down, and then it’ll shift to the Black Flag logo, and we’ll go, “coincidence?”

Now here is the actual, honest truth: I told Rafal, our brilliant designer, “Here’s the name, and I need a logo.” I did not tell him anything else.

Then he came back with that. And I sent him the Black Flag logo, and said, “Rafal, this is my favorite graphic design of all time, and you just made this.” And he was like, “I’m good.” (Laughter all around.)

He’s getting cocky! (Laughs.) Rafal’s been in America too long. He’s starting to get cocky. He’s been hanging out with you guys.

Jerod: Oh, that’s awesome.

Demian: Well, I’m looking forward to hearing about the event after it’s over.

Brian: (Laughs.) We’ll let you come, Demian.

Jerod: I’ll send you a postcard.

Brian: Don’t worry.

Demian: I’ll follow you guys on Twitter. (Brian laughs.)

Jerod: And for anyone else who is interested, Go to to get all the information about the conference.

The super early-bird price is still in effect, too. So I wouldn’t wait. Go check that out, and get all the details because it is going to be a great event.

Brian, thanks for coming on the show with us. We appreciate it, and hopefully we can have you on some future episodes as well.

Brian: Yeah, no problem at all, and we’ll be talking about customer mapping in a little bit more detail. If this didn’t make total sense, don’t worry, of course we will elaborate.

Jerod: Demian’s got a great post coming out on it soon.

Brian: Exactly.

Jerod: All right, everybody. Talk to you guys soon.

Brian: Bye.

Jerod: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Lede.

To get more information about Copyblogger’s 2015 conference, which features keynote speakers Henry Rollins, Daniel Pink, and Sally Hogshead, go to The super early-bird pricing is still in effect, so don’t wait.

If you enjoyed this episode of The Lede, please consider giving the show a rating or a review on iTunes. We always appreciate it when you do.

And finally, since a few of you have asked me on Twitter, be sure to bookmark to access new episodes every two weeks, plus the show notes and transcripts for each episode.

Demian and I will be back in two weeks with a new episode. Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon, everybody.

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*Credits: Both the intro (“Bridge to Nowhere” by Sam Roberts Band) and outro songs (“Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart) are graciously provided by express written consent from the rights owners.