At the end of last year, strategists at BBH London were ‘invited’ to compete for The Write and Black Sheep Prize, an internal writing competition. Answering the question ‘If I were a marketer today what zag (general or category specific) would I make?’ in 400 words didn’t faze their planning brains – there were many brilliant entries. 

Here’s the second of our shortlisted entries – Strategy Director Tom Roach on the distorted worldview of customer journeys.

The World in a Cloverleaf
The World in a Cloverleaf

Medieval maps often placed detailed illustrations of Jerusalem at the heart of wildly inaccurate depictions of the world.

Like early map makers, whose worldviews were bent out of shape by the dominant views of the day, our perceptions of customer journeys have become wildly distorted.

The last click has become the Holy Grail. We obsessively optimize the final stages of the journey whilst remaining remarkably incurious about the long periods beforehand.


The very first online ad was produced in 1994 for AT&T. It had a click through rate of 44%, incredible by today’s standards where online display averages 0.06%. It was, briefly, a source of difference and competitive advantage.

Its inventors possessed a belief in the power of difference rarely seen in the performance-marketing gold rush that followed.

Marketers are now hooked on efficiently driving customers along the online journey, often via an ever-expanding and murky network of affiliates, publishers and agencies who feed their habit.

Our focus has shifted downstream, multiple brands often focusing on the same point in the journey, using the same channels and tactics to target the same customers.

And every time new platforms become available we default to using them, layering them on top of existing journeys, further fragmenting limited resources.

Rather than seeking marginal gains at every stage of the journey, perhaps we need to shift to a strategy of aiming for exceptional gains at only one or two.

Some brands do this already: John Lewis wins via customer service and only chooses to win social fame at Christmas; Apple wins via design and its product ecosystem; Red Bull wins via content, opting for invisibility in broadcast.

Business strategists would recognise this as something akin to ‘Blue Ocean Strategy, which aims to create uncontested blue oceans of market space in order to create a category of one that makes your competition irrelevant.

Applying this thinking to customer journey mapping would mean creating accurate maps of the full on and offline journeys for our brands.

Then it would mean determining where precisely on the journey to deploy the power of difference, where to be present but not different, and crucially, where to be different by being absent.

We mostly use maps to help optimize campaign performance. But they could also help steer us to our true destination: long-term competitive advantage.