At Splash Effect, we do a lot of work in the higher education space and our team has spent most of their careers telling the stories of students and their universities or colleges through best-in-class digital marketing initiatives that have resonated throughout their communities and the industry. If you were to see this website, you’d know the kind of courses that we help students get through.

Part of this success lies in our front-row seats to the age of digital disruption. We understand changing consumer behaviours and expectations in this new age because we became marketers having experienced the ever-widening gap between brands and consumers, and having witnessed first-hand how social media bridged that gap for many of the early adopters.

We realized early on that reaching students and driving the key metrics of recruitment, engagement, and retention, would no longer be possible by doing things the way they’ve always been done, recognizing that posters, e-mails, flyers, street teams, and banners would be ineffective in a world dominated by Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.

However, we are no longer the young, spritely marketers we once were. Now we are more seasoned and experienced and with that comes some disconnect from what digital marketing tactics will resonate with the youth we are so often tasked with targeting through our work in higher education.

Once upon a time the journey of a student was very much like our own because not long ago that journey was our own. We once could trust our gut, but now our “gut feeling” is increasingly off the mark. For this reason we developed some methods to help us help our clients get back on the same page with students.

Enter the user journey map.

What is a user journey map? A user journey map — the student journey map — is arguably one of the most complex user mapping exercises, as it involves a significant number of stakeholders, concurrent processes, and spans over many years. It’s a map that tells the story of a student’s journey through the student life cycle (or a phase of it).

In order to solve for the end user, you must first understand the end user. There are two key ways to do this:

Personas a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.

Profiles are the quantitative part of the puzzle. describe groups of customers based on known facts or data. customer profiling is mostly segmentation.

The goal of a user journey map is simply: develop attunement.

“Attunement is the capacity to take another’s perspective, to understand their interests, and to see the world from their point of view.” — Daniel Pink (“To Sell is Human”)

There’s typically five key components in a user journey map:

  1. THINGS TO GET DONE: What is the user trying to achieve?
  2. ACTIVITIES: What is the user doing to get things done?
  3. EMOTIONS: What is the user feeling throughout?
  4. BARRIERS: What obstacles are in the user’s way?
  5. INSIGHTS: What can we infer from the data?

In the case of post-secondary education, the things to get done might look like this:

  1. LEARN

The things to get done component is the most important component. It’s the premise upon which everything else is built. The structure is simple:


The student experience needs to be better. Always.

Here’s how to engage in a full student journey mapping process:

  1.  START WITH THINGS TO GET DONE: Start sketching out your map by describing what jobs a specific customer of yours is trying to get done.
  2. ADD PAINS AND GAINS: Describe the pain your customer experiences or could experience before, during, and after getting the job done. do the same thing for gains — for every benefit your customer expects, desires, or would be surprised by.
  3. DESCRIBE YOUR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES: List all the products and services your value proposition is built around.
  4. OUTLINE HOW YOU INTEND TO CREATE VALUE: Describe how your products and services create value by either killing customer pains or creating customer gains.

At Splash Effect, we use as a base from which we map out our user journeys.

REMEMBER: User journey maps are a work in progress. By nature, they are always incomplete. They are living and breathing documents.

How can you collect the information above?


  1. Focus Groups (Student, Staff, Faculty, etc.)
  2. Logs of Frequently Asked Questions
  3. Surveys
  4. 1-on-1 Interviews


  1. Google Analytics
  2. Analysis of Social Media (ie. HootSuite, Sprout Social, etc.)
  3. CRM Data (ie. Hubspot, Salesforce, CollegiateLink, etc.)
  4. Institutional Data

Use a student journey map to do the following:

  1. Prioritize Investments
  2. Simplify the Student Journey
  3. Appreciate the Emotional State of Students
  4. Spread this Information
  5. Better Understand Other Areas of the Student Journey
  6. Annual Benchmarking
  7. Create New Products & Services
  8. Dispel Myths
  9. Put Students First
  10. Avoid “HIPPO” (Highest Important Paid Person’s Opinon) Decision Making

For education professionals reading this, I’d like to remind you that students are both are customer and our product. The user journey map is a critical step in investing in improving our programs, services, and events for them.

If you’re interested in having Splash Effect conduct a user journey mapping exercise for your institution, don’t hesitate to drop us a line!