Start Think­ing About Mark­er Moments — not Cus­tomer Journeys
August 9th | 2018

You just got home from a decent day at work, but man, that commute blew.

You’d really do anything to make the construction that’s popped up on what seems like every highway entrance disappear. As you finally collapse onto a barstool at the kitchen counter to take care of the mail and messages before starting dinner, you get a bill for your daughter’s latest doctor appointment — you know, the one where they made you wait 45 minutes and then they couldn’t even tell you what was causing her allergic reaction.


Your internal monologue goes something like this:

A bill for how much? Can they even charge that? This consultation was five minutes long, tops! What do these codes even mean? Why doesn’t my employer have better health insurance? Were they lying when they told me it was good? This doesn’t make any sense. I hate everything.

Chances are you’ve been here — or some­where very sim­i­lar — and it’s prob­a­bly a moment you’re unlike­ly to forget.

And that means, when someone asks you about health insurance or your doctor’s office, the answer you’re likely to give is probably pretty negative. It could be as tame as, “Dealing with them is so horrible,” or it could be…a lot more colorful. But either way, the person you’re talking to is going to walk away thinking worse of them.

The point is this: you remem­ber this moment and it changes your per­cep­tion of the com­pa­ny and peo­ple involved.

And the reason this moment sticks, and not others, is that you experienced it in a heightened emotional state — a state that was the result of both your day and of going through the stress of a health scare with your child. You came into the experience feeling anxiety, frustration, and helplessness, and all of it was exacerbated, rather than mitigated, by an experience that fell far below your expectations. Because you didn’t need a functional transaction (and certainly not one that felt confusing, opaque, and unfair). What you needed was empathy, useful information, and someone to anticipate what you needed next — and all of it delivered in clear, understandable language that related to your real life.

These key emotional experiences are what we call Marker Moments, and they’re the most memorable interactions we have. There are three kinds of Marker Moments: the most positive emotional experiences, the most negative emotional experiences, and the final experiences you have in a process.

The Science of Emotions Illustration

Quick bio inter­lude because science!! 🔬

The upshot is that mak­ing deci­sions is influ­enced by mark­er sig­nals that arise in bio-reg­u­la­to­ry process­es, includ­ing those that express them­selves in emo­tions and feel­ings. And these emo­tion­al mark­ers are often tied to con­texts or sit­u­a­tions, which allows peo­ple to make deci­sions faster lat­er on, when a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion occurs again. It helps us be more effi­cient, but it also means that one major mark­er can be the sin­gle defin­er of a per­son or an expe­ri­ence. And no mat­ter what you do, it’s real­ly hard to change that, for bet­ter or for worse.

Check out:

Anto­nio Dama­sio work on Somat­ic Mark­ers, everyone’s favorite Daniel Kah­ne­man in regards to Sys­tem 1 & Sys­tem 2 Think­ing, or gen­er­al­ly Peak-End The­o­ry.

These key emo­tion­al expe­ri­ences are what we call Mark­er Moments, and they’re the most mem­o­rable inter­ac­tions we have.

They’re the moments that come to mind when you remember a product or brand. And they dictate how you feel about it — and how likely you are to recommend it to people or warn them away from it. And, while it’s obvious that these moments have power, it’s also astonishing how often they’re overlooked when it comes to experience design.

The thing is, when you identify marker moments correctly, you can shortcut dozens of steps of the overwrought, linear customer journeys of yore.

You can skip straight to the experiences that matter most for your consumer — and spend your money where it will actually make a difference.

Because once you’ve found your Marker Moments, you have the opportunity to create interactions that provide for the emotional and functional needs they represent. In other words, you give people what they need and you make them feel good about it. Sometimes it’s as simple as one tiny interaction that makes all the difference. Going back to the opening example, it would mean creating a bill that acknowledges the patient’s needs and concerns, makes it clear what services are being paid for, and explains how those services relate to coverage. In other words, it means creating a bill that feels good to pay. It means focusing on the single most meaningful touchpoint of a long consumer journey, rather than redesigning the whole thing.

That being said, if you’re looking at one touchpoint, it’s important to consider your interaction from a lot of different directions, since it has so much work to do in a single moment of time and space.

We’ve found that the strongest of these inter­ac­tions have four core elements:

Marker Moment Elements
  • Brand:
    Make sure everything feels like the brand — not just design, but content and interactions, too.
  • Awareness:
    Know what the user needs before they ask.
  • Management:
    Address the user’s needs and go beyond expectations.
  • Empathy:
    Leave the user feeling heard, understood, and like their day has just gotten better.

The most effective Marker Moment interactions ensure that the brand meets its customers’ functional AND emotional needs. And, by going beyond expectations, they also create the kind of positive experiences that people are likely to both remember and talk about in the future. In other words, they’re mutually beneficial: customers get a better experience and the brand gets both repeat sales and a better reputation.

Right now, identifying Marker Moments and building interactions around them is something that can give your business an edge. But, in the future, it’s something you’ll have to do just to compete.

Because, with the pace at which tech hurtles forward, there are more potential touchpoints than ever. Every interaction happens faster. And the only way to survive is to focus on the ones that matter most.

Read more about the ways the user experience is changing and what you can do to keep up.