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.