My wife and I were debating what “urban myth” means so we went where all of life’s great debates are resolved – Wikipedia. Here’s what it says:

1. A widely circulated story, often believed to be true by the teller, but usually distorted, exaggerated or fabricated, and often having elements of humor or horror.

Aside from proving that my wife is right again, it also provides an apt description of many Customer Journey Mapping initiatives I’ve seen recently.

The Horror, The Horror.

Customer Journey Mapping is a buzz phrase you hear everywhere these days. Your marketing automation provider says you need it. The agency tells you it’s important. And your boss’ consulting firm calls it “mission critical.”

We’ve seen the outcome of many journey mapping initiatives – sexy diagrams pinned to cubicles and impressive charts projected in conference rooms everywhere. And many are, in a word, horrifying. To clarify, “horrifying” here is defined as costing significant time, money and resources, while delivering little-to-no business value.

So, should you consider journey mapping? My response in the space of this blog is a resounding – Maybe. Your brand and challenges are unique to you. A journey mapping engagement is resource intensive, and you should evaluate its value to the cost carefully.

But while deciding, here a few “truths” to help you think about it:

Truth #1 – There is no one way. There is no one outcome.

Has anyone shown you an official, universally agreed-upon description of what journey mapping should look like? Right. That’s because there is none. A firm selling you an off-the-shelf, trademarked method for journey mapping doesn’t recognize that your product, customers, and competition amount to a unique business challenge.

We’ve executed journey mapping initiatives recently that all look different. In fact, one can argue that half the battle is correctly scoping the definition of journey mapping for your business case.

You might find that everyone in your organization agrees a journey map is needed. It’s hard to argue with. But if you probe your stakeholders, you’ll find that everyone has a different view on what it actually is. You might hear a more CX (Customer Experience), digital marketing-skewed, or a very tech-driven view.

One thing is for sure, you need an agreed-upon definition of what journey mapping means to your organization before starting. Otherwise, horror will ensue.

Truth #2 – It’s Resource-Intensive

A journey mapping initiative, done properly, is resource-intensive in ways beyond the cost and resources. It requires the buy-in and participation of many stakeholders across your organization. From IT, marketing, customer service, retail and beyond, the customer journey knows no bounds and will require contribution across several units within your company.

Also, journey mapping is a “top-down”-type of engagement. Senior/C-level buy-in and participation is the only way to avoid a horror show.

Truth #3 – Customer Journey Mapping is – well – a Journey

Journey mapping for several segments, across all channels, throughout the entire customer lifecycle, is a multi-phase, multi-quarter journey. We recommend a “Crawl, Walk, Run” approach which focuses first on the most critical segments, channels, and moments in the lifecycle that require the most optimization or are the biggest opportunity for incremental revenue growth.

And by the way, to use another lame play on words, “it’s about the journey not the destination.” The initiative shouldn’t be about creating a sexy diagram to hang in your cubicle. Journey mapping allows us to identify the optimal customer experience and the roadmap we need to get there.

Truth #4 – No data. No good.

A successful journey requires data. Whether its GPS coordinates, number of miles, or traffic reports, data ensures we are on the right track, reaching our destination on the most efficient route. We’ve seen journey mapping initiatives devoid of any use, or even mention, of customer data!?!?

So, here’s a hint: If you’re not significantly using real customer data, you’re probably on the wrong path. Or worse yet, you’ll never know when you reach your destination.