UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 618 February 10, 2011

A Designer and a Marketer Walk Into a Bar...

We're consumers in a media-driven world. And, as such, we've grown used to product placement, telemarketing, "advertorials," and celebrity endorsements. We like football, but we love Super Bowl ads. And we know there's no shame in choking up over a credit card commercial. But treat us like just another "consumer segment," and we'll turn on you in a heartbeat. It's a classic love/hate relationship.

But when did marketing become the Evil Empire? Why is it that marketers are seen as crass manipulators, battling to the death with their pure-hearted UX counterparts? What if you're trying to do both, and doing it for the good of your users?

Why They Gotta Hate on Marketers?

Granted, there are a few bad apples in the world of marketing who have given the rest a bad name. But I'm troubled by the intensity and persistence of the ongoing discord between design and marketing.

First, a little Marketing 101.

Marketing, as a whole, is a big nut to crack. It comprises a lot of sub-specialties such as advertising, market research, media and public relations, pricing, packaging, lead generation, social media, and word-of-mouth. Anything that a company does to establish and grow relationships with their consumers fits under the larger marketing umbrella.

In the past, marketers relied on a few tried and true methods to promote sales. There are the classic "Four P's": product, price, placement, and promotion—promote the right product in the right place at the right price. Then there's AIDA: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. Create the awareness, interest, and desire, and drive the desired action: the purchase.

While marketers were out trying to make the sale, their design counterparts were immersed in the creative process, developing concepts and bringing them to life. And then along came experience designers, claiming that users would ultimately reject any product or service that wasn't easy to use, no matter how pretty it was or how hard it was being sold.

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Experience designers and marketers both have the same end goal in mind: a happy client and a satisfied (and maybe even gobsmacked) customer who will return over and over and tell everyone she knows about her experience.

Good marketers and good designers both ask, "Why?," and "What if?" Why do people choose to buy one product over another? Why do people fall in love with a brand? What would happen if we changed this feature or added that functionality? Good marketers and designers also ask, "How?" How do we get our brand to stand out in people's minds? How do we create a great user experience? If we answered these questions collaboratively, great user experiences would be the norm, not the exception.

It turns out that experience designers and marketers can agree on one thing: ideally, a product's meaning, utility, and value are driven by the needs and wants of that product's user base. Concepts such as customer experience (CX) and relationship marketing have emerged from the marketing industry, while terms like interaction design and user experience have come out of the design industry. But on close examination, it's clear that both terms have a lot in common: they all bring collective focus to winning customers and building loyalty by delivering positive experiences.

Power to the People

Users/consumers are more powerful than ever before. They can post unfavorable reviews online. They can write and promote a negative blog post about a company, product, service, or event. They can share their opinions on Facebook and Twitter.

Some companies rushed to create a Facebook profile and a Twitter feed, and after announcing the arrival of their "social media presence," they called it a day. Smarter companies used Twitter and Facebook to give their fans a voice, and to gather their thoughts, opinions, suggestions, and criticisms. Social media marketing, when used in this way, can be a highly successful approach. Why? Because great marketing—and yes, there is such a thing!—comes from truly understanding who your customers are and what they want or need to do. Does that sound anything like experience design?

Who's Doing It Right?

Below is a short list of companies that are effectively joining experience design and marketing. What do these companies have in common? They know that every impression or every click is a win, even if no financial transaction takes place. They lead with messages that illustrate why they exist and why they created their products or services. And their sites feature prominent calls-to-action with plenty of supporting information that explains the benefits of taking action.

Netflix

Netflix delivers everything that's great about movies. The site is designed to suck you in and keep you browsing, reading user reviews, and sharing your likes and dislikes with other movie fans. You can lose yourself for hours on the site, and not because you can't figure out how to contact customer service.

Netflix nailed branding, with its ubiquitous red envelopes and spot-on name. And, as if movies delivered to our mailbox in postage-paid return envelopes wasn't convenient enough, the geniuses in marketing came up with Instant Watch. Netflix gives us options: discs or no discs, Blu-Ray or regular, streaming through game consoles or Internet-ready TVs, one at a time or all-we-can-watch. It's easy to change plans or report a problem, and losing a disc every once in a while is okay.

ZipCar

ZipCar wants to change the world by providing sustainable solutions to the problem of traffic congestion and pollution by offering members "cars on demand." ZipCar marketers promise that car sharing can be as easy and convenient as car ownership. This promise is kept both in real life, as members get 24/7 access to shared vehicles, and via ZipCar's online and smartphone interfaces.

Disney

Disney marketers know how to spin a once-in-a-lifetime childhood treat into an experience that people want to repeat again and again. Disney "magic" is evident from the minute you arrive at your hotel. The agony of long lines is mitigated by the presence of costumed characters or plasma screens with pre-ride shows. Visitors can avoid lines altogether with Disney's FastPass or MobileMagic. Smart crowd control means everybody exits through the gift shop, where they'll snap up a souvenir or two. And once they've returned home, they'll receive reminders to start planning their next Disney vacation—the experience was enchanting, so why wouldn't they want to rebook?

What Doesn't Work

I recently bought a Toyota Highlander. A few weeks after the purchase, I got a letter from Toyota's head of "Customer Retention." How is that supposed to make me feel good? What a missed opportunity to start building a long-term relationship with the customer!

There have been times when I've been working with clients and have had to step in and speak from the user's perspective. Like the time they wanted to label the "contact us" button "the 411" when their audience might not be familiar with that lingo. As a marketer, I'm familiar with the temptation to be cool and edgy. But, as an experience designer, I also know that the bottom line is, what will work best for the user?

Why We Can't Go It Alone

In this economy, most companies can't create just for the sake of creating or allow their designers to design something that's beautiful but no one knows about.

Marketers accuse designers of being dogmatic and snobby. Designers accuse marketers of being sleazy, manipulative, pushy, and unethical. I don't understand why both sides aren't more focused on what really matters: endearing customers and building loyalty by delivering positive experiences.

Marketers need to understand that features and functions on their own don't motivate decision-making behavior. But when they're combined with good design, they can. Designers have to come to terms with the fact that, to paraphrase Don Draper, they're not artists, "their job is to solve problems with design." And pleasing a creative director isn't as important as creating something that produces measurable results.

Kumbaya, People!

I think that user needs, business needs, best practices and great design should carry equal weight. I wish that marketers would understand the entire design process and not hurry it along. I would love to put an end to the approach that says, "Hey, look at us! We're the best because we say so!" I know that we absolutely have to approach our customers with candor and honesty and treat them like people, not consumer segments.

I know that users (customers, patients, employees) would be better served if marketing and design could work more collaboratively. I'm pretty sure that working together would reduce workplace stress and improve inter-cubicle relationships. I believe that combining our areas of expertise and our understanding of the wants and needs of our users would make us more powerful. Together we can create a holistic customer experience built on the emotions the brand evokes and the actual physical experience of using a site, app, or interface.

And when we accomplish that, we all win.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

With over 15 years of experience in research and experience design, Megan is currently an experience design director at Mad*Pow. She specializes in helping clients discover the attitudes, intents and behaviors of their users and understand what is truly important to them. By being the ultimate user advocate, she is able to improve the organization and presentation of content and refine the messaging in a way that rings true with the audience(s) and meets business goals. She has also been able to flex her marketing strategy muscles, creating new brand identities and developing clear and meaningful strategies for evolving brands.

She is a founding member of the NHUPA. Her speaking gigs have included Refresh Boston, the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, the 2010 Usability Professionals' Association International conference in Munich, 2010 UPA Boston and Interaction11 in Boulder. In addition she served as IxDA’s Interaction12 conference program director.

Megan is on Twitter at @megangrocki.

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Comments

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Thanks for sharing an article that brings a great topic into discussion.

I'm also interested in your research on successful collaborative teams to help address @Dennis and @James' questions.

I can share this from my experience, however. @Simon has got it right: Marketing and UX should start collaborating from the beginning of the process. I think that's where some of the discord lies. Oftentimes, marketing doesn't get to share input in a product or website until it's almost done. It's not fun to be invited to a party when there's hardly any cake left to share.

Our marketing team is in constant communication with engineering to review customer feedback, product specs, etc. Then engineering comes up with use cases, wireframes, and eventually prototypes to get their needs and specifications across and shares them with marketing. We then give feedback and discuss the why's or why not's for areas. All the while, keeping communication lines open.

Visualization is a big part of that by bringing everyone onto the same page with little to no misinterpretations. It may not be easy at first to stick with the process, but the more you do it, the easier and more fluid it becomes, and the quicker marketing and UX can be on the same team.

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Echoing those who find themselves engaging in both marketing and UX.. I would be interested to hear people's tips for making this work in practice, as the potential commonalities seem (to me at least) to be quite apparent.

I come from a market research background but spent more time in user experience research in recent years - two industries that tend to either dismiss or ignore one another. While user experience research and market research have different philosophical starting-off points, there is a great deal of crossover in methods of practice.

Megan & Tracy - if you started a group looking at this I would be interested in joining.

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Thanks for the feedback, everyone!

 

@Horia - as far as lead-generation with forms go, the lower the barrier of entry (i.e. not too many fields to fill out) the better the visitor's experience and ultimately users who have better experiences are more likely to become customers.  It's not unreasonable to ask for someone's email address, as long as they appreciate the value that they're going to get for providing that information.

 

@Fritz - thanks for your comment. I'm flattered that you read this and took the time to respond. Would love to discuss the opportunity that marketers/designers in the healthcare space have to provide the best experience and get the word out.

 

@Dennis - thank you for your notes and for pushing me to keep going with this topic.  You have encouraged me to explore examples of cross-team collaboration and the process of marketing and design working together, above and beyond just a good end result that may or may not have been coincidental. 

Reconciling the differences is a fantastic way to approach this as I move forward.  Thank you!

I also acknowledge that in my hybrid position, I have a different perspective than most, but I felt that there was value in that unique position.

 

@Simon - sounds like your company has it down and are providing customers with the best experience, not just a features checklist.  Leadership is key to a harmonious relationship between a marketing team and a design team.  Thanks for pointing that out. 

 

@Tracy - thank you! Sounds like we have a lot in common. I'd love to connect as well.

 

@Bernardo - thanks for your comment.  Specifically which areas do you think need deeper exploration?  This is a very broad topic, but I'd love to keep the conversation going and provide more insight into explicit areas that would be beneficial to others.

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Thx for writing about this.

I agree With Dennis Nordstrom's comment. This is the second article about mkt & ux relationship I read on the site that does not offer what I expected and covers the matter only superficially.

Anyway keep 'em coming, I'm trying to put the pieces together.

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Wow, Megan, you've taken on a huge topic and it's nice to hear from someone else who walks the line. I'm a marketing person with a passion for UX (and process). Would love to connect with you!

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I am the CEO of a Dutch company which builds usable software by design. One of the previous articles was about leadership and UX. This article is about the same thing. If leadership is not there, then it will be informal, random and fragmented amongst the employees. However when that leads to the situation that collaboration is less then the sum of its parts because teams don't align well, formal leadership actions are appropriate.

My company delivers usable and engaging solutions by starting the designprocess, focusing heavily on iteration of fast cheap test methods, partipatory design and visualisation during the whole process. The product of the design process is a building plan which has to be monitored on conformance of design during the development as it must be a 1-to-1 representation of the design. So it cannot be marketed in a traditional software way, with a featurelist checklist mentality. You can only market it focussing on the quality of the solution in a user context and the user experience. Also they have to focus using visualisation so customers have a wysiwyg insight and secondary the features.
This is our corebusiness. And I think those companies that still not get the leadership right will become extinct.

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I appreciate your article on this subject.
However, from reading your bio it sounds as if you are in a "hybrid" position between UX and marketing.
This is not a position that most designers or marketers find themselves in.

So although I agree with you in that marketers' and designers' goals and objectives certainly are the same, I would still strongly argue that marketers and designers have fundamental differences in their views on how to achieve these goals and objectives.

The real value of your article could have been to offer ways of reconciling such differences. You mention a few examples of companies, who you think have done a good job of combining marketing and UX. But I still miss to see an explanation of how these companies' marketers and designers got along. Maybe they didn't. By showing a good end-result, you have not necessarily proved that the process to get there was smooth, collaborative, and ideal.

I am really interested in this subject, and would love to see a follow up article describing specific ways in which you believe collaboration between marketers and designers can be fostered (workshops, meetings, division of labor, research, hybrid-roles between marketing and design, etc).
Simply "get along" does not provide me with much advice on how marketers and designers can best use each others' expertise to collaboratively develop a product or service that delivers a near perfect user-experience.

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Great article and I totally agree with your examples of companies doing it right: Netflix, Zipcar & Disney. I keep pushing for the opportunities to combine market and usability research and help to focus more on the similarities in our objectives rather than the differences.

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Marketers are seen as evil because the collective impression is that they would sell their soul to make a buck.

Also, in the "battle" between UX and Marketing, it's the Marketer that asks for users to enter their address on the sign-up form and the UX guy that advises against this.

Which version do you think is better for human users?

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You name it in the first sentence: "We're consumers in a media-driven world." Bingo. An obviously limited economic perspective.