UX Magazine attended the 2011 IA Summit in Denver this year to interview conference speakers and attendees. In this video, interviewees respond to the question:

Is Marketing the Evil Empire?

We were expecting to get at least a couple of embittered responses, but instead found consistent opinions that marketing is misunderstood and should be treated as a partner rather than an adversary.


The interviewees, in order of appearance, are:
  1. Carl Collins, R/GA
  2. Beth Koloski, Lead Experience Architect, EffectiveUI
  3. JoAnna Hunt, Blackboard Inc.
  4. Eric Reiss, CEO, The FatDUX Group
  5. Richard Dalton, Manager of IA, Vanguard
  6. Kevin M. Hoffman, Experience Director, Happy Cog
  7. Stephen P. Anderson, Independent Consultant & Creator of Mental Notes
  8. Justin Davis, Founder, Madera Labs
  9. Edwin Lap, COFA Media
  10. Jess McMullin, President, Centre for Citizen Experience
  11. Kyle Soucy, Founding Principal, Usable Interface
  12. Jeff Gothelf, Director of UX, TheLadders.com
  13. Samantha Starmer, Experience Manager
  14. Leanna Gingras, User Research Coordinator, Ithaka
  15. David Gillis, Teehan+Lax
  16. Adrian Iacomi, Information Designer
  17. Param Rengaiah, Solutions Architect, Aspire Systems
  18. Olga Howard, Olga Howard, UX Lead, ThreePillarGlobal.com / PointAbout.com
Carl Collins, R/GA
No, we're all marketers. If you're on the Web and you want somebody to change a behavior—which is one of the hardest things to do, anywhere ever, to get someone to change what they're doing—that's what marketing has been doing forever. If we're not willing to admit that talking about your product, having a product blog, all these things we do… maybe our tone is different, but that's still marketing, and there're still things we're going to borrow from them, always. It's essential.
Beth Koloski, Lead Experience Architect, EffectiveUI
I don't think marketing's the Evil Empire. I think marketing's trying to do the best they can, and sometimes their techniques are dated and sometimes there are things they can learn, but I think they're doing what they can to try to interact with people. They're getting there.
JoAnna Hunt, Blackboard Inc.
No. I think a lot of people think they are, but I think if you can get them working in partnership with you and actually thinking about the experience because they're part of the experience, then they're not evil, they're just different.
Eric Reiss, CEO, The FatDUX Group
The fact that anyone would even consider that marketing is the Evil Empire shows how naive and how insular parts of this particular community have been. It's as though the marketers are them—they're the people we don't want to deal with. But the truth is, if we're talking online, every site has products and customers. Now sometimes it's going to be Jeff Bezos trying to sell books, but it could also be the Boy Scouts of America that are selling citizenship and ethics. Is that evil? Marketing… my god, go to a dating site—did you comb your hair before you sent in your picture? Of course you did. That's marketing too.
I think that people who say marketing is evil are the ones who really don't understand marketing, and it would probably be in their interest to spend a little time to see what is actually happening in marketing, in advertising, read Philip Kotler, read some Peter Drucker, understand how marketers think. Because when you do, you'll realize that most of them are not evil at all.
Richard Dalton, Manager of IA, Vanguard
No, I'm actually working in marketing right now. Our user experience group is part of marketing, and I think that marketing is a necessary part of business as long as it's done the right way—as long as it's done in a user-centric and client-centric way, and not from a way that puts propaganda out there or tries to convince people to do things that aren't in their best interests.
Kevin M. Hoffman, Experience Director, Happy Cog
No, I don't think marketing is evil or an evil empire at all. I think bad marketing is bad, but I think people have emotional relationships with products, and being able to express that is a big part of marketing and I don't have any problems with that.
Stephen P. Anderson, Independent Consultant & Creator of Mental Notes
Is design the Evil Empire? Is writing the Evil Empire? Is programming/developing the Evil Empire? Why single out marketing? I understand why—because of some of the practices—but I think it's separating the practices and acts of a group from the intent. If you look at marketing, fundamentally it's about bringing awareness and promoting a product or a service. I have a product I created—a deck of cards that I try to sell; is it wrong for me to try to get the word out and let people know that there's this product that might be of value to them? No. So is marketing evil? No. Are some things that are done by marketers evil? Possibly, yes. But that's a different question.
Justin Davis, Founder, Madera Labs
Marketing is not evil. They're not inherently evil, they're just misguided. They come from a different place, but they come from a very similar place. We're both trying to create products and services for people and get them to use them. So I think at the root we both want the same thing, we just haven't find a way, all the time, to come together. But I have some clients that are marketing departments, and they're great. I have others that it's a bit little more difficult, but not inherently evil. They just need a little coddling every now and then.
Edwin Lap, COFA Media
Are they evil? I don't know. Are they necessary? Absolutely. Can we live without them? Probably not.
Jess McMullin, President, Centre for Citizen Experience
Of course marketing is not the evil empire. I think marketing will eat our lunch when it comes to getting ahead of the curve on cross-channel customer experience design or service design, at least in North America, because they're further ahead in that game than the UX community is right now. But that means not that they're the evil empire, but that we should probably start to try to join forces and see where our common interests are rather than getting left behind.
Kyle Soucy, Founding Principal, Usable Interface
No. It's funny because I've had a lot more trouble with designers than I've had with internet marketers or just regular marketers. Marketers seem to understand the importance of, at least, market research. User research, I think, at least a good six years ago was something you had to really educate them on. They had to understand, "Why do you have to do user research? I have all this market research here. Doesn't that answer all your questions? I have all this demographic data." They understand now—I think most people do—that we're not stepping on their toes. They get that, and they're all about the same thing we're about. They're about talking, getting customer input. They love their customers if they're good marketers. And I've never had a problem with them. But designers, man… sometimes you can step on their toes pretty easily, especially when you're doing interaction design work. I wouldn't say they're the Evil Empire at all.
Jeff Gothelf, Director of UX, TheLadders.com
Marketing used to be the Evil Empire. I don't think they're that anymore. I think they're becoming more and more acutely aware of the benefits of good experience. Their world has been completely turned upside down by social media and understanding how to incorporate those types of experiences into the marketing campaigns that they'd like to put forth. It's the way that we're bridging the gap between design, user experience, IA, and marketing.
Samantha Starmer, Experience Manager
I do not believe that marketing is the Evil Empire. I think sometimes it can be challenging to work with because they might have a very different perspective, but I don't think we would have jobs without some form of marketing. And so we need to find a way to partner with them.
Leanna Gingras, User Research Coordinator, Ithaka
I don't think so. I think that marketing and user experience should actually try to find ways to work together better because marketing is concerned with selling to users, but user experience is concerned with making users happy. I don't think the two are that different. And I think that if we can join forces, we can probably make a huge difference.
David Gillis, Teehan+Lax
No, marketing is not the Evil Empire. I think if we think about what we do in the context of what advertisers have been doing for years and years, what they've gotten really good at is telling stories and crafting messages. And that's something that I think we need to learn from. And any opportunities we can get to collaborate with marketers who are really good at that, and to learn from them in that respect, I think is good. And I think that in terms of developing impactful, persuasive experiences, the notion of story is very important for those to be meaningful.
Adrian Iacomi, Information Designer
I don't think it is, and I will answer with a quote from Terry Pratchett. He said there are no evil men or good men, there are just opposite sides. So it depends where you are.
Param Rengaiah, Solutions Architect, Aspire Systems
No. Marketing is not the Evil Empire. Marketing, just like any other department, gets their mandate from somebody else. So the person who gives them the mandate, if they give the right mandate and the right kind of message to convey, I think they will do exactly the same job. It's just that they've been put on the spot because they are the face for the entire organization and sometimes it's not the message that the UX community, or the technical community, or the finance community wants to convey. But they are just a channel to get people in and to convey the theme of the company. So I don't think marketing is the Evil Empire.
Olga Howard, Olga Howard, UX Lead, ThreePillarGlobal.com / PointAbout.com
I think marketing is definitely not an evil empire. Marketing is a need for the selling of products and the selling of ideas, and for communication. And if the product is being sold is not a good product, then it's the problem of the product and not of marketing itself. So I would say no.


I think it is and its ruinning our country. A few years it was the Financial Industry 'Wall Street" that almost destroyed our nation. More recently Marketing and marketers have gained the title  "The Evil Empire". Why because of they have taken  "bending the rules" to a whole other level. If there wasn't any truth to this then nobodywould be asking.

Why evil ?
I don't think so.

the evil of the marketing starts from the moment people acknowledge on the existence of a product/service/brand... thing. Up to that point we can call it pure communication... However, even that can be done right from the beginning of a tempting manner (marketing comm.) :))) Brand itself is evil for its' promise roots on temptation and diferentiation. All we do in this respect is evil, and every (non-marketeer) spiritual being will accept it as likely. Still wondering why Jesus messed with the merchants at the Temple?... :))) Well, don't. And mind they were no Christians in that time... The problem is that the evil is so damn well hidden into details, that nobody sees or willing to see "it" anylonger. No doubt we're doomed!... :) The evil one did an outstandig job until now...

It's a non sequitur, as non-UX trained brand marketers are almost obsolete, and non-UX based marketing is no longer the Empire. The non-UX trained marketer engaged in plenty of ruthless activity, and now that UX-trained marketers are subsuming brand delivery, it quite honestly remains to be seen what highs or lows the UX-trained marketer will rise or sink to. Certainly there are already examples of start-ups being cleverly packaged and sold via slick UI's to unwitting investors in the absence of any real critical product definition or analysis.

Let's not be so naive as to think that the UX-trained will necessarily be less ruthless than the MBAs after time wielding serious spend $. Ask the question properly then - "are UX marketers an evil Empire?" The first thing pickpockets and three-card monte hustlers learn is to become user-centered. Grow up guys. YOU are the Empire. What are YOUR intentions?

The thought that marketing is evil and the enemy is absurd. If a you can't find common ground between your organization's goals and your users' (customers'/prospects') needs then you can't do your UX job properly.

That said, I often find that marketers who are not experienced with UX operate from a less-than-user-centric top-down paradigm. As a UX professional there are certainly some hurdles to clear with these folks.

Our mantra is "Everything is a marketing problem."

I've spent 30 years as an Ad Guy. Being a Creative Director in ad agencies puts you in a position to have to find that piece of magic in every product you sell. And I had to hone my skills at finding out what will make a prospect care and eventually buy. This applies to any piece of corporate communication. The brand promise has to be there and that brand promise has to be based on what our customers want.

If we don't please the customer... We're all out of work.

As I've moved further and further into UCD, I can see that the art and science of human behavior has to include the emotional responses of need and desire. That's where the marketing problem hides. We've developed a process we call The Dozen that allows us to very quickly (in the case of public facing, marketing driven sites) determine who our most important customers are and what they want when they get to the site.

We're able to grid out the concepts that need to be there and rank in importance, then use that information to build out the sitemap and page structure. It's a fast and efficient system based on the rules of UCD, but with a foundation in selling. UCD without real marketing understanding is only half the picture!

@Sonali We asked the same question of 20 people and they all said "no." We thought we'd get at least a few yeses, but ultimately everyone was in agreement about this. I think it's interesting that a group of UX pros would all answer the same way... if we'd asked this question four years ago I think we would have gotten different responses. It shows a growing maturity in the the relationship between UX and marketing.

@Scott I don't see any issues with the aspect ratio... it's 4:3 and doesn't look distorted. Are you having an issue that I'm not seeing?

Aspect. Ratio. Please.

The challenge for me is not with marketing as a practice but with 'marketing managers'. Marketing managers tend to have a small amount of knowledge on all things related to marketing (e.g., a/b testing, point-of-sale/retail, telesales, web marketing, usability, persuasion); they're generalists. When thrust into a team of subject matter experts, such as designers and user researchers, marketing managers act as though *they're* experts and will often-times expect the SMEs to convince them of the validity of their approach rather than the other way around.

Yes, we all -- visual designers, writers, interaction designers, researchers, analysts -- are marketers. *We* recognize that. It's the marketing managers who do not recognize that -- those are the people who form the Evil Empire.

Wow, Jonathan, when I first used that phrase in my article, "A Designer and a Marketer Walk Into a Bar..." (http://uxmag.com/strategy/a-designer-and-a-marketer-walk-into-a-bar) I had no idea how much controversy it might stir up.

I’m so glad to see you take my idea a step further to actually find out what our fellow UXers had to say.

Happy to see, at least in this sample of UX professionals that marketing is evolving, and that working with marketing is seen as an opportunity and not a threat.

Why does this video not engage in debate? You have picked a whole set of interviews that have the same point of view. It also feels like people are being polite vs. really critical.

I think anybody viewing marketing as evil is pretty funny. I view marketing more as freedom of speech than anything else: you're simply using your available resources to spread a message. Regardless, marketing is headed more away from a strict centralized direction to more decentralized social media where masses people pretty much control where and how messages get spread. Look at new marketing opportunities with sites like http://facebook.getmorepopular.com where you're able to get Facebook fans. Being able to spread a message through masses of people is the new trend and is just the realization of people's free choices.