The changing shape of the digital world as we know it is going to make an understanding of user experience even more imperative.
User experience is becoming an increasingly popular feature of the digital landscape. But as digital marketers, we don’t always have a clear view of what it is, and how it impacts our work.
In my work as a user experience designer, we often work closely with digital marketers. Although the budgets for both types of work often come under the broad heading of “marketing money,” the responsibilities of each and the outcomes they deliver vary considerably.
In this article, I’ll brief digital marketers on some of the fundamentals of user experience, and how it impacts their work.
1. User Experience Is Not Just About Interfaces
The biggest misconception about user experience is that it is about creating beautiful interfaces. While this is part of user experience, it’s really only a small part of a much larger discipline with a broader mandate. The act of designing an interface – most often when it occurs on a screen – is called user interface design, or interaction design.
This is a subset of user experience, and only part of a much broader spectrum of skills associated with the discipline.
Distilled to its essence, user experience is fundamentally about the relationship between people and technology. More than that, it’s about identifying and designing that relationship. As the amount of technology and digital disruption in the world increases, so too, the nature of this relationship comes to the fore. With wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming ever more prevalent, this disruption will increase, while the perceptions of user experience as being tied only to screens will also be challenged.
2. User Experience Touches the Product Itself, Not Just the Promotion of It
There is a fundamental difference between digital marketing and user experience, and it really boils down to this: marketing is about making people want things. Design is about making things that people want.
User experience is driven by design. This means that it tends to live more naturally toward the product design end of the spectrum. User experience designers have the habit of asking “why?” about many product decisions. This can at times place them at odds with marketing teams, who are normally more closely focused on how to drive more sales of a given, fixed product. At the same time, user experience designers often work in close proximity with digital marketing teams, and are often responsible for some of the optimization that happens with campaigns.
Inevitably in the course of doing this, user experience designers will start to challenge some of the assumptions of the product, based on their proximity to the users of it. This can help digital marketers, as it can give them valuable intelligence around how to sell or position a product more effectively.
3. Experience Happens Anyway – You Only Get to Decide Whether You’ll Design for It
Experiences with the products we promote happen, regardless of whether or not we’ve included them in our marketing plan. Put simply, the most important marketing we will ever do usually happens outside the moments or channels we market to, and it’s called experience.
Much of digital marketing is focused on the channels we can reach customers through: print, digital, mobile. But the problem is that customers are really just people with a need – which our product addresses.
And this is the hitch: people don’t have channels – they tend to live between the gaps in channels. Only relatively recently have we begun to address this, with concepts such as cross-channel experiences, or even omni-channel experiences. But these concepts are broken. They buy into the business logic, and seek to explain customers in terms of the businesses own capability, rather than the customers’ own needs.
This fundamentally cripples most marketing efforts from the outset, as much of the problem of conversion rates tend to live in these gaps. These gaps are where user experience design lives. Having a user experience designer as part of your digital marketing team will help to redress this imbalance.
4: User Experience Uses Multiple Research Approaches
Digital marketing typically doesn’t generate much in the way of research. Often, the relationship with research tends to be limited to interpreting the outputs of a broader marketing-focused research program. Marketing research tends to be focused more on quantifying a known market, for a fixed product. This tends to make it often focus much more on quantitative methods.
In contrast, user experience is an intensively research focused discipline, that is naturally focused on discovering and understanding real human needs that can be solved for with a well designed product. This means that the methodological focus for design research is qualitative in nature. This makes it excellent at framing a problem or situation, so that it can be more accurately assessed quantitatively.
The two approaches naturally complement each other, and help to both ensure that a product is generating real human value for customers, and that it is easily discoverable so that businesses can generate commercial value, also.
5. User Experience Will Subsume Much of What Currently Counts as Digital Marketing
Controversial? Maybe. Inevitable? Yes.
The social Web has already disrupted marketing to an incredible degree. What used to be primarily a discipline in managing returns on broadcast media expenditure has evolved to become a discipline of managing conversations and contributing to communities.
As a result, the onus has shifted to organizations to create real value for their customers. Many practitioners, indeed most companies, still struggle with this – you can’t buy good reviews for a bad product – not any that will survive the social Web, anyway.
So what will happen when not just people, but products become part of the social web? With the dawn of the Internet of Things, we’re faced with an even greater force for disruption – in the future, most interactions on the social Web will be between products, or products and people – not just people. And marketing has little to add to this.
We can’t sell to connected toasters or fridges. The ubiquity of technology promised by the Internet of Things promises to fundamentally shift the relationship and understanding we have with technology. It will no longer be something we can comfortably distance ourselves from, or that we can switch off or put into our pocket.
It will be everywhere, and invisible. It will be “on” forever. And so the core skills of digital marketing will cease to be attributable to digital marketing alone, and will instead be subsumed into larger conversations around digital products and services – more specifically, they will be essential ingredients in well designed products – not just optional bolt ons to a static, existing offering.
It is in this space that user experience thrives. Because as a discipline it has never been about technology, but about people. About understanding people and the role that technology should have in their lives, and what types of lives it might help people to lead.
What do you think? Is there a natural role for user experience designers in digital marketing, or is user experience simply digital marketing “done well”? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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