The marketing of a product and its user experience are intrinsically linked in consumers’ minds.
Take Apple products. Since Apple launched the first iPod, the company’s marketing wasn’t built around a tagline. Instead, marketing highlighted a product experience that was truly distinct from anything else on the market. The product was the message.
Apple grew because it knew that consumers make little distinction between the experience of learning about and actually using a product. A brand is now the sum of a company, its people, its products, and its marketing. Each aspect of a brand affects and is affected by the others.
Since my first job at The Coca-Cola Company Think Tank to my current work with altr, an experience design firm I co-founded, I’ve witnessed the continual blurring of the lines between marketing, product, and corporations.
At Coca-Cola in 2001, few people thought that protests in India over a Coca-Cola bottler drilling wells during a drought might affect the business globally. Today, though, customers worldwide #DeleteUber as a response to the company’s many recent scandals.
This connection between marketing and the product experience creates an opportunity for marketers and user experience designers to learn from, and work with, each other.
Focus on Empathy
Effective marketers know and understand their target. So do effective UX designers.
Today’s UX and marketing strategists recognize that people are dynamic beings whose needs change. They push beyond the old media-driven static personas that define people simply by the shows they watch and magazines they read.
The customer journey model lets marketers illustrate, understand, and plan for those changes. According to the customer journey, people’s needs evolve as they move from awareness to consideration to purchase.
This model illustrates customers' shift in focus throughout the phone-buying process. The model lets marketers ascertain what customers may be considering as they move toward purchasing a no-contract phone.
User experience designers need to understand the customer journey model, too. When a potential customer interacts with a product, their expectations, needs, and willingness to engage further all shift.
First-time users are often focused on setup and onboarding. They want immediate, positive feedback. Over time, that user’s expectations will shift toward continued improvements in utility and understanding.
An application we designed to help CPAP users who suffer from sleep apnea illustrates this evolution of expectations.
When the user registers, the app asks for the minimum amount of critical information. Since the app is a medical product, it asks for more than the standard consumer application, but that can allow the user to trust the app’s expertise. Registration also sets the stage for the app’s value over time, as users can set wellness goals.
To give users reasons to come back to the app, as well as better understand the sleep data captured by their CPAP machines, we created a coaching interface that connected “soft data” about how people felt and slept to more inscrutable types of data, like “AHI” and “apneas.”
Soft data (left) and hard data (right)
The most important part of the user experience wasn’t the ease of getting started, but the reasons the system gave for users to return to the app. The app created a rapport with users – that is, it created empathy.
To continue to provide value, user experience designers need an empathetic, dynamic understanding of the people they are designing for.
Make New Ideas Relatable
Great marketers can show how new ideas, products, and services enhance and fit into customers’ lives.
Even a truly disruptive product like the iPhone was effective because Apple presented it in the context of everyday activities (like taking pictures, surfing the internet, texting, and listening to music). To successfully sell the iPhone, Apple showed customers how the device enabled these common, relatable things in an integrated, mobile way.
Innovative user experiences should connect to people’s established behavior, or else the bar for understanding and adoption will be too high. Sometimes this means referencing the old way of doing things, and sometimes it means borrowing a common behavior as the basis for your own user experience.
For example, Twitter and Facebook pioneered the “feed” as a way of consuming information. Now everything from Slack to Instagram to an app we designed for real estate agents has a feed.
The feed is a pervasive and familiar design feature, which makes it a strong foundation for building new experiences.
Plan Across Media Channels
Today, all marketers need a cross-channel strategy to effectively connect with their customers.
People don’t think about media channels separately. Instead, they navigate seamlessly between them – they use devices while watching TV or reading a magazine.
Good marketers think about every opportunity to connect, and they consider the unique opportunities that each medium provides, from the mass reach of television to the more personalized marketing of retargeted online display ads.
User experience designers should think similarly about the different devices and tools people use.
When mobile devices first hit the scene, product designers asked themselves why a user would access something on the go. Now the conversation has shifted to asking why someone might want to do something only on a desktop computer.
While there’s a continued blurring of the lines between what people will and won’t do on various devices, some differences remain.
We find this to be particularly true in designing software for professionals. Physicians, for example, value alert notifications for a patient problem on a mobile device. To diagnose the cause of the problem, they need a higher resolution of information than can be provided on today’s phone screens.
In cases like the medical information displayed above, considering cross-device variations in experience is a worthy exercise. Someone viewing those graphs on a phone will struggle to interpret the data.
Know That Words Matter
Some of the most effective campaigns are built around simple, powerful statements. “If you see something, say something” and “Just Do It” are clear, memorable, taglines that motivate action and serve as the foundations for the brands they represent.
In experience design, words have similar power. Words give direction, inspire exploration, and set the tone for an experience.
Think of the difference in experience when your iPhone welcomes you with “Hello” rather than your PC’s greeting of “Starting Windows.”
One is the beginning of a strong brand relationship. The other is a brand asserting itself in place of a real relationship.
Marketing and User Experience: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Whether you are marketing or designing a product, your highest-level objective is the same: to connect with people and give them reasons to engage.
To sell something, marketers must always think about the people a product is for and how that product can be made meaningful. These are the same questions user experience designers should consider throughout the design process.
Effective marketers and user experience designers never waver in their focus on their target users, what they do, and what motivates them.
About the Author
Geordie McClelland is the founder and chief of strategy at altr, a user experience and digital marketing collective working with clients including athenahealth, Iora Health, Bentley University, Best Doctors, and Jitterbit. Prior to founding altr, Geordie has worked in-house and as a brand, marketing, and user experience consultant with companies including The Coca-Cola Company, MINI USA, Virgin Mobile, Fidelity Investments, The McGraw-Hill Company, and Thomson Reuters.