It seems to be happening more these days. Marketing people, all over, have fallen in love with user experience. Whether it’s just the term that excites them, or they have found a clever spin to throw it into their marketing campaigns, somehow these clever folks are starting to pull UX into their ranks. Tisk, tisk. I’m here to tell you, UX does not belong to marketing, nor should it be a function of marketing.
In the life-cycle of developing something new, making changes or adding to the mix, many disciplines are involved. From CEO’s, product directors, engineers to project managers, designers, and business analysts, everyone has a stake in the future success of any given project. Every role plays a vital part. It’s a dynamic dance of strategies, tactics, esthetics, time, execution, funding and so on.
User experience lies in an interesting foggy space within organizations that floats between multiple departments, which makes it difficult to place into the traditional hierarchy. This space in which UX falls into is what leads to internal power struggles of who should own the UX people. Considering the practice is now gaining serious traction and focus, business leaders are beginning to realize, user experience professionals touch many areas of the business. From design, interaction, marketing to product, engineering etc. That’s right, UX should be important to almost every arm of a business that has an interaction with a client or consumer. It’s not long before leaders begin to ponder, who should this person or team fall under? More on that later.
So what is a [user] experience professional. It’s quite simple. They are the voice of the consumer, client and customer within an organization. It is their responsibility to make sure once a person comes in contact with a product, space or service that their interactions are positive, easy, intuitive, predictable and enjoyable.
Wait a minute! That sounds very similar to what marketing likes to do. True. Maybe 10+ years ago, marketing had a strong influence there. Today, marketing has evolved in to a highly optimized profession of persuasive crafty language, slick visuals and an arsenal of distribution tools to ensure the brand maintains favorability and priority placement in the hearts and minds of people. It has remained marketing’s mission to create an image that encourages specific feelings about a product, service or brand. In layman’s terms, they are the voice of the company.
Clearing the Fog
– Marketing set the expectations before an interaction, and reinforces positive emotions post interaction.
– UX ensures the actual interaction is enjoyable, predictable, positive, on target and builds favorable emotional associations with the interaction.
Marketing: You will LOVE what we have to offer, it’s just what you need and want and at fantastic price! Better than all the rest!
UX: I want to make this so easy, well thought out, pretty for you, and make it do exactly what you expect of it. Does it??
Marketing: Didn’t I tell you it was great, you should visit more often. Be sure to tell your friends and family.
An example of an exercise performed by both UX and marketing experts is the focus group. Although they are conducted using many different methods, it’s a tool shared by both disciplines. They are an effective tool used by both UX and Marketing crews. They are an invaluable method of extracting information and identifying potential problems. This is where the similarities end. UX professionals will gather a completely different perspective than their marketing counterparts. A UX professional is focused on the interaction at the exact time a person interacts with what’s being presented. They watch eye movement, hesitations, speed, behavioral patterns, fluidity and so on. They want to know what is causing these nuanced behaviors. Are they grasping the various concepts as intended? Are they able to achieve their goal with ease? Is that an inadvertent roadblock? All though a marketing person may have interest in these, they are far more interested in a persons perceptions and recollections of their interaction. A persons actual interaction and behavior is not necessarily the same as how they remember it. This is in part because we naturally place our own experiences and expectations on to the things we interact with and remember them through that lens. Since marketing is largely about perceptions and tuning a company’s message to an intended audience, they can craft a strategy of attracting more like minded people. UX is about fitting the mental model of the person who is interacting with a product or service.
Exit interviews can also be used to help marketing guru’s find common narratives that may be used in their future campaigns, while a UX professional will want to understand the specifics of what a person expects, and hear their struggles and listen for clues to solutions. A UX professional is never to lead a person to think a certain way or suggest different behaviors directly. This should be done through the interaction it’s self. A marketing expert on the other hand can plant seeds to test effectiveness of message or alter a persons perception of the interaction they just had. Again, we can see the very clear similarities in this example. It’s the motivators and purpose which differ. Often times, they are at odds which is why UX should never be a function or a part of marketing. Their influence can very easily undermine UX’s ability to maintain the integrity of the consumers voice.
Once a product or service is released, it’s largely the responsibility of marketing to carefully scrutinize the flood of data, understand the purchasing patterns and make appropriate adjustments to their messaging. These matrices are shared with UX, since UX uses the same information when addressing future changes when a problem has been discovered or a trend is emerging that should be incorporated or adjusted. As you can see, it’s the way the data is used that is different.
The question remains. If UX is not a function of marketing, then where in an organization does it belong? It’s a pickle, for sure, and there’s no absolute right answer. Every organization needs to form a structure that best fit it’s needs and goals. Anecdotally, UX should not be part of any internal organization that can’t provide it freedom from internal agendas, power plays, and pet projects of management chain of command. All of the aforementioned can easily and unfairly influence the process and outcome of the final product or service in their favor. It should ideally always be in the favor of the client or consumer.
UX professionals need to have the freedom to research, study and find solutions that will make things work for its intended audience, and provide thoughtful, documented recommendations to decision makers. If you want your recommendations tainted by agendas, add UX to product, design, engineering or marketing. It won’t be long before it becomes obvious that unwanted filters and egos are influencing direction and sometimes keeping research based suggestions from reaching decision makers. This is often a result of someone not liking, or sees a challenge they don’t want to tackle with given findings and recommendation. Ideally it should be a group that is able to work directly with marketing, sales, design, engineering, business analysts, etc as needed to achieve the best outcome for the end user. It’s important to know however that every department that is impacted by UX should receive the same information (research deliverables / recommendations / drafts) when delivered. This will help keep the playing field level and lead to effective prioritization and planning.
When a product or service is released into the wild, the work performed by UX should yield virtually zero significant surprises. So, you see, UX is not a function of marketing, however, it’s something marketing departments around the world can bank on for their success. After all, predictability is marketings best friend.