User Experience of Marketing: Align Your Marketing to Customer Needs

User experience of marketing? This is a tricky topic.

Traditionally, marketers never thought of user experience much because they believe marketing is all about pushing something to users, and user experience can and should be sacrificed in the name of selling services and products. On the other hand, user experience professionals or UXers, as we fondly call ourselves, hold disdain towards such marketing practice because we feel marketing, albeit a necessary evil to keep a business profitable, inherently undermines user experience through aggressively promoting business at the cost of seamlessly supporting user needs.

These are all false assumptions: User experience and marketing can and should come together in driving business success, without compromising user experience.

How? By adopting a mind set of aligning marketing to user needs. Here’s a list of to-dos:

Do Not Divert Users from Their Primary Goals on Your Site

When we market to users, one thing we often forget is that users couldn’t care less about our marketing efforts and didn’t seek or expect to see ads and promotions. When they come to our sites or mobile apps, they have specific objectives in mind. Therefore we have to work with, not against, users’ natural ways of doing things.

For example, if you design an eCommerce site, you should never have promotions in users’ checkout process, as their objective is clearly only about going through the transaction (an exception is if you want to promote a credit card, which is relevant to the user goal here). On the other hand, you can show promotions — such as your site is now offering a new product category — when they’re exploring shopping ideas on the homepage. The example below, a module on the eBay homepage, shows a great way to promote shopping ideas to users — on the homepage when users tend to explore shopping ideas, eBay adds value by showing the right promotional materials at the right time.

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Add Value by Meeting Users’ Hidden Needs

Given that users typically don’t proactively seek Web promotions on a website or mobile app, this means in order to capture their attention, the promotions have to provide value — in the users’ eyes, not in the marketers’ eyes — that meet users’ hidden needs.

For example, when an investor visits Vanguard’s website in order to download the prospectus of the Vanguard funds in his portfolio, that’s a perfect opportunity to show a related fund — say show an emerging market fund if the user it downloading the prospectus of a Brazil fund.

This way, you’re adding value and pleasantly surprise yours rather than force something irrelevant onto them.

Avoid Looking Like an “Ad”

This sounds like an oximoron — if it’s an ad, it’s an ad. Why making it appear otherwise? But time and again, through so many user interviews I conducted, there seems no better advice when it comes to designing ads and promotions.

Why? Because users have a deeply rooted and indeed quite understandable belief that ads are designed to benefit the business and take advantage of the consumers. So they wisely chose to ignore anything that resembles an ad, both visually and content wise.

The fix is actually quite simple — re-think your design and content strategy:

Don’t think that you are creating ads and promotions — instead, think that you are creating content that adds value to users, and your marketing material will indeed feel like value-added content to users.

For example, instead of promoting — using marketing-like language and visual gimmicks — a new product offering, suggest to users that to receive added benefits they can check out this new product. Here, we frame marketing in language that users accept — we understand your needs and are trying to help out.

Reinforce Your Brand Through the Lens of User Benefits

It’s often the objective of your marketing to reinforce your brand so that customers remember it better, which naturally translates into more purchasing. The sad news is, when reinforcing brand, lots of companies focus on themselves, saying things like “celebrate our 100 years in business” and “we’re the fastest growing company in Boston”. I’ve interviewed many customers about their reaction toward such marketing messaging, and what I’ve heard time and again is that they don’t care — if they don’t see how the “100 years in business” can benefit them. They do care, however, if your branding messages spell out how the business can benefit them.

Let’s take BMW for an example. The tagline, “the ultimate driving machine”, clearly presents a huge user benefit for consumers who are athletic-driving-minded, and therefore resonates with consumers and helps drive BMW sales.

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On the other hand, a message like “Vanguard, a strong foundation” is rather vague in communicating user benefits. Does mean that Vanguard mutual funds outperform competitor funds, costs less, or more diversified and therefore safer investment instruments? It’s completely unclear what users will get from that.


Conclusion: It’s All About Adopting a Customer Centric Mind Set

Here we talked about a few approaches that can help you get through your customers when marketing services and products. But in fact, it’s quite simple — fight the urge of self promoting and turn your attention to those that matter, your customers, and you’ll find your way through their hearts and minds, while making more money for your company.

–> Read on to see actionable marketing tips.

By Frank Guo



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