Usability and Market Research Combined

Over the course of the last month, I did four focus groups exploring mental models and gathering conceptual feedback on how users wanted a company to present communication. This next month I will be doing something similar for another company where we will not only gather user expectations, but also determine if there is even a need for the product or an expectation of how that product would be presented.

I find that in the focus groups, more than any other type of usability research that marketing and market research, specifically are integrated into the questions, the responses and the analysis.

That is why I was happy to see the following article posted on UX Magazine today.

Historically speaking, marketing and UX have been either somewhat at odds or simply unconcerned with each other. At the risk of oversimplifying, it might be said that marketing is generally concerned with things like new customer acquisition, reach and frequency, and producing stickiness. UX practitioners, on the other hand, have been concerned with things like adoptability, usability, and transparency. But the separation of marketing and UX is in the process of changing.

Marketing organizations are beginning to shift their focus to include a new emphasis on customer experience (CX) as they realize that reach and frequency strategies are not working as they used to. Simply said, in order to be effective these days, marketing needs to be in the business of helping consumers and adapting to customer needs while also executing smart outreach strategies. Talking to prospects with the right message at the right time and the right place (as good marketers have always known to do) is just not enough anymore. Marketing now needs to offer prospects or customers smart and dynamic tools that help them in their decision-making.

As Dave Stubbs of Teehan+Lax has written, “In the past we were incentivized to create ads and microsites that would launch onto the Internet, exist for a while and then disappear. In the future, we will create programs and ‘things’ that solve consumer problems…” Vidya Drego of Forrester Research has also written a great paper on the topic.

With all of this in mind, it’s important to examine how UX and marketing can collaborate to build the next generation of customer engagement.

From a marketing perspective, a whole lot of a company’s customer interactions are staked in digital touchpoints. This makes it important that UX professionals be recruited to help shape customer interaction models from the very outset of product development, rather than brought in as an after-thought after a product is built to try, too late, to make it more user friendly. Through its user-centric approach, UX is especially well suited to help marketing shape a more comprehensive and brand-cohesive view of their prospect and customer interactions.

From a UX perspective, branding is an increasingly important consideration these days. This is a result of both the growing digital bandwidth and the fact that new experiences focused on persuasion or selling are now integrated into the digital tools themselves. Think mobile apps and tools like the Nike+ runner application or Ozarka‘s water delivery website. As a result, the UX perspective has broadened to include new types of experiences that are less process-driven and more advertising-driven. UX designers must contend with more messaging that increases cognitive load, and they must work in an area that’s typically been the bastion of marketing communications.

One way to describe this shift is that the interests of marketing and UX are merging into a new approach to customer relations. That outlook is pretty exciting. So many customer experiences will improve when marketing and UX get together to craft tools that give consumers the power to shape more mutually beneficial relationships with the brands, products, and services they choose.

But for this collaboration to be effective, a third ingredient is required: IT. And that’s where things threaten to unravel. What good does it do if marketing and UX can put their heads together to design exemplary customer experiences only to find out they cannot be implemented? This isn’t due to problems inherent to IT, but more because of the problematic dynamics of marketing and IT’s relationship. In a nutshell, marketing (as well as UX, although to a lesser extent) have been guilty of tech phobia. But to be fair, IT has given marketing and UX plenty of good reasons to distrust technology.

Some of us are familiar with the historic battles between interaction design’s and engineers’ implementation plans. Well thought-out designs have been thrown out because the software platform “can’t do that.” Marketing has had similar struggles with IT when trying to gather dynamic customer data or automate its processes. IT has been so overburdened with support and maintenance that being asked to implement new features is more than they can handle, especially if those new features could present a threat to their systems’ stability.<

Scott Brinker of Ion Interactive expands on this issue in his blog post, Why IT and marketing are diametrically opposed.

On the bright side, increasing numbers of a new breed of technologists are joining the ranks in IT departments. These new technologists arrive in IT already knowledgeable about CX and marketing. They come from much more flexible programming environments, and have evolved through the age of the Internet and open-source platforms. They understand the importance of the customer experience, and are very engaged with it once they know they’re involved in a meaningful customer experience effort. In fact, some of these technologists have actually been the originators of better UX in organizations where marketing had only paid lip service to the issue.

The other positive angle to consider—and really this is where everything hinges—is if marketing is able to successfully collaborate with UX, they will acquire the vision and experience they need to help them generate and own the clear and executable types of technology plans that are key to success.

So, to wrap up:

  1. Marketing needs to start integrating UX design processes into a holistic view of digital (and beyond) customer interactions.
  2. UX practitioners need to acquire a better understanding of marketing’s priorities and brand management practices.
  3. Once allied into a potent force, marketing and UX can engage in the kind of research that leads to the development of clear and executable technology plans and, as a result, engage IT as an enthusiastic partner.

2 thoughts on “Usability and Market Research Combined

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