The power of aesthetics, story-telling and a poignant communication can contribute to a user's experience, however it does not define it.
This fact was recently highlighted by UX Strategist Whitney Hess;
Advertising is about getting the customer to love the company. UX is about getting the company to love the customer.
The quote was a response to a Fast Company article from Brian Sollis where parallels were drawn between UX and Mad Men. The scene Sollis describes was memorable and reminded the viewer of the importance of a human connection to a product. This emotional connection contributing to a person's experience can easily be misconstrued as UX design.
But the quote from Hess encapsulates the difference of how some companies think and still act and how others are on another path. Easily measurable advertising is first choice for marketing professionals and in many ways it should be. Communicating the benefits of your product or services is the minimum requirement for business. Very often they also market and spend within a financial calendar year for predictable forecasting and measurable ROI. Everybody knows the importance of advertising your product to the market. Marketing and sales success can easily measure the success of advertising campaigns.
As a service industry 'Advertising' has always had an easy sell. For great products and companies it is an easy win. For those struggling or under threat advertising is what companies must do to keep up and make the right moves to gain traction in a competitive market. Advertising is something all companies must do to compete. And so the cycles of spend continues. But in the emerging consumer landscape of multi-channel, peer influenced networks, it is necessary that the spend of companies is diverted into understanding the customer in ways they can see as logical, and see measurable returns from.
This is where UX methods can come into play. But getting a company to love the customer is more labour intensive than getting a customer loving a company. Therefore advertising wins in organizations that find it very difficult to change either company culture or organizational structure. I have no doubt many companies would want a UX approach, or just customer-centricity, but the siloed nature of businesses prevent this from happening.
Interface is not brand
'Interface is brand' is a term I have heard repeatedly over the last few years. It neatly sums up the intersection between advertising and digital product design. But in those words lays the same error as Sollis made. Reducing or over simplifying something that is complex and extremely challenging underplays the problems that businesses face when organising to produce successful products or services.
"Organize around customer satisfaction instead of software, around personas instead of technology and around profit not programmers"
- Alan Cooper
Designing an interface is a step within a much larger more involved process. To say interface is brand ignores the importance of the customer. Brand and interface can be seen as the business and technology respectively but it completely overlooks the importance of the human. Humans interact with objects and each other. The best experiences are researched and important insights improve the design further. Interface describes the skin between user and the product. However it is the user's interactions that are deeper, beyond interface and nearer to a brand's essence to the user.
Skype and Spotify have excellent user experiences through their interfaces but it is the service and human connections that qualifies the experience of the brand. The interface is a simple gateway to the experience but it is far too simplistic to reduce it's success to the interface alone. We must admit that people make brand experiences occur these days and that advertising is merely a by-product of this interaction. They persuade but do little else, and how effectively is still a point hotly contested.
Customer service, after sales care, fulfillment, trust and promise are the real brand commodities today. Notice that they are all very human needs that are met. They are tangible and require sustained effort on the company's part - not a campaign burst of activity but committed strategic execution.
Brand is interaction
Online a brand should be defined by a user's interaction with it. Customer service (how brands and businesses interact with their customers) define their success. Technology merely facilitates this interaction. In some cases it is the service (Skype, Spotify) in others it is the service layer (Amazon and Ebay). But simplification of service is tech at it's best, allowing a user to interact and use a product in an enjoyable way is the strongest connection a brand could ask for. Only companies who 'love' their customers connect in a way that is appreciated.
Social media has confused and distracted from this crucially important point. It was 'Web 2.0' prior to the social web. The reality is that businesses that understands how consumers use the web are now far removed from competitors floundering around trying to hire experts to transform their businesses that have not changed for decades.
Even the importance of search is only a part of the big picture. It's importance is diminishing due to the power of influence from peers. The web is a transformative power that topples governments, and calls wealthy corporations to account. Paul Ford writes how the web is a customer service medium. When companies understand this and the power it will have over them, they will always start to think; customer first, business second.
Old habits die hard
Facebook's recent announcement to encourage brands to interact is likely to result in companies who are desperately trying to make people love their brand without truly understanding what makes them tick. Following a customer segment's Likes list is not a quality metric. It is the old school approach being conducted on an evolving medium with complex dynamics. Liken it to the world's intranet being opened up for a banner blitzkrieg. It again proves that the media channel that is Facebook is one that we have not fully understood yet and we are applying our traditional approaches in ways that are basic and unimaginative.
Truly know your customer
Peter Drucker said that: "The information you need the most is about the outside world, and there is absolutely none."
These days you just need to monitor what is being said in public forums to gauge opinion, interests, wants and needs. You need to take this data and synthesize it into meaningful assets that a business can work with. For companies unable to do this it is either down to poor organisation or/and a lack of funding.
Conducting advertising without truly understanding your customers is as bad as that failed Facebook page that never really took off. Pouring money into hopeful media destinations will become less effective and for the few destinations that still have an audience it will be increasingly more expensive to advertise (witness the Super Bowl as one of the last big ad spend destinations).
So getting the company to love it's customer is the goal. Then the interaction with them will define the brand with a credible relationship. Easy? No. Worthwhile? More than can be calculated.