What marketers need to know about UX

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What UX is, and why it's so important.

Marketers have been obsessed with the customer experience (CX) lately, and for good reason. We're living in the age of the consumer, and in this environment, delivering great consumer experiences is paramount.

But in this age of empowerment, and digital media, marketers also need to ensure they are delivering an excellent user experience (UX) as well.

Between the floods of customer data, and consumers' increasingly high expectations of the brands they interact with, marketers already have more than enough on their plate. This attempt to explain UX isn't intended to turn marketers into designers of graphic user interfaces (UIs). In fact, marketers don't necessarily need to learn much about the art and science of graphic design at all.

"Marketers don't need real design skills, but they need an eye for design," says Nathan Golan, VP of sales at the mobile marketing technology provider Insert. "Marketers should use a lot of digital products to get a sense of what works, and what doesn't. First-hand experience can teach a great deal about UX."

In this article, we'll be covering the definition of UX, the distinction between UX and UI, the fundamentals of good UX, and how much a bad UX can affect the customer experience and cost businesses money.

By the end, marketers should have a new appreciation for the art of UX, and the ability to make a strong case to their stakeholders on why good UX is the value proposition in the digital age.

What is UX?
There is no need to overcomplicate the definition of UX. As the name implies, it simply refers to a user's experience within a digital application, or across a series of digital channels. (Increasingly, people are coming to see the importance of a consistent and seamless UX across digital and physical touchpoints.)

Unfortunately, the term UX isn't very well understood in marketing.

"UX is very misunderstood in the industry because people are throwing around terms that are not the most accurate," says Sylvia Vaquer, co-founder and creative director at digital strategy and technology firm SocioFabrica.

UX is often conflated with UI, or the user interface. While UI is certainly a core component of the digital UX, marketers can think of the distinction between the two in much the same way that they think of the relationship between marketing and advertising. All of advertising fits under the marketing umbrella, but the inverse is not true. A great UI that is easy to use is essential to delivering a good user experience, but the terms are fairly mutually exclusive.

"UX is more holistic. UI is more about the look and feel of a product. How big the button is, and where it is positioned," Vaquer says. "UX is all about the process of analyzing how customers interact with your product or service, from awareness and consideration to conversion and retention. Good UX can help you understand your customer journey."

What is a good UX?
What is a good marketing? There are many correct answers to such a question, with many depending on the brand in question, the audience a campaign is trying to reach, the media used in the campaign, the lifecycle of the campaign, etc.

Defining a good UX is a bit more straightforward, but nonetheless reliant on the nature of the product or service in question, and the business itself. But there are some practical considerations to bear in mind. Golan identifies five of these core components of good UX:

  • Consistency
  • Simplicity
  • Ease of implementation
  • Recognizable patterns
  • Evolution

The first two of these are fairly consistent with the principles of good design in general. Be visually consistent, and favor simple designs that are easy to navigate and use. Using patterns is a great way to hit both of these marks. But marketers must also consider the implementation of the product or service in question.

"You can design a ‘perfect' system that is incredibly difficult to implement technically, rendering it not only imperfect but impossible," Golan says.

Finally, and most importantly, good UX must constantly evolve.

"A lot of people feel that once you get that UX in a good place it's going to be fine. UX itself is an iterative process," Vaquer says. "You have to gather data on how customers use your product and improve accordingly."

How valuable is a good UX?

In a recent blog post, Jared M. Spool, founder of the consulting firm User Interface Engineering, explores the value of a good UX, and the ways a bad UX can negatively affect a brand. Unsurprisingly, subpar UX design hits brands where the hurt the most, their pockets.

Bad UX can cost companies by driving up development costs as the need to squash bugs or optimize shoddy technology increases, or as under-used features are discovered and need to be removed. Bad UX can trigger internal issues with production if a product isn't easy to use for people in the organization. The same goes for sales, as it'll be difficult to demonstrate the benefits of the product if the sales team struggles to use it themselves, potentially costing the company sales revenue. All of this to say nothing of the cost associated with customer service complaints about the product; complaints that can often be traced back to the quality of the UX design.

"Think of Nest or Netflix or Uber. These are all services that gained their competitive edge because they were well established in good UX," Vaquer says. "A lot of people aren't searching for a product or service. They are searching for a good UX."

In fact, it's precisely the digital consumer journey which highlights the need for excellent UX. With an endless range of brands and products at the consumer's fingertips, competing on quality and price is no longer enough. The experience has to be just right too.

This story first appeared in DMN.