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The first volume of The SoDA Report revealed a disturbing survey result earlier this year. When asked about talent gaps, and 77%of agency respondents identified user experience (UX) as the biggest shortfall on the client side.

One possible explanation is that the UX discipline is still a “field in evolution.” While the report suggests UX infancy might be the cause for this glaring talent gap, another could be that UX and marketing have fundamental core values that are in direct opposition to one another.

The primary function of marketing is to sell to the customer, while the primary function of UX is to serve the needs of the customer. One campaign, one application, or one digital product simply cannot do both.

Marketing is Selling

Marketing is a question of persuading, seducing and attempting to manipulate people into buying products and services.

– Wally Olins

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Ollins’s description might seem unflattering, but we can’t deny that marketing is the art of persuasion. Marketing serves the company by getting people to buy or do something. It doesn’t build better products or experiences, and it’s not a service philosophy; it’s a strategy for positioning and advancing products and/or services in the world of consumers. Examining their business goals will make this evident.


User Experience is Serving

If the goal of marketing is to create value for the business, then the goal of user experience is to create value for the customer. The functional word in the UX discipline is empathy, and there are a variety of techniques employed to achieve it. UX practitioners do things like create user personas and journey maps, constantly test digital creations with users to discover their needs and help them accomplish tasks in the most convenient and effective way possible. The ability to serve customers requires deep understanding of their needs and goals at the point of engagement, and that insight is gained through research.

The Failure of Branded Apps

Since both marketing and UX advance their goals through understanding human behavior, it’s easy to see how the two are becoming convoluted. Recently, several articles have been written on the convergence of marketing and UX. Some suggest that UX should be a subset of marketing. And of course, there are many advice pieces on how to use UX design for marketing purposes. History has shown, however, that customer applications fail miserably when they try to perform marketing functions. While there are many examples of this, we need to look no further than the failure rate of branded apps according to a global study by Deloitte.

  • 80% of all branded apps are downloaded fewer than 1,000 times.
  • 1% of all branded apps reach 1 million downloads.

Branded apps are performing poorly for one distinct reason: They cannot simultaneously serve and sell.

Branded apps that do succeed do not ask the question, “How can we use this app to increase conversions or brand affinity?” The question they ask is user-centered: “What do our customers need, and how can we best serve them?” The difference between these two questions highlights the differences between marketing departments and UX design departments, and core values again come into play. Marketing is the art of persuasion; UX is the art of service. Marketing departments must come to terms with one simple fact: A branded app cannot — and should not — be a marketing campaign.

Some would argue that all apps must be utilitarian; they have to serve a need or they shouldn’t exist. The questions UX departments ask when tasked with building a branded app are twofold: 1) Why is someone going to download this app, and 2) Why would someone continue to use it? If the answer to either of those questions is not service-based, then there is no need to build the app at all. In fact, market research has shown that launching an app for marketing purposes will damage the brand and do the opposite of its intent. An app will not create brand affinity if it is not completely service-based during its first three versions. The only metrics that matter are how many stars it receives and how many downloads. It’s no wonder that branded apps with a marketing emphasis have turned to gamification.

A Tale of Two Visions 

Harvard Business Review published an article identifying the features of a successful branded app:

  • Add convenience
  • Offer unique value
  • Provide social value
  • Offer incentives
  • Entertain

Forrester Research identifies a different set of features that define a successful branded app:

  • Useful
  • Usable
  • Desirable

The lists are similar in their desire to serve customers’ needs, but that is also where they diverge. The HBR list includes features (social value, incentives, entertain) that are driven by marketing needs. Forrester’s list is utility-centered, and the focus is squarely on serving the needs of the customer. A look at two branded apps, one conforming to the HBR features and one to the Forrester features, will make the differences clear.

Pampers vs. Domino’s 

Pampers released a branded app called Hello Baby, which had been touted as a great example of a branded application under the HBR definition. But if you looked at the app’s ratings and performance (measured by download numbers), they were abysmal. One major cause of the app’s failure was it required a connection to Facebook, an attempt to create social value. Unfortunately, many women don’t want the details of their pregnancy plastered all over their social feed. The Hello Baby app was clearly a marketing campaign to drive brand affinity and tap into new markets. In reality, the app had a negative impact on their brand due to the poor ratings and negative comments in the reviews. One reviewer even commented, “this app must have been designed by a man.” The app is no longer available.

On the other hand, Domino’s Pizza embraced the utility perspective when it created its mobile app for ordering pizza. To date, the Domino’s app has been downloaded more than six million times and accounts for 35% of its digital sales revenue, according to Mobile Commerce Daily. The app’s average rating in the iTunes App Store is five stars, and the review comments are very positive. It is enjoying unprecedented growth and success.

Granted, this is an oversimplified analysis, but it is clear each approached their branded applications from very different viewpoints and with very different end goals. Pampers, already doing well in its industry, was trying to sell to its users through a marketing campaign disguised as a helpful application. Domino’s, performing poorly in its industry, focused its efforts on service and delivered an application that provided a useful, usable, and desirable experience. In the end, it succeeded.

Consider the Role of Each

While marketing and UX are not core-value compatible, they are powerful assets to a company if managed wisely and held in proper balance. They will inevitably be required to work together because they share the common interests of understanding human behavior and building brand loyalty. CMOs have the responsibility to create separate marketing and UX divisions that equally provide value to the brand from different directions. They each need their own leadership, and they must maintain a healthy tension. A very good argument could be made that they even need equal budgets. While marketing generates revenue for the next two quarters, building a digital application that provides great service will generate revenue for the next two years. Creating a great user experience is its own form of marketing.

This article originally appeared in The SoDA Report 2H 2014. 

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