What marketers can learn from UX about not being an ars*hole Including interview with Jay Acunzo, former Google & Hubspot marketer

What marketers can learn from UX

Photo credit: partymonstrrrr via Visual Hunt

Here are what we call the 4 P’s of marketing (one of the foundational frameworks of the vocation):

  • Product
  • Price
  • Place 
  • Promotion

If you’re a UX professional, you probably feel something’s missing – the audience… or those we might call the users.

To be fair, lots of audience research would be necessary for any marketer to build a meaningful strategy based on the 4 P’s. Nonetheless, users of products are not treated as a standalone pillar requiring special attention.

 We learn just enough to sell effectively to people… but not enough to make the process of selling a pleasant one for them.

This was fine when there were fewer marketers, products and channels. Traditional marketing channels (e.g. broadcast or print) were far less interactive, so there was often no interaction to improve on.

It also used to be that a marketer’s challenge lay in making sure their message was persuasive, once it was seen. Now (especially on interactive digital channels), the first hurdle is getting your message seen at all.

This change means marketers no longer see their job as presenting to people products they need – we see our job as convincing people they need the products we’re selling. And that’s not a good thing.

 It’s like marketers are shouting, “Check out this amazing, golden hammer!”

And audiences are responding, “I’m allergic to gold… and how did you get in my bedroom?”

Therein lies the root of the disconnect between marketers and the users of the products they promote – they have opposing definitions of what constitutes “value”.

Marketers tend to define value only in the context of what they’re selling, while users do not.

UX professionals know this. They also know that one of the best ways of earning someone’s attention is being *perceived* as a source of value. They know you can’t be an ars*hole to people, yet expect them to listen to you.

That’s why the whole field is geared towards learning about people, and using that knowledge to make their lives easier.

Part 3 of this series, based on my chat with Jay Acunzo, explains 3 habits marketers should adopt from UX professionals, if they’d like to earn any audience’s attention.

Listen to part 3 of my chat with Jay – or continue reading the article below


Timi: Okay, so, how do we measure the value or usefulness of content marketing or content in general? Is it based on what it does for the business, or is it based on what it does for people? Like you use a great example of Drift there, you know, about them removing the lead forms. I don’t know many companies that would have the courage to do that. But I personally think it’s the right way to go. So what do you think? What’s your approach? Should we go by, you know, metrics? Should we spam people with popups, because, you know, it gets 2% uplift regardless of whether or not like 90% of people hated it?

Jay: Yeah, that pause there was like my existential crisis of being in marketing, I guess. I think, honestly, tactic gets tied too much to outcome. Like, there’s more than one way of getting an outcome you want. I think that’s true. When you like have an experience in your career, you realize that. It’s like getting to this point in my career, I could have taken any avenue. And other people are telling me to do this, and then they say do that. And I don’t know what to do. So I’ll do it my own way. And it works kind of across the sphere of things. So, with the marketing tactic, it’s like removing forms doesn’t mean don’t gather emails or I won’t gather emails. It’s just that it’s become the easiest or shortcuttiest way of getting there.

And so Drift saw 150% increase month over month on their email list when they removed the forced forms. Because what happened was they led with the greatest experience possible, which was, “Here’s our content. It’s really good. And we’re gonna speak to you like a human. And, at the end, we’ll have a little PS. Can I send you an email on Monday?” And that’s literally their call to action. Not a great big graphic, and it’s definitely not a forced form, not a popup. They do have a little slide-in on the right, but it’s got a picture of their head of marketing that says, “Can I send you an email on Monday?” Like PS. And they grew way, way more through that. So, I think, I’d caution people against tying a tactic folks say works for the end result and the best way to get the end result in your specific context. Drift has numbers to hit, too. Everybody’s excuse that they like to wheel. There’s always like, “That sounds great in theory, but I’ve got numbers to hit.” And Drift does, too. And Mike Brown, as an entrepreneur, had to sell his house and his car and move in with his mom. And, like, you know, he’s got revenue to worry about. He started out wanting to, you know, create the world’s strongest blend of coffee to earn 5K more in revenue a year, because it would support his marginally, you know, his cheap lifestyle. So like everybody’s got numbers to hit. And the people that are executing on this stuff do, too. In fact, they might have numbers to hit more urgently than you. I think it’s an excuse. It’s an unwillingness to try, because if you try, you might fail.

And I think you can actually install support structures. Have the technical skills from knowing the convention. You know, have the confidence of good leadership or the curiosity of you just wanting to know what if. Like there are things you can install in your own life that’s like, “Yes, I know I have numbers to hit. I will hit those numbers.” And it’s actually, “Okay. I’m doing it as a side project, as another example.” So, yeah, it’s a very strange thing that people say, where they’re like, “I have to get results. But the better way that you’re proposing won’t get me results.” If it’s an actually better way, it should hold up against your results.

Timi: Okay, I’m gonna ask you a slightly, actually a very controversial question now. Do you think that the content/marketing industry contributes to this problem based on the way we talk about content? Because I think there’s a huge disconnect between what the marketers who sell content marketing say about content marketing and the people, the consumers, the people who feel the effect, you know, over-inflating the impact of it – what [the results] you should expect. And, basically, you’re trying to make people feel like they’re missing out if they’re not doing some crazy new thing so that there’s always something to sell. And I think that pushes people to become more desperate in the way they approach content marketing. It makes them switch off their brains, and they just go, “Well, this is what everybody else is doing. This is the trend. I’m just gonna jump on it.” Or do you think, you know, the practitioners should take more responsibility and be like, “There’s always gonna be noise. It’s my responsibility to tune that out.”

Jay: It has to be the latter. It has to be. But the way you stand firm in the latter and say, “I’ll tune out.” It’s not tune out the noise. It’s maybe consume some of it but then press it through the context of you, your business, your customer, this moment and time. And so, for example, if I knew… Again, back to the first principle here. One-to-one, I know Timi. And Timi is X, Y and Z way. And so someone, some expert on the stage or some list article I found says, “Do A, B and C.” And I’m like, “Well, Timi who is the person I’m serving doesn’t like any of that stuff.” I have no problem saying, “Okay, I don’t have to be on Snapchat. I don’t have to be in Instagram.” Or I can relegate those things to play. I can just test it in kind of low stakes fashion, because we kind of play in the same channels, where we work now. And, you know, I don’t have to insert it into my marketing. I can just kind of be aware. Or I can say, “Oh my gosh, I hadn’t considered this. I think Timi really likes that because of these things he told me or these stuff I know about him. So I will use those things.”

So I think it’s the failure to know the customer intimately that causes this panic. It’s like people are losing the customer. They can’t control the message, because it’s everywhere. They can’t control the channel, because there’s too many. They can’t get your attention, because you have very little and you have a lot of options. And just because of that panic, everyone’s looking for that cheat sheet or the kind of foundational thing to stand on brought to you by someone else. And the problem with that is that someone else doesn’t have your context. And in all likelihood, they’re trying to sell you something, you know.

I’ve worked for marketing tech vendors. We try to sell you something. So if we say inbound marketing is a better way to do marketing, we’re taking it out of context and we’re saying in absolutes. So maybe consider it in your context. Maybe you don’t have a business where that actually works. Maybe what you say on your blog is just as important as that you have a blog, right? So there’s all these reason why you can’t just take absolutes from other people. Be aware of them, but you can kind of smack to yourself if you know the customer intimately to say yes to some things, no to others. But you have to spend time talking to actual customers.

Timi: So, again, to sum up, do you have like a little litmus test that you do before you hit publish to make sure, “All right, is this thing that I’m sending into the world, does it have value? Do I think it will add something to the people for which I’ve created it?”

Jay: Well, I mean, my context is very different than someone driving leads to software. So my context of publishing an article is, “Did I improve my thinking? Am I keeping up my reps and sets?” In other words, am I continuing to horn my writing chops and my thinking abilities? Like, that’s why I write. So I write for me with the intent of adding value for you. So if I can’t say yes to that, I don’t publish it. But that’s a very different context than your boss pushing you to drive X number of leads in a month.

Timi: That’s so true.

Jay: Right. So, again, go back to your context. Like, what are you trying to get done? What is your strategy? Who are you serving? You know, start with the customer back to the very first question you asked me. “Does the customer need this? Can they get this in exact same way as in other places?” Then go to yourself. “Do I like this? Are my sensibilities in play? My taste is telling me this is terrible. Why am I publishing this?” Then go to your business. “Okay, does this fit our strategy? Now that I’ve deemed that it’s “good,” because the customer and I both agree, now does it fit our strategy? Do we have a strategy?” So, again, I think that’s how you…maybe that’s a little bit of a rubric that we just tripped on that you can use to find context. But I think the context cannot go missing. You can’t just look at what I do or what you do and then copy us.

Timi: That is true. Now, it’s interesting you said there that your context is different, which is absolutely true. But I think because of your approach in general, you’ve ended up getting the kinds of results, as far as I know, that a lot of businesses kill for. I mean, I’ve never recommended Unthinkable to anyone who didn’t come back and say, “Wow, that’s brilliant.” And I think it’s because of the same reason that I feel that way. I think it’s just that they can feel the quality, the thought, the craft. And I think it’s a term that you like to use and I also like to use, but it’s going into it. And I think people can feel it, and they know that, “Okay, this is something. Attention has been paid to this to make sure that it adds something to me.”

Jay: First of all, Timi, thank you. Again, know the context. When I was a kid, my family and I, you know, we used to goof around and create little programs. I created ESPN3 to cover my family’s pin pong tournament as a child. Like, I was always doing these things, and then I loved to write just for fun, and then I wrote sports, and then I worked at these different places and lived in these different places. Like, the reason I’m able to do that work or not think about all the keywords that I need to target and just publish what feels good is because of everything that brought me to that moment. And so I think the challenge isn’t how do you do that. The challenge is how do you figure out what’s brought you to your moment and how do you actually use it.

You know, I talk a lot about this movement from average to exceptional. And I mentioned the word exception. You know, if you are an exception, you’re exceptional. So every human is an exception. The problem is not everybody knows to trust that, or how to use that, or how to like consider that or hone it. And so that’s really what Unthinkable is all about. It’s not giving you the details of what you should do in the moment. It’s preparing you for the moment so you can go and decide for yourself.

1.) Pay attention to the medium

Marketing spend on digital media keeps increasing, while spend on traditional channels is (largely) stagnant or decreasing.

This is presumably because marketers believe “millennials” live (literally) in the Internet… and ROI is easier to measure on digital… and.. well… M-O-N-E-Y!

As usual, we’re thinking too much about what we want from the channel and not enough about what the channel demands of us.

For example, digital channels represent the first situation where the grunt work of publication and distribution, not just strategy and creation, lie predominantly with marketers themselves.

With broadcast channels, for example, you’d create an asset, work out the logistics and send it to CBS. Then they would slot it into their format and beam it to millions of people.

This process was/is not interactive. The quality of the marketing is decided mainly by the quality of the messaging.Digital Channels Facebook

In contrast, digital channels are interactive and marketers can take on the challenge of online publication and distribution (sans paid promotion).

In short, many marketers now directly manage the medium, as well as the message.

In the age of ad blockers, newsfeed filters and spam folders, the process of interacting with the media through which you deliver messages should be pleasant for users.

And this is why I’m convinced UX and usability are now essential concepts for marketers to understand.

If your use of digital channels is aggressive or lacking empathy, many people will abandon the medium before they can get to the message.

But as Jay Acunzo says, getting what you want and treating people well shouldn’t be mutually exclusive:

 “I think, honestly, tactic gets tied too much to outcome… It’s like, removing forms doesn’t mean don’t gather emails or ‘I won’t gather emails.’ It’s just that it’s become the easiest or shortcuttiest way of getting there.”

If you care about giving value as much as you do about getting it, you can always find a way of combining both.

After all, isn’t marketing supposed to be a creative pursuit?

2.) Pay attention to the audience

Marketing audience superheroes

Photo credit: JD Hancock via Visual Hunt

Naturally, the changes brought on by digital media have led to changes among audiences.

People are more commercially sophisticated, have higher standards and exercise more influence over more types of media.

Gone are the days when the worst that happened to bad marketing was being ignored (or if things got really bad, individual complaints to governing bodies).  

Marketers could (mostly) get away with overbearing, self-indulgent marketing because even if it was quietly ineffective, there would be no immediate backlash.

These days, marketers who show a lack of empathy for their audience get publicly torn apart. There’s even a popular Facebook page dedicated solely to this cause.

For all the nonsensical cliches in modern marketing, one is true – marketing is now a two-way street. You’re gonna get as much as you give. So, it pays to focus on the giving.

Jay suggests thinking twice before pressing “Go”:

 “‘Does the customer need this? Can they get this, in the exact same way, in other places?’ Then go to yourself, ‘Do I like this? Are my sensibilities in play? My taste is telling me this is terrible.’”

If your taste is telling you a marketing tactic is half tacky, half icky… your audience will probably feel the same. 

3.) Don’t pay attention to your peers

At some point in the last decade or so, marketers who market to other marketers became all the rage.

I don’t know why it’s happened but… I don’t think it’s a good thing.

As Tom Lloyd, our head of marketing, explains on his Medium blog:

[Marketing to other marketers is] like feeding your bleeding-edge, red velvet quinoa cupcakes to a herd of starving goats to prove their market viability. Clearly they will eat it up even though they taste like earth and you didn’t wash your hands, because, well, goats.”

Some of these marketing marketers are well intentioned… others are just bullshitters. In either case, you must be very sceptical of them.

If I were eminent enough, I’d include myself in the bracket of marketers of whom you should be sceptical.

With this wave of marketing marketers has come a trend for marketers to simply try and become clones of their marketing shepherds.

And the marketing marketers love it. They’ll tell us it can be easy, quick and cheap because they know that’s what we want to hear.

 “Don’t bother trying to understand an audience full of complex, unique individuals (that’s too hard). Just follow me!”

But as Jay explains, “experts” don’t have the context of your industry or business:

“Everyone’s looking for that cheat sheet or the kind of foundational thing to stand on, brought to you by someone else. And the problem with that is that someone else doesn’t have your context. And in all likelihood, they’re trying to sell you something, you know?”

Your job as a marketer is not to please other marketers – it’s to bring value to your audience. A healthy scepticism of “experts” is why the field of UX is inherently against the blind acceptance of best practice. We should do our own research and experimentation.

Stop trying to be a marketer’s marketer – start being a people’s marketer.

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Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

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