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In our field we continue to sell our product in terms of better user experience, easier to complete tasks, less pressure on user and so on. We do that being convinced that it benefits our customers and employers. This is great, because we make the digital world better and easier and more joyful.

Marketers also sell products and solutions to companies to solve problems and issues. They too have a vision and a concept of a better digital world, but from a different facet. I’m often stunned by how they accomplish tasks and gain rightful trust by the customers.

Sometimes marketers and user experience experts are colliding; sometimes they work side by side in collaboration. But from a general notice – which marketing activity gets the best conversion rate marketing or UX? Does a dollar spent on UX make more ROI than a dollar spent on marketing?

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    That'd be a really tough one to call. I'm sure there's a sort of see-saw effect where beyond a certain point your product's UX is SO BAD any UX work out performs marketing, and a point where your product is so good improving it won't increase usage more than marketing would. – Ben Brocka May 23 '12 at 20:43
  • @BenBrocka I know - that's why this question exists. Hopefully someone on this Q&A have an answer to this question – because I think it’s an important one. At least that’s where our shareholder is driving us. – Benny Skogberg May 23 '12 at 20:59
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    +1 This was surely an interesting subject to discuss, and I like the look of the answers so far. – AndroidHustle May 24 '12 at 8:43
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+50

Marketing = UX…

There is a remarkable amount of overlap between modern marketing and UX. Marketing is more than advertising and sales. It also includes market research, which identifies what would be useful, valuable, and desirable to consumers. Modern marketing also participates in developing the products themselves, ensuring they meet their target “value propositions.” Marketers may test prototype products on consumers and provide feedback to development. All very much like user-centered design.

“Emotional design” and desirability have been parts of marketing long before UX got into it. Advertising, placement, and promotion are equivalent to UXers designing for findability, persuasion, and trust. The very word “conversion” comes from marketing.

Back in the 1980s, well before the web, there was a revolution in marketing, characterized by a shift away from “pushing” existing products onto consumers, to fulfilling consumers’ real needs through research and innovation. In this approach, the marketer is the “customer advocate” in the business. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

…Except for the Scale

The difference between marketing and UX is the scale of operations and units of analysis, with marketing concerned with more broad and abstract product features and consumer characteristics, while UX covers details down to each click and pixel. Thus, the two are neither redundant nor in competition with each other, but compliment each other. I don’t think you can say which is better for getting conversions or promoting user satisfaction any more than you can say whether finance or accounting are more important for handling money for the business. Both have a role.

Beware, Young Skywalker

I don’t think there’s a conflict between marketing and UX, but there is a conflict between the light and dark side in both UX and marketing. When seduced by the dark side, both marketers and UXers pursue conversions at the cost of a truly positive consumer/user experience. What you may see as a conflict between marketing and UX may really be a conflict between Dark Marketing and Light UX. However, there’s conflict between Dark UX and Light UX too. Some have used the Force of UX to persuade users of something they shouldn’t believe or earn their trust in something untrustworthy.

Better ROI?

Whether you’re talking marketing or UX, I believe the light side is usually better for most businesses in the long run. Usually. Most businesses. But not always for everyone. In certain situations the dark side will get you more money. That doesn’t make it right, however.

I’ve more on marketing, UX, and ethics at A Man of Wealth and Taste. For a non-technical intro to modern marketing, I recommend Kotler on Marketing.

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  • +1 Excellent points as always on your answers. I like the distinction and reasoning between light and dark UX|Marketing! – Benny Skogberg May 24 '12 at 6:58
  • +1 A very insightful answer, and very clever put together... I'll have a look at your article when I get the time, it does look intriguing! – AndroidHustle May 24 '12 at 8:35
  • I think once you broaden the the definition of marketing as you have in your first paragraph, you start to home in on the field of Customer Experience (CX), and Service Design - and oh yes, that is very relevant and topical to the field of User Experience at the moment. UX and CX are different things but natrual allies, with the middle ground perhaps being Strategic UX – Roger Attrill May 24 '12 at 14:11
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    Speaking of dark UX, I find wiki.darkpatterns.org/Home both enlightening and fun to read. – Alvin May 29 '12 at 10:19
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Quote from Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Smoothies:

"90% of our marketing strategy goes into the bottle."

Innocent is not a digital company but the point is that they invest a lot into the quality of their actual product. They are very successful.

Marketing is much more efficient (aka delivering better conversion rates = higher ROI) if the promise made in the marketing messages (usually: "Our product is great") is kept by the product itself. And many successful digital products distinguish themselves by great UX.

Products fail due to bad UX, despite big marketing budgets. And products with great UX fail because of a missing product-market-fit. And some products fail because the world never got to know about them, due to the absence of good marketing.

That said, I think a valuable product with a good user experience is the precondition for efficient marketing and makes the job of marketing much easier. The ROI of marketing activities for a good product is certainly higher than for bad products.

Back to the Innocent example:
Customers loved these smoothies and since they loved them so much, they would tell their friends, and they would buy them too. This is word-of-mouth marketing and the same holds true for great digital products, which we usually call "going viral". So a dollar spend in marketing for a product that creates loyal customers has the potential for continuously growing ROI.

My summary:
Spend your budget on building a valuable product with great UX and safe a little bit of the budget to do marketing. As a result the ROI on the marketing budget spent will be much higher.

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  • +1 That’s a wise answer. And I agree, this is an unusual question for this site. But that’s what I try to do here – expand the Q&A on UX because I feel it deserves greater attention. Questions regarding button placement and strict design issues are valuable too, but the abstract and meta-like questions possibly make us think different and we might reflect of what we do every day. – Benny Skogberg May 24 '12 at 6:58
  • And I see you have gotten yourself a profile image! Nice! :-) – Benny Skogberg May 24 '12 at 7:08
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    @BennySkogberg I didn't mean to say this is an usual question but rather unusual to use this Inncocent smoothi example. Your question is excellent and a good fit! – greenforest May 24 '12 at 7:24
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    @BennySkogberg Hm, talking about profile image and the UX of Gravatar is worth another thread. But yes, first step on the way to a better username :P – greenforest May 24 '12 at 7:24
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    The Gizmondo fiasco is a great example of a product that received tons attention from marketing efforts and PR trick shows but failed horribly due to terrible UX. – AndroidHustle May 24 '12 at 8:41
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"Marketing is to create a customer" (Peter Drucker)

"UX is to create a happy customer" (Me)

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It's a struggle monetizing UX to begin with. I think finding a dollar-for-dollar comparison with Marketing is going to be tough.

That said, I think you still need both. And, sadly, when you can't have both, often marketing is the better investment.

I base that statement on the simple fact that there is a LOT of bad products out there with atrocious UX that seem to thrive in spite of that--and that's typically via marketing.

Some companies thrive by focusing on UX. Apple is perhaps one of the flag bearers of that model. But they still seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

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  • +1 There is always a struggle between different disciplines of who’s getting the bigger share of the invested capital. I know this one is a tough call. In my opinion, based on pure assumptions, I think marketing dollar is considered more valuable in the short run and UX dollar in the long run. But I don’t know. – Benny Skogberg May 24 '12 at 6:58
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This takes into account the marketing / UX cross over. I see UX crossing over into many functions that already exist within a business. This is the reason that many business feel that they are doing UX because the concepts that make up UX artefacts and deliverables have been produced by already established departments.

Like already noted in the answers each department within a business is subtly different and reports appropriately to answer their own remit. UX is the sum of all of this knowledge unless its used together to answer the wider questions and demands UX as a practice is unable to deliver the expected results.

I get to talk to many departments and functions within the companies I work with, when I succeed and the conversions start providing answers my agency rapidly gains respect as we are linking people and data together with the organisation that otherwise would remain in unconnected silos and databases.

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  • +1 for the argument on cross over disciplines. I also see this in my daily work. But there is a difference. Just because you know the software Balsamiq, doesn't men you make great Wireframes and prototypes. And that I think is the difference between real UX work and want-to-be UX work. – Benny Skogberg May 24 '12 at 18:26
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How many of us know a product with a terrible UX but became successful in their market? That is when the product functionality overcame the UX. It's the dancing bear, as Cooper (2004, p.26) calls it as when a great idea triumphs over poor design. The notion of dancing bear overlooks the fact that the bear is actually a terrible dancer. A successful poor UX product is not necessarily a marketing victory. Sometimes the product just offers functionality that is so important (value) to the user that UX fades into the background.

UX and marketing should not mix, except for when you are briefing to the marketing people the benefits your UX has to the users. In the end, it will be the marketing department that will decide if the UX information is valid or not for them. We can say that all depends on the company's strategies and how they want to present that product to the users. Unfortunately, not every company has UX in the centre of their goals.

And about ROI, your answer is already here in a previous question on this site: What is the ROI of UI or UX design?

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  • +1 A really great answer to this question! I agree to a lot of your arguments, and you are close to @DA01 answer. However I'm not asking for the ROI on UX. I'm asking if the ROI of UX is better than the ROI of marketing. Related? Yes, but not the same. – Benny Skogberg May 24 '12 at 18:20
  • Fair enough. Now that the ROI part is clear to me, I'll say that you shouldn't try to compare UX ROI with marketing ROI. Because you will always need marketing to promote your product. Imagine you have the best UX in the world, but it is hidden in a jungle. No one will know about your fantastic product, right? See Apple for example. They have fantastic UX products, but they have a good marketing too. Having said that, I think great UX products need less 'effort' from the marketing team to promote. But this is just my guess. – Daniel May 25 '12 at 1:05
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The objectives of UX design and marketing overlap but are not exactly the same. UX design, like marketing, is a multi-disciplinary field that requires many different skills combined to create an outcome.

Where the two areas start to diverge is in the focus of their respective activities, with UX continuing to hone in on the user's mental model to help deliver a product or service (as measured by the experience), whereas marketing goes into the consumer's perception about the brand and message of the organization providing the products or services, which doesn't actually have to be the same as the experience from using the products or service (although it definitely helps).

The most successfully companies try to align these two activities as much as possible, but not every company dedicate resources and personnel into these two areas, while some companies don't differentiate between the two. Some companies do without marketing or UX design, with the products or services directly driven by specific product or service improvement processes (e.g. PRINCE 2 or Kaizen).

There is no question that every company has their own approach or philosophy for making money, but the fact that the design discipline has its roots in engineering and industrial design (combined with information technology) makes it more grounded towards the social and physical sciences, while marketing much more focused on the social sciences (like psychology) but does use some techniques and analysis from statistics.

Sadly, both fields are lacking in the level of ethical design practices as business continue to borrow and misuse principles and techniques that help them sell more of their products and services...

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Prior to about 2007 when it was plain old Usability there wasn't much overlap.

The broadening of the definition to UX bought more of an overlap with Marketing.

There is no one answer to the "which is better value" question: every product case will be different.

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