Customer Experience And Marketing: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

In my last post, I promised I might have a thing or two to say about marketing. I just didn’t realize it would be so soon!

Last week, Peter Merholz from Adaptive Path posted a rant entitled, "The Pernicious Effects of Advertising and Marketing Agencies Trying To Deliver User Experience Design." In it, he calls ad agencies unethical, poisonous, and “soulless holes” and extols the virtues of user experience (UX) design firms. (Go have a read — you don’t see polarizing tirades like this every day.)

On the surface, this argument pits agency against agency. But I think the issue goes much deeper: the growing intersection — and tension — between customer experience and marketing. Here’s how I see the landscape:

  • Neither customer experience nor marketing are going away. Customer experience is gaining importance in companies — we can see this in the rise of the chief customer officer (CCO) role, which several years ago was virtually nonexistent. But the rise of one discipline doesn’t mean the complete and utter downfall of the other. Even companies like Apple and Zappos — the poster children for great customer experiences — advertise.
  • Customer experience and marketing are increasingly intertwined. We had briefings last week from two different agencies working on (strangely enough) airport redesign projects. One of the projects was a complete overhaul of the airport passenger experience, which will have significant implications for how the airport markets itself to both airlines and travelers. The second was an advertising-driven project that will augment the services available to passengers in airports. In both projects, it’s hard to tease out exactly where the experience ends and the marketing begins (or vice versa).
  • CCOs and CMOs need to work in concert.  Marketers care deeply about Net Promoter Score and word-of-mouth marketing — but both of those ideas are based on the fact that customers recommend brands to other people based on their own personal experiences. It’s easy to see, then, how CCOs and CMOs could potentially fight over ownership of the customer experience. But ultimately, they have the same goal: to get people to like their companies and to make their companies profitable. To this end, they need to work together to create a seamless customer experience across all product, service, and marketing touch points.

So will ad agencies change their ways? Are UX design firms the salvation? I say, “Who cares?” As the needs and objectives of executives shift, agencies and consulting firms will either adapt to meet their clients’ needs — or they’ll see newcomers with different offerings and business models rise up to take their spots at the table. Either way, the market will sort itself out. In the meantime, my job will be to help our clients find the best partners for their customer experience initiatives.


Customer experience

As a Customer Advocate your article was of real interest to me. I do agree that there are now more official roles for the Customer Advocate. Where previously the job might have been the same the title more obscure. This is what I love to do and it drastically makes a difference to the customers I speak with on a daily basis.

One thing I do find interesting is that folks want to classify a Customer advocate as either sales or marketing. This creates problems because the metrics are very different.

Thank you very much for your article and the time it took.

Warm Regards,

Customer experience and sales

hi Sue -- thanks for your comment!

We've talked to several customer experience people lately who are deeply entrenched in sales. It's another organizational overlap that we should definitely take a deeper look at, so I'd love to learn more about your role.

You also hit on a really interesting point about where customer experience lives within an organization and what kind of metrics or incentives are associated with that part of the org. Hopefully this all rolls up into one set of unified metrics across the entire company!

Inside the mind...

Your article touches on a sore point for me. Having come through corporate America (not my cup of tea), and now having been an entrepreneur for about 25 years, I have experienced both sides.

On one side the mantra is: “We have stuff to sell - find a buyer!” On the other side, the mantra is: “We have people who what to buy - what do they want?”

The catalyst that makes marketing work today IS the customer experience. But, the key to that customer is till his/her psychology. And, that’s where marketing tends to breakdown. Very few marketing firms, ad agencies and corporations seem to know what’s inside their customers’ heads. If you don’t know what’s inside there, you won’t know what’s important to them, or how to they make decisions. Thus, you could give them an experience, but it would likely be dismal.

My experience is, most companies didn’t understand the value of the customer psychology in the first place, so how can they understand it now that it’s becoming even more important?

The firms who don't recognize “get it,’ look more and more like people walking around with sandwich boards shouting their product features at passing traffic.

design thinking

hi Mike --

I like the mental image of the sandwich boards. I might use that in a slide deck! :)

But I really love your point about the psychology behind customers' needs and purchase decisions -- and I believe a human-centered design approach is the best way to answer that “what do they want?” question. Design brings the deep research methods that uncover what people really want and need AND the generative tools that help teams create innovative solutions. I'd imagine that companies rooting their product and service roadmaps in design thinking would have a much easier time with their marketing efforts!

Haven't had a chance to read

Haven't had a chance to read that article yet, but I agree the two will co-exist for the foreseeable future so everyone should be able to figure out how to work together. There was an interesting article in the NY Times yesterday about using marketing to remind people of the customer experience that is the core product at Hard Rock Cafe.

Kerry hope this isn't a

Kerry hope this isn't a thread derail but thanks to Megan for pointing me to that article. One of the great things about the web, Twitter, etc. is not only finding articles you may have missed but also seeing what someone else finds interesting or relevant about them. Megan's precis of the article was helpful; although it was hard not to read the piece and the soundbites from the agency/client/whoever and roll my eyes at the aspirational and unrealistic language. While the debate over UX and advertising is seeing a lot of intense pixels spilled, there's something about authenticity - both of intent and of resultant experience that might be examined more closely?


Megan –
Thanks for the link! I think we’re going to see more and more brands marketing their customer experiences.

Steve –
Your authenticity point is huge. Even the New York Times writer pokes fun at the Hard Rock ads by pointing out that images of the same boy are used to promote locations in San Diego, CA; Hollywood, FL; and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: “That kid sure gets around.” Contrast this to the Apple ads that showcase real iPhone apps or the Zappos ads that replay actual customer service calls.

And of course, this (in)authenticity issue isn’t limited to ads. I bought an awesome down vest at the GAP recently, and as I handed it to the gal behind the register, she issued an awkward “Go Giants!” It was the day of one of the World Series games, and I couldn’t help but imagine that they had a meeting that morning where the store manager told them all to show team spirit. Woo!

I’d love to hear what others think about this issue of authenticity in both customer experience and marketing.

Funny, cuz I went to a

Funny, cuz I went to a relatively new In-N-Out Burger in Redwood City a few weeks ago and the very very young woman behind the counter chirped "Awesome!" when I said that I *did* want onions and it really felt good. I sorta reflected on my reaction and how I was affected by this person so obviously not from my peer group when she offered approval, and I really noted all the amazing energy, enthusiasm and authenticity. They had told them what to say, but they had also hired for or instilled an attitude that let them connect on simple things like that.

Onions *are* awesome!

I'm not sure if it was clear in my previous reply, but the "Go Giants!" felt forced, like she was told to say it to every customer. I really hope that wasn't the case.

Mmm... now I want In-N-Out.

No you were very clear; guess

No you were very clear; guess I wasn't :) I was suggesting In-N-Out as a counter-example (so to speak)

thanks for the great conversation!

Yeah, I think your example was, well, awesome! :)

It shouldn't be one or the other...

Thanks so much for highlighting something that has been a key topic on my mind for the last couple of years. There tends to be a strong schism between a lot of UX and Marketing people; I have UX friends who think all marketing is evil, and I have marketing friends who think UX people don't know anything about business.

As 'customer experience' gains more and more prominence, I've been urging colleagues on both sides to try to gain alignment. I worry that some UX folks are so resistant to advertising and even marketing overall, that they will see their influence dissipate rather than grow as more companies work to become customer centric. Recently I've heard more marketing than UX people talk about holistic customer experience across channels, and I believe THAT is where we need to be going. Regardless of who is evangelizing it. Hopefully we can figure out ways to work together without the subject matter skills on both sides getting lost.

I will send this post (and the also great comments) to all of the people I'm trying to convince :)

Happy to help

Samantha – Glad you liked the post.

I think the attitudes of UX designers has a lot to do with them not understanding their contributions to business in terms of real dollars. How many years did we go without being able to define the ROI of UX improvements?? (Megan Burns just published a great report called The Business Impact Of Customer Experience, 2010. Hopefully this will help!)

I get the feeling that I’ll be playing a role in bringing these two groups together. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you do the same!

UX vs Design vs Service vs...

I love that Peter's post generated so much heat. Your thoughtful followup offers some clear-headed pov. One of the issues I've faced in my career is having to navigate an agency landscape of labels, titles, and silos. Can an art director who's into UX be an agency creative director? Should any of us want to be? Sometimes it seems like a lot of the hubub comes from nothing more than growing pains, and the marketing/ad industry grows at a glacial pace.

Anyway, I posted not so much a response to Peter's post, but some real-world storytelling around what it feels like for me, in role, at a big agency.

Cast as Digital Creative at the Big Agency. Check out my post: Please Don’t Eat the Chameleons #anchorpoints

I really enjoyed your post

Jeff, I love the honesty you bring to the role you play in this confusing space. I could relate to your post on a lot of levels. (Including the working at Hill Holliday part -- congrats on the new gig!)

And yes, not wearing a watch is definitely a Digital Guy/Gal Thing. I'm with you.

Just a gig

I think there is something very wrong here. In my earlier years, I followed my dream to be a rock star and spent all day every day perfecting my chops. For a few years, I did play some concerts, but most of my gigs were in clubs. In the end, the thing I loved (playing drums) turned into an anchor around my heart that killed my passion. I looked at miles of beer-stained red carpet and put up with vast quantities of beer-flavored halitosis.

My passion became just another gig. So, I did what I knew to be the right thing - found a new passion. I've learned over the years that we don't have just one passion.

The other thing I loved was writing, so I started putting a portfolio together and freelancing. That led me to a job as the head junk mail guru at JCPenney. And, that's where my next passion found me. At JCP I always asked, "Who buys this stuff?" And, they never knew, which always amazed me. So, I went back to the university and got a degree in psychology so I could figure out who buys what and why.

I found it. Now I know how to figure out who buys what and why. It's an amazing skill set, but the point is, I discovered something amazing because I followed my passion with an open heart.

The marketing and advertising universe seems to be suffering from a lack of passion. Maybe that's the result of the traditional world slamming into the digital world. But, they're both just different delivery systems to carry psychologically crafted messages.

Oh - what? Your copywriters don't have any training in psychology? Of course they don't. I'm a strange bird because I have that psycho-passion. But, because I've worn both the traditional copywriter hat and the psycho-copywriter hat, I know the difference.

The next time your copywriter turns in a headline based on a really cute pun, wad it up and throw it in his/her face. Say, "Figure out what's inside that target market's head! Figure out why they would buy this product - or don't come back."

The digital age has also ushered in the Accountability Age. If your marketing and advertising does not ring true with the target's psychology (mainly values and presuppositions), that target market could turn around a bite you on the bottom. You merely have to explore some of the campaigns that did more harm than good to see the truth in that.

Mike - the psycho at AboutPeople

Hybrid people

Mike, I made a lot of connections with your post and Jeff's above. There seem to be so many people in this space with passions that overlap design, psychology, technology, marketing, and a strong focus on the customer. And often that means that we (yes, I'm including myself) don't fit nicely into predefined roles.

I'm glad you found a role that you're passionate about!

Lest We Forget The CTO

In your last bullet, i would add the need to have the CTO added to the mix. As retail channels continue to integrate, and as engagement banking evolves, we need to see traditional silos crumble.

Right on

I completely agree about the CTO. I'm just a bit focused on marketing at the moment.

Interestingly, I had a briefing a couple of days ago from Palmu, a Finnish service design agency. They wanted to make sure that technology wasn't a barrier to their solutions and so they recently created a daughter company focused on IT infrastructure and implementation. A common practice for interactive marketing agencies, sure, but not so much for service design agencies!

Hi Kerry - interesting post.

Hi Kerry - interesting post. Having operated in both marketing and customer experience roles the key learning for me was that organisations should focus on synthesis, not functional fragmentation. The very definition of marketing is one that captures the concepts of customer-centricity and CEM methods should be used to enhance the process.

As many of the other comments point out the issue isn't orientation (i.e. marketing orientation, customer experience orientation etc) - the issue in my view is implementation. Too many organisations see marketing as the colouring in department - the ones who come up with the cool brochures and pontificate about the ideal font. UX should also be an implicit part of a great company's marketing philosophy and approach. Great UX is an enabler to attracting people, getting them to try something and then providing ongoing satisfaction and delight once they are your customers.

Companies shouldn't do UX just for the hell of it - like CEM, UX is a means to an end: satisfied and loyal customers.


I come from the UX side of the house, and it's always seemed to me that organizations see UX as the "colouring in department". (Though this is certainly changing.) So it's really interesting that you feel marketing is viewed the same way.

I love this part your comment: "UX should also be an implicit part of a great company's marketing philosophy and approach."


Yep I hear you, in the telco where i last worked, for the first year or so the UX team was seen as the guys you go to for validation just before launch... you know, 'look guys, we gotta launch next month and it says here on the checklist that we have to get the user experience guys to sign off. are you busy this afternoon?'...

it took a lot of foundation building in terms of demonstrative revenue, margin and satisfaction improvements to get the business to understand that great UX started before anything was put down on paper.