By Jill Stover Heinze
As a User Experience Librarian at UVA I frequently hear patrons say, “I didn’t know you did [that amazing service],” or “I didn’t know you had [those amazing materials].” When it’s your mission to make information accessible, it can be frustrating to discover people simply don’t know what a treasure trove your library holds. That frustration led me to formally study marketing and how it can be applied to help libraries connect with their users.
While there are likely many causes for differences, I suspect the most fundamental one results from weighing organizational needs (which marketers are perceived to represent) against user needs (which UXers are perceived to represent) in cases where they don’t naturally align.
As UX practitioners in libraries and higher education, we know how instrumental the user experience is to organizational success. Fortunately, more and more institutions have marketing professionals who can bring the value of these experiences to light. Because these practices are both so important for our institutions’ effectiveness, they merit better understanding and appreciation all around. Here are a few things marketers and UXers have in common that can be bridges for bringing out the best of both:
- Marketers and UXers care about creating value for users.
If you’ve experienced one too many pop-up ads, pieces of junk mail, or pushy salespeople, you may have the impression that marketers’ sole purpose is to force unwanted products on beleaguered customers. Admittedly, there is more than enough bad marketing to give the profession a poor reputation. But having worked in a marketing capacity, I can attest that good marketers respect customers. The American Marketing Association officially defines marketing as, “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Marketers and UXers may employ different models and approaches to arrive at this end goal, but at their core, both realize that useless products and services fail, and that understanding users is critical for making services that resonate with their needs.
- Marketers and UXers’ work rely on user participation.
I don’t have to elaborate on this point with you UXers. Of course our work involves sitting next to, interviewing, and even sketching with users often on a one-on-one basis. But what UXers may not know is that some marketers also invite users into all stages of their work, from product development to communications (sometimes referred to as participatory marketing). Today’s marketers understand they can’t (and shouldn’t try to) control every aspect of their brands, but that they need to include users who increasingly want to be involved in developing the products and services they use, and, at times, contribute their own content to the effort. In addition, marketers have long relied on familiar research methods like focus groups and surveys to help them better understand users’ needs.
- Marketers and UXers seek better bottom lines.
This statement might be a difficult one to accept, particularly in higher ed where the ‘bottom line’ isn’t always clear or easily measurable. I suspect it’s particularly hard for some UXers to agree with this since this kind of thinking isn’t as ingrained as it is in the marketing realm. But, I know when I’m conducting usability studies or interviews, I’m trying to arrive at some deep insight that would help address the needs of many more users and make using the library a pleasant experience on a large scale. And, much like a marketer, I test how well I’m doing through a number of bottom-line metrics that tell me whether I got it right, like more repeat website visitors or increased satisfaction rates.
Where tension between the two groups of professionals can arise is when each perceives success differently. For example, a marketing unit may insist on placing a “Donate” button prominently on the homepage to meet the institution’s fundraising goals, whereas user testing reveals the button gets in the way of primary user research tasks. While each situation is unique, I believe both parties are aiming at the same target of helping people and meeting their needs, so the difference is more tactical than philosophical. Knowing this can help smooth over difficult conversations and re-frame problems in a more productive context. In this hypothetical case, perhaps the focus can shift toward analyzing donors as website users and finding more fruitful, targeted ways to attract their attention while preserving the site’s research focus.
Make friends with marketers
Personally, having library, marketing, and UX backgrounds have enabled me to draw from a large pool of tactics, experience, models, and techniques that I can apply to solving user problems both online and within our buildings. Having done a bit of email marketing, for instance, I felt immediately comfortable in my UX role offering guidance on making our online library forms more effective. But for those of you UXers who don’t have this specific mix of experiences, it’s worth making friends with your institution’s marketers and considering how you might learn from each other and explore possible partnerships. If you don’t have a marketing unit, stop by your library and favorite search engine for some marketing reading material that you might find surprisingly inspiring.
About the Author
Jill Stover Heinze is the Director of User Experience for UVA Library. She’s also working on a book about marketing libraries that she should be finishing soon (fingers crossed!).
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