Several months ago I wrote a post entitled “Finally! Real Proof that Good UX Equals Business Success”. In it I talk about how Airbnb has begun utilizing a new feature, Neighborhoods, that helps inform users about the areas of the city where they are looking to stay. I also talk about how Neighborhoods is an ad-free way for Airbnb to increase user engagement, and, hopefully, business success. Shortly after I wrote the piece, I received a great email from Caleb Brown, posing to me several interesting questions. After a few back and forth emails filled with in-depth comments and ideas, Caleb responded with this.
“I am wondering if – rather than being a site without ads – Neighborhoods is really one big undifferentiated ad? A piece of content that is designed to hook you in and make you consume something? Maybe the next age is when we stop being able to detect advertisements…They’re still there, but they have stopped being rectilinear distractions from the main tasks in a page. I am thinking of Pinterest, which could be described (very well) as a big pool of ads or visual miscellany that is stoking consumption.”
It was this thought that eventually led me down the path to the realization that even though I architect for experiences, what that really means, in many respects, is that I am one hell of an advertiser.
The current state of ads on the web is, for the most part, for them to be explicit and, many times, intrusive. Because of this, many of us UX professionals, have started to see them as evil. They only get in the way of the progress of our user, and because of that we should try to decrease their presence as much as possible.
We hound the marketers by telling them that ads have no place in the experience of, say, trying to get an auto quote, or purchase a watch online. Ads simply are clutter and distraction. Because of this many of us have also pushed ourselves away from thinking about our roles as marketers. We are experience designers damn it! We don’t just sell stuff… right? Wrong!
Taking a step back, many of us think that we only design great experiences to make the world a better place for the user. We want to make their experience delightful and ensure that they have a voice in what they do online. But, why do we do all that, really? Our intentions are usually pure, meaning we really do want to help people. But is making it easier and more delightful to spend more money virtually really something that users need to make their lives better… is it really? Or, on the flip side, does creating a delightful and enjoyable experience work in the business’ favor to get the user to consume more, buy more, engage more. Thus, as architects and designers of these experiences that are created in order to hook users to get them to consume more, what we really are are some of the best darned advertisers around.
Granted, many of you IAs and UXers out there already know this. I’ll admit that it has probably crossed my subconscious once or twice, but that I have never fully embraced this fact. And, I’m also willing to wager that many of you out there right now are standing up, yelling at your screen, saying that you aren’t an advertiser (those greedy, manipulative people!) but you are an advocate for the user!
It may be true that you are an advocate for the user, but it is equally true that you are an advertiser, meant to manipulate (probably in a good way) user’s behavior in order to get them to use your product or service much more than they normally would. And, that, dear reader, is OK. The problem comes in when we don’t realize and own the fact that we are advertisers.
When we pull away from this fact, several things can happen. First, we leave the advertising of products and services up to a separate unit (usually marketing) in our organization. What this means is that someone else, who may be completely unaware of the intended user experience across channels, has a job that involves making sure their content gets seen. Because they have this goal, and because they are outside of your purview, they usually have no choice but to create something that will take the user out of their task flow. If this advertiser doesn’t know about the experience you’ve architected, then they surely don’t know how to fit their content and goals into it, after all.
Second when we as UX professionals don’t see ourselves as advertisers, we are not being real about our responsibilities. This means that we may not be aware that it is our job to figure out how to integrate advertising and marketing goals into our user flows and designs. Both of these issues can cause us to have ill relationships and outlooks on our advertising and marketing partners. The main problem with all of this is that we have a disjointed approach to crafting the user’s experience. And, a disjointed approach means a disjointed experience for all.
What then, is the solution to these problems? First and foremost, we need to embody our roles as supreme advertisers. Many of us, as I mentioned, have already done this. I would bet the farm on the fact that those of us who have embodied our roles as advertisers are creating more fluid experiences for our users.
In order for us to embody our role as advertisers, we first need to realize that advertising in and of itself is not always bad. If an advertisement is not a distraction, but is instead something that enhances the user’s experience by providing them more information that they need (ala Neighborhoods for Airbnb) than it is actually making the world a bit easier for the user, while better for your business.
Once we realize that advertising is not evil, we can begin to see our roles in it. By doing so, by embodying our roles as supreme advertisers we will better integrate with our internal, as well as, client teams to create products and services that enhance the user experience while helping the business to succeed. We will also stop seeing advertising and marketing as evil, and instead see them as partners who can help us do our job better. All in all, taking on and embracing this role makes us better at what we do, and that is how we really help all the users out there.
This reminds me of something I read, but had struggled with accepting – the purpose of any communication is to persuade. So, although we as creators tend to distance ourselves from anything marketing, we should also bear in mind that without a market we’d have nothing to create.