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

Kerry Bodine
November 22, 2010

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.

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