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Will advertising succumb to UX?

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Digital, digital, digital. Among the many things this pandemic has shown, the need to develop a digital presence took centre stage and demonstrated how some brands have probably been clinging onto their real-life, physical origins for one year too many.

User Experience and UI Design may be the future of the advertising agency, with businesses worldwide expected to spend trillions on digital transformation projects. Where do we go from there? Are UX and digital engagement/interaction going to take over the creative crown and dominate Adland? What's the future of customer engagement, and most importantly, what is the future of traditional ad campaigns?

Being no experts on the topic ourselves, we got in touch with Jack Ashdown, Creative Director at Great State, to discuss the future of UX and what it entails for the global creative industries.

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Jack Ashdown is Creative Director at Great State

Is UX going to take the ad agency's creative crown?

Fuelled by the effects of the global pandemic, the acceleration of digital transformation had already gained immense pace over the past few years. This has had a huge effect on the way that consumers interact with brands. Today’s world is all about the consumer, and thanks to digital-first competition, they’re able to pick what’s best for them; which might be Uber over a black cab, AirBnb over a Hilton, or Deliveroo over their local takeaway. Brands and organisations are starting to realise that it’s no longer enough to decide on a target audience and create an ad campaign hoping to hit the mark and boost sales ad infinitum. They need to build deeper relationships with the consumer and show their use in their lives. This is where the power of User Experience (UX) and experience design comes into play.

In fact, by 2023, businesses worldwide are predicted to be investing almost two trillion dollars in digital transformation projects. In comparison, they’ll be spending a relatively humble $600 billion on advertising. A big slice of the money spent on digital transformation will be focused on digital services, and consumer engagement or interaction. Visual and data creativity as part of UX design will be critical to success, which begs the question – will the centre of the creative universe start shifting from advertising to UX over the coming decade?

The experience-based economy

Companies have been forced to rethink how they do business due to COVID-19, but they have also been exposed to new realities and made to confront new potential solutions on how to lead their businesses successfully into the future. There is gathering evidence to the idea that we are entering an “experience-based economy”, where people’s relationships, propensity to use or buy from brands and their overall knowledge of a company will be focused as much, or even more on, their digital interactions with a brand rather than on TV commercials or more traditional advertising methods. Where brands and their products and services are so heavily commoditised in a globalised, competitive marketplace, the experience is the thing that’ll resonate and keep customers coming back.

The transformation or evolution of many organisations will be geared around achieving superior digital service experiences and that the future of marketing will build on the already intrinsic need for great customer experience and service design. We’ve reached a point in the digitisation of business where even the digital disruptors already touched on (Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo) are being disrupted by those with an even greater focus on UX. All grow their brands with a service-first approach, over ad campaigns. 

The role of UX design

While undergoing a digital transformation, companies often think the same strategies that have proven their efficacy in real life will work just as well for online. This isn’t always the case, as people behave differently in a digital environment. Brands should be focusing on not only the traditional approach that involved attracting consumers to the product or service, but also how to retain those consumers and use that advocacy to grow

UX is the face of service design. Only by understanding how the interface integrates with online/offline and front-of-house/back-of-house processes will the user get a seamless UX. Products that provide great user experience are designed with not only the product’s consumption or use in mind, but enjoyment, efficiency and fun too, increasing customer satisfaction and ensuring customers actively look forward to engaging with a brand.

Form and function with feeling: Brand personality

UX and user interface (UI) design are also used to convey brand personality and help to differentiate brands from their competitors. It’s about experience design; from the bounce of a button to an error message that makes you smile, it’s brands that consider how the user feels when they use their produce that shine through.

In a famous visualisation, Aarron Walter compared Maslow’s pyramid of human needs to the pyramid of user needs. Starting from the bottom the layers are: Functional, Reliable, Usable and Pleasurable. Pleasurable is the icing on the digital design cake, but can often be overlooked owing to limited budgets, the blinkered idea of product design, or just a culture of short-termism. 

Everything online - at least everything that matters - is functional, reliable and usable. It’s adding design that a human brain might actually get enjoyment from which increases the likelihood that they will return to that particular brand for the same experience again.

Journey to the UX throne

The “Mad Men” have been the kings of creativity for more than a century, but their position could now be challenged over the coming decade by technologists and UX designers. Of course, there’s still a role for advertising, but it may well be eaten into unless adland can call in creative reinforcements. Some of the major advantages of advertising are that it introduces a new product in the market, it enables expansion of the market, educates consumers, and facilitates mass production of products increasing the volume of sales.

Can an app experience ever surmount the excitement a potential customer feels around the first broadcast of the annual John Lewis Christmas ad? Not yet. The “Nike: Just Do It.” ad drove sales to over $9.2 billion and the “Coke: Share a Coke'' advertising campaign was a huge hit because of its personalisation, raking in the big bucks. These big advertising mass-moments may have held back UX from taking the limelight as CMO’s still covet that fame you only get when a TV ad becomes popular culture.

However, it’s becoming clear that if brands want to future-proof their strategies in this new experience-based economy, they need to shift some of the marketing budget away from expensive commercials and into UX Design.

Take WPP. The holding company recently revealed that all its creative agencies had returned negative growth in the five years to 2019 – a marked contrast from their media and digital counterparts. In addition, the CMO survey has reported reductions in spending in traditional advertising for several years now, suggesting it might be time to hop on the digital train.

UX design strategy has become crucial to staying competitive and improving the satisfaction of consumers. The better the user experience, the higher the chances are of attracting users, converting them into customers who will continue to use the service, and then encouraging their contacts to do the same. A hybrid model of advertising and UX creative strategies could create a powerful dynamic as consumers increasingly seek emotive experiences within the digital world. For now, the crown of creativity is lying on the battlefield, and it’s going to be interesting to see who picks it up. 

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