If you ask any User Experience Professional what the principles of their profession are, one of the first principles you’ll hear is “Know Your Users”. This makes sense: if we are to create great experiences for users then we must know something about them. You’ll also find this phrase if you stumble upon any sort of must-have usability checklist (long lists of Important Things are now in vogue, masquerading as content curation). Throughout the world of user-centric design, the phrase “know your users” is one of the most repeated calls-to-action.
But there is another industry of professionals whose job it is to know their users: Marketers. The marketing industry existed a long time before UX came along, and good marketers are as focused on their users as any UX professional is. Indeed, the Wikipedia definition of marketing includes this turn of phrase, which you would be hard-pressed to distinguish from UX: “Marketing is used to identify the customer, to keep the customer and to satisfy the customer.”
It is well known that marketers suffer from a horrible reputation. This is because they often fall into what one might call the “demographics trap”, where they rely on overly-broad measures like demographics to determine who their users are. Demographics, which are person-specific metadata like age, gender, occupation, region, income, and marital status give only the most basic insight into the life of a user and relying on them will quickly get you into trouble (e.g. the average family has 2.3 kids). Poor marketers use demographics to paint the entire picture of their user base.
Another reason why marketing has a bad reputation is that good marketing often goes unnoticed. When a marketer presents us with a timely and valuable product or service we can really use we don’t think of it as marketing because we’re too busy enjoying the fruits of their labor. Similarly, the good work of UX professionals often goes unnoticed: great design is invisible to users because they’re too busy enjoying the good design to think much about it.
On the other hand, when a marketer fails in their job and distracts us with a product or service that is not valuable, we notice and get angry. Bad marketers give the good ones a bad name.
UX professionals are more focused on design than marketers are. People start considering user experience often as a response to having been in a design process that ignored or assumed too much about its users. They become UX Professionals to right this wrong: they have seen how hurtful a shallow understanding of users really is. That’s why the phrase “Know Your Users” is so central to UX.
UX is really just good marketing. It’s about knowing who your market is, knowing what is important to them, knowing why it is important to them, and designing accordingly. It’s also about listening after you’ve designed and adjusting to the changing marketplace: improving the experience of those in your market. Its easy to recognize this when you consider that users = market. That’s what users are: your users are the market you’re designing for. This is why good marketers actually do a lot of what UX people do and vice-versa. Any good marketing professional would tell you that knowing who your users are has long been recognized as good business.
Or, as Kathy Sierra might say: “You ARE a marketer. Deal with it”.