UX-led brand positioning can redefine how we engage our clients, and their customers

Date: 12 March, 2018

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Designers and marketers need each other if they are to have the impact they want on society — and that means they need to start speaking each other’s languages.

If brands are to make true on the promises they make their customers then we — Marketers, Advertisers, UX Designers, and Content Strategists — need to work together. We all want to engage customers in a meaningful way, and, in some part, make their lives easier.

But the status quo for marketing, advertising, and UX departments is for neither of these to meet. The best way to bring these disciplines together is to look for the areas where they overlap.

Brand Positioning

Brand positioning, when done right, isn’t just a way of eking out a conceptual space in a commoditised market. It’s a way for a conscientious brand to have a purpose, and use that purpose to have an impact beyond its investor-focused goal of just selling more product.

Positioning is the space that a product occupies in the market: Dove, although it’s made some mistakes, has positioned itself as a health and beauty brand that boosts body confidence. Volvo has positioned itself as a safety-focused brand. Irish airline Ryanair positioned itself as the no-frills airline, and with this positioning it sets customers’ expectation of the customer experience — so, how the airline markets itself is an essential part of the user experience.

Design-Led Positioning

UX designers can play two important roles in defining (or redefining) a brand’s positioning, and by extension, its brand promise.

UX Researchers can help define the brand position through ethnographic and other research methods that examine how current and potential customers interact with the brand. As UX Researchers we, more often than not, take our synthesised findings and apply these to the brand’s digital service or in-store experiences. But the insights that we generate can have a much broader impact on that brand and its customers. These insights can be used to improve how that brand differentiates itself from its competitors — to define its position in the market.

Relative Positioning

All brands have some sort of brand position, whether they know it or not. The only difference between a defined brand position (one the brand defines for itself) and an ill-defined brand position (one that customers assign to it) is the amount of control the brand has over it. And this positioning is the first step in the customer experience.

Take Ryanair, the brand markets itself in an abrasive and direct way, and it can do this because it has worked to own that space in the market. Its ads, PR events, and stunts are part of, and inform the customer of, the user experience they can expect. The airline doesn’t neglect the customer experience — it has the appropriate level of customer experience for its brand. Its positioning sets customers’ expectations for the type of experience they’ll get when they fly with that airline.

For brands that don’t have a strong position, or don’t know what their positioning should be, standard UX research — through user/stakeholder interviews, peer analysis etc — can help. By understanding how their customers use their products and their competitors’ products, brands can identify their current market position and either expand on this or redefine their position through service and UX design and content strategy.

Marketing Vs. Design

But here’s the current problem — often neither marketers nor designers speak to each other. Separate agencies or departments compete rather than work together. When this happens brands end up with services that don’t connect and customers end up with services that don’t fit well together.

Marketers and Designers can take moments of use and consideration and turn these into meaningful brand attributes, promises, and ultimately positioning. A positioning that’s informed by current customer experience provides authenticity to the proposition — it prevents the positioning from being divorced from customers’ experience of the brand.

Take Kenco’s Coffee Vs. Gangs campaign. With this campaign Kenco trains Hondurans to set-up coffee-growing businesses. This is a classic piece of positioning — as customers become more aware and concerned by how their products are sourced they begin questioning how brands treat their producers. As a response to this, coffee producers, like Kenco, can position themselves in the ethical coffee space. As a result, customers associate the brand with socially-conscious corporate leadership.

So far, classic positioning. The opportunity for designers (UX, service, business, etc.) is to design how this program will work (and, in the first instance, to identify if this program is actually necessary): what training do participants need, who will provide this, how resources will be provided, and how the program will be monitored, updated and improved over time.

The Complete Experience

So, Design can support brand positioning by actually making the brand promise become true. But this can only be effective if the brand wants to make a difference in their selected space, and if marketers and designers work together to create such campaigns.

This isn’t a battle that every designer can win, some brands don’t believe in their positioning as much as they should, or don’t have the resources come true on their positioning. Many brands simply don’t have the money to create large-scale campaigns such as Kenco’s.

But human-centred, design-led, marketing is possible and can help people if designers and marketers work together.

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