At many companies, designers keep the marketing team at arm’s length. As a marketer, I have worked with different clients and teams and I can’t recall how many times I’ve been faced with “We’ve built a great product. Now we just need to add marketing” problem.
At The Gradient, however, we’ve found that a product team has the most success when marketers and designers work closely together, from ideation to execution. We consider involving marketers in the design process to be essential to a successful product.
“You can no longer say marketing is what I do at the end. It is what you do at the beginning.” — Seth Godin
This year, we’ve built an internal framework that guides how our team of marketers and designers collaborate at every phase of designing Products People Love.
At the moment, we divide our work as a product team into three phases:
1. Finding insights
2. Defining concept
3. Designing Lovable Product
We moved from the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to Minimum Lovable Product (MLP). If years ago having a ‘workable ‘ product as an entry point used to be enough to ensure some level of success, now we must build a 10x better product. I’d quote Garry Tan here:
Nowadays, if a new product decides to enter the existing market, it must be so good that people would switch to it. It must be lovable.
Alignment between design and marketing is key
Any product that we design at The Gradient starts with design and marketing aligning on the story we want to tell at launch. Product marketers and product designers work closely on doing research and understanding the problem we are solving, defining main value propositions that make the users happy, building and launching the solution to the market.
By having both designers and marketers in initial client meetings, research, and ideation stage, we ensure we are all on the same page and working towards the same goals.
Let’s take a look at how design and marketing blend together in the product design process.
Customer research: Insights
We start every project with a discovery phase that helps us to focus on understanding the user needs and context and to find deep insights rather than quick answers.
Insights are the real reasons why a person makes a particular decision. The problem with insights is that this is not something that lies on the surface. Also, what lies on the surface is not always true. Working with insights gives us a deeper understanding of the problem we are working on and solving.
For example, one of the products we are working on is Swan, a self-checkout and online grocery delivery app for the UAE market. At the discovery phase, we conducted numerous interviews with our target users from the UAE to understand the specifics of the market and cultural peculiarities. These interviews gave us valuable insights into what people associate shopping with and their emotions. Then we mapped out the positive emotions that people have when shopping. Our goal was to transfer those positive emotions to the online shopping experience.
At the research stage, it is important that both marketers and designers are involved and have a shared understanding of the insights. Those insights would be implemented both in UX design, brand strategy, UX copy, and across all brand communications.
Too often marketers and product designers overlook the connection between product design and brand strategy. In reality, brand strategy can have an enormously reassuring influence on the design of a product.
One of the biggest determining factors of a company’s success is the combination of clarity and brand consistency. In marketing terms, developing a clear value proposition that aligns with product and brand identity is crucial.
Design should be ‘the silent ambassador’ of your brand.
In the product design process, one of the goals of our product design teams is to ‘fuse’ product and brand and make sure they are actually connected. We need to ensure that both the expression of the brand’s visual language in our product (through type, color, illustration) and broader aspects of the brand (marketing, advertising, brand story) are carried through the product in a clear way. This means that the experience through the customer journey from visiting a marketing website to purchasing and using the product is coherent.
To achieve that we create a brand platform - the foundation, guidelines, and rules that will be translated into every aspect of the product and customer experience. Brand platform synthesizes a company’s business strategy, purpose, and product positioning into a distinctive promise that informs everything the brand stands for.
- Brand mission — is present-based and tells your consumers your brand’s intention.
2. Brand vision — is future-based and tells your consumers what you hope to accomplish with your mission.
3. Brand promise — what experience your brand promises to the customer at every touchpoint of the Customer Decision Journey.
4. Value proposition — how your brand helps customers to overcome their pains and what happiness your product brings them.
5. Reasons-to-believe — the functional benefits of the brand or why users should believe in your promise.
6. Brand values — a system of principles that guides your brand.
When working on a brand platform, we pay close attention to developing reasons-to-believe (RTB) that would resonate with the target audience. RTB are strategically developed to connect to a buying emotion.
From the marketing side, those reasons-to-believe should be clearly formulated and communicated, whereas, from the design side, they should be baked through the solution we design.
For example, for one of our clients, a UK-based fintech startup, we created a brand platform that described the brand’s main value propositions: Fair, Affordable, and Simple. These value propositions, as well as RTB, became the basis for decision making for our designer.
It is important that you keep a core value proposition at the heart of your product design strategy.
For example, Simplicity has become one of the main focuses in our UX design process. ‘Easy to share’ reason-to-believe is displayed in the interface in a way that a user can share her credit limit with a family or friend in just a couple of clicks.
It is important to consistently communicate your brand’s value, vision and unique selling proposition in a way that resonates with the target customers and across all customer touchpoints. A brand touchpoint is any type of interaction or communication made between a brand and its customers. It is the combination of clarity and consistency that builds trust.
If you think about the most successful companies, this alignment is very evident. A great example of a brand that has mastered how to translate a compelling brand essence to every aspect of what they do is Airbnb.
Airbnb's vision statement ‘Belong anywhere’ is a catalyst for everything the company does as a brand, it guides how it communicates and is translated into the product and service innovation.
Airbnb’s mission statement is “to live in the world where one day you can feel like you’re home anywhere & not in a home, but truly home, where you belong” that displays the impact the company expects to have on the lives of its customers.
In 2014 Airbnb debuted its new mission statement to the world and presented its brand identity. From the tagline to typeface, the brand identity tells people what your brand is really about: people, places, love, and Airbnb’s product.
The Consumer Journey is a framework for evaluating how consumers make buying decisions and how marketers and designers can influence those decisions. Each phase in this process represents a unique opportunity to capture consumers (or alternatively, lose them). It begins with a customer’s initial consideration and moves through various touchpoints, both online and offline. By mapping our buyer’s journey, we uncover critical insights that are necessary for creating brand messaging and brand visuals.
Consumers often make purchasing decisions based on their perception of the brand and engagement with it. Today, customers can engage with brands in more ways and places than ever before. As a result, it’s increasingly challenging for brands to capture their attention, build trust and loyalty.
Brand consistency is the key to earning customers’ trust.
Working on the product, we want to ensure that customers get a consistent and continuous brand experience throughout all the journey and through all channels, both offline and online.
For example, working on the Swan app, we created a creative platform that included tone of voice, visual approach, brand emotion, and a brand hero. This platform was a guide for both designers and marketers when working on both the product and marketing: a landing page, mobile app, social media, emails, and offline marketing assets.
We’ve also helped Swan with the initial offline assets that are consistent with the overall design system. We have created a series of designs for offline advertising for supermarkets (posters with QR codes, stickers) that were consistent with the creative platform guidelines. It was very important to tell the brand story offline so that potential customers would download the app and place their first order. This paid off very well and actually 20% of downloads came from offline marketing.
It is very important that your brand and tone of voice were reflected in all content, visual assets, and the product itself. The goal is to create a holistic and authentic experience for the user across every touchpoint you have with them, both online and offline.
The closer your product team can work with your marketing team, the more chances this goal will be achieved.
Building products that people love means creating long-lasting and delightful user experiences through emotions.
In the offline world, there are many different possibilities to evoke emotions in customers, for example, with the help of sound, color, or smell in the stores. When building a digital store, our possibilities are limited and our task as a product team is to try to ‘transfer’ the experience and emotions of the customer from offline to online.
If we want to build products and experiences that are enjoyable, we need to focus on how they make people feel. When it comes to digital products, words matter just as much as visuals. The voice and tone have a great impact on the perception of the brand, its trustworthiness and desirability. How your product meaningfully connects with people matters.
When designing our next product, we always think of how we can tie the experience together with engaging or amusing copy. For example, for the Swan app, our brand hero is positioned as a ‘friend’ who is fun and helpful, who makes a shopping experience enjoyable. Showing personality in the app or website can be a very powerful way for your audience to identify your brand and empathize with you. With the help of copy, we wanted the product to inspire meaningful feelings like excitement, amazement, or delight.
A great example of a product with a remarkable personality that is translated in the copy is Mailchimp. The voice of Mailchimp tells jokes and stories and talks to its users like a good friend or ‘buddy’. By adding small and delightful interactions throughout the user journey, MailChimp makes sending emails a lot more fun.
According to Apptentive’s 2019 App Engagement Benchmark report, users who experience some form of brand interaction are four times as likely to continue using a mobile app. Therefore, brands need to identify strategic opportunities to communicate directly with users.
Push notifications have been shown to increase app engagement by 88%. For marketers, notifications are a great way to get users back into the app, give them a gentle reminder or send them the latest offerings. But those messages have to be optimized and personalized, otherwise, they would be ignored or even worse, annoy the user. Impersonal, irrelevant and poorly timed notifications may ruin the whole experience of using your app.
The question that arises here is how do we design notification systems, which serve the primary goal of increasing user engagement without annoying the user? The main factors at play when it comes to successful push notifications are:
- What time you send the notification (relevance)
- How many notifications you send over a period (frequency)
- How valuable is information in the notification for the user (personalization)
It is important to plan your notification system as a part of the user flow and use accurate, person-level data to inform your notifications.
For example, for the Swan app, we wanted to create notifications that would delight users and provide value to them in real time. Working on the messages we were guided by our brand’s tone of voice and hero image and added emoji to evoke positive emotions among users.
Automated and personalized emails
Automated emails are important touchpoints of the consumer journey. They play as much of a role in contributing to the overall UX of the brand as any other element of its presence or products themselves.
The first thing we ask ourselves when planning automated email campaigns is what real value we are bringing to the users with our emails. Because let’s be honest, out of hundreds of emails reaching our inboxes, only a few of them give us true value.
A behavior study called ‘Email Newsletters: Surviving Inbox Congestion’ by Jakob Nielsen points out the reader spends an average of 51 seconds with an email marketing campaign. It means that he doesn’t actually read the email but ‘scans’ it. That means that our emails should be easy to navigate and deliver value, or the necessary information, in just a few seconds. We can achieve that with the well-designed email structure, the right copy, and relevant images.
According to Hubspot, 59% of email users say marketing emails with better user experience influence purchase decisions. That is why our goal as marketers is to deliver contextual and highly personalized experiences for our customers. We can achieve that by tailoring content and offers to behavior, demographics and preferences, or stage in the lifecycle.
We plan automated emails as part of the user’s overall flow. Then designers work together with marketers to create emails according to the brand consistency guidelines, based on the communication strategy, defined tone of voice, identity and brand assets.
Microinteractions, illustrations, animations
“Invest that little bit of time to make it a little bit more human or — depending on your brand — a little funnier, a little more different, or a little more whatever. It’ll be worth it, and that’s my challenge.” — Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit
The difference between a good product and a great product is the attention to detail. Little details like micro-interactions and animations make a great difference in the user’s experience using your app.
Micro-interactions and animations improve the look and the feel of your product, making it more engaging and enjoyable to use. Their purpose is to delight the user, to create a moment that is engaging and welcoming. For example, earlier this year Uber Eats rolled out redesigned version of its consumer-facing app, adding more graphics and animations. These animated illustrations, showing colorful mixing bowls and cooking utensils for the prep phase, and cute little delivery bags full of food when everything’s done, bring a friendlier look for the app. At the same time, they help to keep the user up to date on their order’s status throughout different stages of the delivery journey.
Adding illustrations is another great opportunity to create strong and fast visual associations with your brand: characters, colors, composition, recognizable details will quickly inform users and support your product message. It’s important to remember, however, that illustrations are purposeful and are used as an addition to the marketing content, not as a replacement.
When done right, these details can give users positive feelings about your brand and impact the satisfaction they get from using your product.
Where to start from
Our ‘Find. Define. Design’ framework works very well when we start building a new product from scratch. In real life, though, we can’t always follow our ideal plan, and our approach varies depending on the client and the case. For brand new products we can work on the branding strategy and its implementation in a product from scratch, but for existing products, it’s important to look at and evaluate what we already have. In this case, we do recommend Google’s three-hour brand sprint workshop that you can do with your team. It’s a series of six exercises that are designed to quickly align team members around a vision for their brand. Within the three-hour session, you will work on the ‘why,’ ‘how,’ and ‘what’ of your company or project and set the foundation for doing subsequent branding activities.