• November 11, 2021
  • By Jamie Gier , chief marketing officer, Ceros

Forget User Experience—Marketers Should Focus on Human Experience

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In a digital world that can be accessed even from your watch, “user experience” has become blasé. Whatever once might have been novel is now simply expectation—click here and scroll there to conduct one transaction or another. Engagement, on the other hand, now requires so much more.

Look at gaming. Early video games were a way to pass the time. You put a quarter in Pac-Man, and the experience was limited to the screen display. Now, games like Fortnite and Minecraft have their own communities. You can create your own characters. The digital experience is the human experience, with all the wonder, amusement, anxiety, and other emotions the human experience brings.

As gaming and other facets of our digital lives show, the path to consumer engagement is changing. The way forward for digital marketers is clear, and it’s rooted in human experience (HX) design that connects on a deeper emotional level.

“Clearly, HX provides a more holistic, human-centric perspective than UX (user-centric) or CX (customer-centric),” Martin Recke wrote for the Next Conference on digital trends. “We, the users, are not only users. We might be customers, or the product being sold, but we definitely are human beings.”

So for the unfamiliar, what is human experience design? A simple explanation is that it focuses on what works best for people—their preferences—rather than just what best completes a transaction.

Why is it important for marketers? An even simpler explanation: Because we’re all humans. And we engage based on emotion.

People are inundated with marketing. Forrester Research forecast a 40 percent increase in marketing message volume for this year. Transaction-based marketing is just more noise. The winners are those who can cut through the noise with highly humanized content and experiences.

The Evolution of the User Experience

The term “user experience” was coined in the 1980s and refers to all aspects of the end user’s interaction with a company, its services, and its products. Decades later, as Anchor & Alpine design agency partner Amber Sawaya notes, user experience is an entire professional discipline. Designers and researchers flocked to the new discipline because at last there were ways to measure how well things were communicating with people visually.

But as companies found ways to measure the impact of design, they also found ways to monetize it. “And that emphasis on monetization” Sawaya says “has often resulted in decision-making and design that manipulates users with addictive UX strategies, considering them users of a product above all, rather than as humans.”

Digital design was based on the product—a transactional exchange. But now the digital transaction has become commonplace. A purchase, an appointment, a reservation is only one or two clicks away. True engagement is another matter. It requires more. Human experience design focuses on the people, not the product.

What Humans Feel, and What They Need

How do you design based on the human needs and emotions people might have with your brand? That’s at the root of human experience design. Rather than design that is focused on how someone interacts with a product, focus instead on how you engage people in experiences that address their emotional and physical needs. Instead of thinking about “users,” think about various personas.

Consider a recent digital marketing effort by Ceros’ client Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. The words and imagery are not focusing on rooms and amenities per se but rather on the relaxation and sunshine you want to experience on a summer vacation. The effort lures you in with that promise of sunshine and relaxation, not two beds and a nightstand. Scrolling through reflects options for exploration and adventure—curiosity and wonder—before much later leading you to where to book a room.

Think of the digital experience as a journey rather than a moment in time. Think about how the storytelling engages people emotionally. Human experience design begins with a change in mind-set. Its focus isn’t on what product you have. It’s on what experience your product can help create. 

Human Experience Design Requires a Commitment

Put human experience design at the forefront of your own work. Focus on the aspirations of your audience, not just the transactions. We’re humans. What emotionally drives us? What meets our needs?

There will be obstacles ahead. Product development will require more time and effort as you design more creatively. So more investment will be required as well. And you may need to relax some of your design standards. You may need to be less subjective, less purist in your approach because the idea isn’t about you; it’s about your customer. 

Human experience design is now integral to successful brand marketing. Storytelling that elicits emotion drives engagement. It’s a digital experience. Design focused on the transaction alone serves a function but is not memorable. Be memorable instead.   

Jamie Gier is chief marketing officer at Ceros. Gier has extensive experience scaling and growing businesses by creating impactful brands, designing revenue generating go-to-market strategies, and leading high-performing teams across product marketing, corporate communications, public relations, digital marketing and demand creation. She has held executive-level marketing positions at DreamBox Learning, SCI Solutions (now R1), Microsoft, and GE Healthcare and was involved in a number of industry mergers and acquisitions.

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