Achieving U(X)topia for next-generation product design and marketing

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Generation Z is now – and publishers and technology providers must deliver new products faster, writes Anne Stone

Post-millennials make up a huge proportion of our global population – matching the size of the 'baby boom' generation – at nearly 20 per cent of the US population, according to US Census data.

Also known as the iGeneration, Pivotal Generation and other names, they are the current and incoming college students for the next decade – among them are the world’s future scientists, researchers, and faculty. Gen Z is hard-working, motivated by personal success, self-educating, entrepreneurial, pragmatic, and resourceful, according to research by Goldman Sachs (for its Emerging Theme Radar report in December 2015 and FutureCast.

Visual content development – preparing for the Gen-Z research consumer

Gen Z-ers watch less TV than past generations, but a source of shared culture among peers is video. Younger viewers watch 2.5 times more Internet video than TV, Defy Media found in recent market research. Gen Z-ers expect to get answers from video, too – 47 per cent watch to learn how to do something and 42 per cent watch while at work or school. Reading written directions will be anachronistic for Gen Z as they create their own ‘how to’ videos on their path to success.

As Gen Z-ers begin their academic careers, publishers must analyse changing patterns in content consumption. Already, visual abstracts are attracting readers and authors of any age. Visual abstracts are a compelling content feature on many platforms.

A case study recently published by the Annals of Surgery reports that including visual abstracts with a social media dissemination strategy increases impressions more than seven-fold. Taylor and Francis’ ALPSP award winning cartoon abstracts [] are also making an impact for awareness and engagement.

Persona creation – a first step for both product and marketing teams 

From development to launch, product and marketing teams focus on the target customer and wider market. When it comes to market research, marketers may start with broad demographic data to size the market, while user experience (UX) teams start with qualitative user interviews and focus groups to understand individual customer’s needs and goals.

Although they have different requirements for market research, both teams have the same goals: delivering a great customer experience to build retention, loyalty, and advocacy. UX and marketing use personas to answer key questions. A persona is a representation of your customer, described as a blend of key attributes informed by market research.

A persona doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, it is best to keep a persona simple, fitting on a page, with a picture. The persona should be distinct and memorable. Naming the persona is useful, so that as teams collaborate, they have a shared reference point and shorthand for the collective attributes of 'Dr. Dimick' or maybe 'Jim'. Personas are best stuck to the wall and referred to daily.

Marketing teams ask: Who are we writing to? What are the competing products? How will we position the product? What is the customer journey?

However, UX teams ask: Who are we designing for? How do customers use competing products? How do we deliver a betterexperience to solve the user’s specific problem? What behaviours help the user achieve the immediate goal?

Marketing and product teams ask similar questions and use a variety of approaches to market research:
• User observations and interviews;
• Journey mapping;
• Web traffic analysis;
• Prototyping and focus groups;
• Demographic research;
• Quantitative survey findings; and
• Qualitative interviews.

Creating U(X)topia for next-generation product development

In U(X)topia, product and marketing teams create a shared understanding of the target customer and their user behaviour, informed by comprehensive market research. For the rest of us, there are pain points.

Marketing teams may not be invited into product development until late stages, or they don’t have time to input early on. Project timelines or budget may not allow for a full market research program. Market validation of the product concept may not be planned in to the project.

Decisions about the back-end architecture may be made early or not as part of the project, lacking the context of the user experience and the front-end design.

Talking, making connections, and educating teams across the organisation will create an understanding of customers which delivers a great customer experience of the product, and positions the product at launch for success.

As the product development cycle begins, define the market research program among the product and marketing teams to meet the combined and separate objectives.

Don’t have any brand personas? Create some. Already using them? Iterate. Revisit and validate assumptions built into the personas. Do different teams have different personas? Bring people across the organisation together to share what they know.

Integrate strategic marketing planning into the work streams for product development. Marketing plans for launch are better informed, and pre-launch activities can prime the target customers with personalised campaigns.

As the first generation of digital natives comes of age, publishers and technology providers must deliver new products faster. Marketers must find new ways to connect with a brand-savvy generation to create loyalty. Working together, we can get to U(X)topia.

Anne Stone and Jane Wiejak of TBI Communications presented U(X)topia: Marketing and User Experience – Collaboration for a Bright Future at UKSG, 2017.