How human-centred design could stop the CMO extinction

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As marketing continues to be staunch in its complacency, many non-marketers are outperforming the profession at its own game: growth.

In the ultra-competitive and shifting marketing and growth landscape, the role of the marketer must consider applying emerging practices such as human-centred design, both now and, more importantly, into the future.

So, where can we innovate and adapt to prevent the extinction of marketing dinosaurs and instead propel the marketing profession deep into the 21st century? 

What went wrong

Since the industrial era and, dishearteningly, for decades into the 21st century, marketers have revelled in a ‘Mad Men‘ culture: work hard, play hard, buy media.

However, somewhere along the way, marketers have successfully managed to pigeon-hole themselves into the ‘black hole’ of the marketing department.

Non-marketers often enquire into what the marketing department is doing but never quite get a tangible, accountable, or results-driven response (unless they’ve won an award). 

Non-marketers are often left wondering what marketers really do and why do they do it, which also begs the question of what impact they are actually having.

Was the success of the business due to the brand, or was it the campaign, or perhaps it was the operations strategy? Perhaps all of the above?

The one thing we know is that they’re essential, or at least, that’s what we think. 

Human-centred design 

Alarmingly, many marketers don’t know what human-centred design (HCD) is and why it’s important. Or, they simply consider it out of their remit. 

HCD is a relatively self-explanatory term capturing what good design has always been: design that understands a customer’s values and needs, and then delivers just that. Focusing their attention on solving real problems with HCD are the likes of PayPal and AusPost, who have come out on top as a result. 

While some marketers agree HCD achieves the same outcomes they are tasked with (such as brand, segmentation and communications), those responsible for these outcomes and those who avoid engaging with HCD practice are neglecting their responsibility. 

Where the two meet 

All marketers should be engaging with HCD practices, not in lieu of traditional marketing, but in addition to. It’s a set of tools and processes, after all, that enables marketers to do their job more effectively and achieve their target growth outcomes. 

Marketing has always been about creating value, but many simply haven’t allowed their practice to evolve when it comes to embracing the opportunity to focus on the concept of value. As such, HCD has been allowed to evolve in its own right. The harsh truth is that marketers should have been training their entire department in HCD since the 90s. 

Alas, instead of shifting gears, marketers are still spending their time trying to win awards. Go to any agency website and you can guarantee they will be flaunting their award wins. Meanwhile, go ask a human-centred designer what they value and their answer will likely be ‘results’

Marketers have the upper hand, for now 

Fortunately, it’s not too late. Marketers still have a good opportunity to incorporate HCD into their practice. Human-centred designers don’t have the nous that marketers do when it comes to making a commercial impact or harnessing the power of a brand. Plus, thanks to decades of theory, marketing has proven to be more strategic in the long term than HCD. 

Although marketers still have the upper hand, there’s the prospect that if they continue to ignore it, the role of the marketing department could become limited and that of HCD could elevate into a highly strategic role that incorporates more marketing theory and leapfrogs the profession. 

Meet customer experience 

The solution, to me, sitting as a bridge between the disciplines, is customer experience (CX), combining the work of the marketing department and HCD practitioners to achieve the best of both worlds. If done properly, CX can combine results-driven HCD with the strategy and accountability of marketing. 

If you look at the top growers in terms of worldwide companies, they all focus solely on the customer. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs are famous for talking about how important it is to be customer-focused. 

Although countless teams are being rebranded to ‘customer experience’, they are still playing the same old role, where instead of looking after the end-to-end customer journey, they are stuck on the acquisition part. 

The species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself. 

HCD is a practice that can be applied to almost any profession, but marketers are resistant, and arguably a little defensive. 

The future remains the same as past lessons: companies that serve their customers well will succeed. If marketing doesn’t subscribe to that and instead concentrates on awards, communications, and activations then they’re only ever going to play a minor role in the future of business. 

On the contrary, in the case that marketers do innovate and adapt, ‘marketing’ as a pedigree becomes much more respected in the eyes of executives and business leaders. If marketers can incorporate human-centred design into their practice, they’re going to be the face of 21st-century business growth. 

NOW READ: Contrepreneur: Amazon published a book filled with blank pages and told customers it was a #1 best-seller

NOW READ: Three reasons small businesses shouldn’t hire a marketing agency


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