Home 9 Against the Grain 9 v31#5 Marketing Touchpoints — Value Is in the Eye of the Beholder: Building Bridges with User Experience Tools

v31#5 Marketing Touchpoints — Value Is in the Eye of the Beholder: Building Bridges with User Experience Tools

by | Dec 20, 2019 | 0 comments


Column Editor:  Jill Heinze  (Director, User Experience, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA  22904; Phone:  434-243-1368) 

As the reader of my column called Marketing Touchpoints, you may be surprised to know that marketing isn’t explicitly in my job description.  Yes, I’ve studied, published, and spoken about marketing libraries for more than fifteen years, but I spend my days at the University of Virginia Library as the Director of User Experience (UX).  For some in the UX field, it’s sacrilege to conflate user experience with marketing — UX professionals are supposed to identify and advocate for user needs, while marketers, they argue, are charged with pushing organizational goals and services onto people.  The Interaction Design Foundation puts it this way, “Marketing is focused on ultimately increasing the sales of the product (i.e., conversion), and directly feeds into the bottomline of the company.  UX design, on the other hand, is focused on building the best experience for the user, regardless of whether it ultimately adds to the company’s bottomline.”1 I concede that there is an innate tension between these fields (which is a subject ripe for another article).  However, when done well, I firmly believe marketing and UX can complement one another to serve the greater good by informing the creation and distribution of services that people need, want, and value.  In this way, the two worlds are simpatico. In fact, since embarking on my UX career, I’ve discovered a number of tools in the UX repertoire that can be equally handy in building marketing strategies.

I recently had a terrific opportunity to explore this UX/marketing synergy in delivering a webinar for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM).  I was invited to talk with medical librarians about how they can better market their data management plan (DMP) services.  DMPs are documents increasingly required by research funding agencies that prompt researchers to describe in detail the data they intend to acquire, along with how they plan to describe, store, share, and preserve that data. 

Though DMP consultation services are not universal library offerings, librarians have recognized for many years that these kinds of research data services are attractive opportunities to fill voids in researcher support at their institutions.  As Carol Tenopir et al. asserted in a 2012 ACRL white paper, “As science becomes more collaborative, data-intensive, and computational, academic researchers are faced with a range of data management needs.  Combine these needs with funding directives that require data management planning, and there is both a need and an imperative for research data services in colleges and universities.  Academic libraries may be ideal centers for research data service activities on campuses, providing unique opportunities for academic libraries to become even more active participants in the knowledge creation cycle in their institution.”2  While implementing such services have proven complicated in many respects, librarians certainly have much to love philosophically in providing data management planning support.  This service fits seamlessly into our shared worldview that information should be organized and made readily available to support research integrity and further the research enterprise. 

Herein lies the risk librarians face in successfully marketing these services – Since DMPs are an intuitive fit for us, we can easily become blind to researchers’ reality in which DMPs are sometimes perceived as mysterious, questionably worthwhile, and cumbersome.  I was particularly struck by research conducted by Hunt and Bakker who analyzed public health researcher needs at the University of Minnesota.3  Overall, they discovered that researchers considered data management an afterthought, but they also unearthed nuanced insights into these researchers’ mindsets, which are invaluable to librarians seeking to forge new inroads to these users.  They found, for example, a fascinating range of reasons why public health researchers are hesitant to manage and share their data: “Those who had never shared their underlying data expressed that they did not think anyone would care to see the data, had concerns over how the data would be used in the future (e.g., informed consent restrictions and ability of others to interpret the data), or were open to it as long as controls were in place to screen users of the data.”4  Other DMP blockers identified include a perception it’s too time-consuming, and beliefs that data didn’t fit neatly into common data types.  Another study of researchers who produce qualitative data conducted by Mannheimer et al. yielded a similarly rich view of their concerns, including great skepticism that data will be properly understood without the original context, and ethical dilemmas related to maintaining confidentiality and anonymity.5

Among those for whom marketing means informing more people in more ways about their services, it’s easy to see how that approach falls short in light of research like this.  If, for example, like my webinar attendees you want to get the word out about your DMP service, you can’t simply create more communications without recognizing that there are researchers in your audience who don’t even think their data is worth maintaining or that they can ethically share their data.  Your messages won’t even have a chance to resonate if you don’t directly address these beliefs.

The first and primary marketing challenge, then, is to adopt your users’ perspective, which is where UX tools can be a great help.

One tool I recommend is a user journey map.6  A journey map is a means of visualizing the steps, or actions, a representative user (graduate student, clinician, etc.) takes to accomplish their goal.  In the case of a potential DMP user, you may consider examining the sequential steps users take to complete a grant proposal. Importantly, along with the actions taken, you would gather information about how the user feels and what they think at each milestone so that you can pick up on those otherwise obscured experiences that have tremendous influence on whether users are receptive to your service. 

I adapted an example user journey map template (Fig. 1) from the Nielsen/Norman Group and simplified it somewhat.7  To use this template, you would first specify the representative user in question, along with the scenario of interest and the user’s goals within that scenario.  This provides a workable scope of inquiry for you to then identify key steps with actions the user takes to achieve the goal. Each step should be fleshed out by noting the user’s thoughts and feelings as they proceed.  This information can be derived from user data you already have and supplemented with details from interviews or other custom user research you may need to conduct to derive an accurate, complete understanding of what it’s like to accomplish the goal from the perspective you selected.  Then, with each step, note any useful insights you glean that could inform how you communicate or design your service.

Figure 1: Simplified User Journey Map

More than just learning where and when you might communicate about your service, building a journey map will help you build empathy and deep awareness so that you’re able to affect meaningful change throughout your marketing planning process, which includes everything from how you structure and deliver your services to how you position them so they correspond with what users directly experience. 

To illustrate this point, let’s return to our DMP example and the article about qualitative researchers by Mannheimer et al..  In it, the authors proposed three ways in which academic librarians can overcome hurdles to data deposits.  One such hurdle and related recommendation concerns faculty researchers obtaining informed consent from research participants so that they can confidently share their data at the end of their projects without fear of an ethical violation: “Data repositories and academic libraries can educate institutional review boards (IRBs) and researchers about planning for appropriate informed consent processes.”8 In following this recommendation, librarians would target their DMP marketing on another user base (in this case the IRB staff) at a critical step in the user journey, and adjust their outreach and communication strategies so that they align with practical and emotional realities (like the sense of ethical unease) by focusing on the topic of consent rather than DMPs only.  In effect, this represents a shift in marketing approach beyond ‘getting the word out’ about your services. It’s this mindset that you should adopt as you follow your users’ journeys. You don’t know exactly where those journeys will lead, but don’t be afraid to follow them into uncharted territory as you explore how to better market your services.  


1.  https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/how-to-change-your-career-from-marketing-to-ux-design

2.  Tenopir, C., Birch, B., Allard, S. (2012) Academic Libraries and Research Data Services.  Association of College & Research Libraries. Available at: http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/publications/whitepapers/Tenopir_Birch_Allard.pdf  (accessed 28 June 2019), 3.

3.  Hunt, S., and Bakker, C. (2018). A qualitative analysis of the information science needs of public health researchers in an academic setting. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 106(2), 184–197. doi: https://doi.org/10.5195/jmla.2018.316 

4.  Ibid., 188.

5.  Mannheimer, S., Pienta, A., Kirilova, D., Elman, C., and Wutich, A. (2019). Qualitative Data Sharing: Data Repositories and Academic Libraries as Key Partners in Addressing Challenges. American Behavioral Scientist, 63(5), 643–664. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764218784991, 644

6.  The Nielsen/Norman Group provides a concise but thorough overview of what a Journey Map is and how and when it should be used. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/customer-journey-mapping/

7.  Ibid.

8.  Mannheimer, 648.


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