The Importance of User and Customer Experience in a Digital Marketing Strategy

Is the customer at the centre of your strategy?

That’s the current discussion as to how organisations are shifting their digital strategies to appeal to the demands and requirements of their audience. But to really embrace the voice of the customer, organisations need to reach out and build relationships with their end user.

That’s why the growing importance of User experience and Customer experience should be considered an essential part of any digital marketing and communications strategy if it wants to represent the true needs of their audience.

To discuss in more detail I caught up with Sarah Gill, a digital marketer who spends much of her time specialising in both customer and user experience. We discuss the differences between both approaches and what should be incorporated within a strategy.

Sarah also provides a handy 6 step framework  to use as well as some practical advice on how organisations with small budgets can implement UX.


Tell us about Sarah

I am the Digital Marketing Manager at Newcross Healthcare Solutions. I was recently awarded my MSc in Digital Marketing Communications from Manchester Metropolitan University having focused on user experience and usability testing in my dissertation.

I live in the sticks in South Devon because I have a panoramic sea view from my home office window and I can walk to the beach in 5 minutes. I’ve lived all along the south coast of the UK, and in London for 3 years, but nothing beats Devon.

You can find me on Twitter @sarahgillux or on LinkedIn.











When did your digital career start?

Officially in 2008, but we had a computer in the house from an early age so my interest was cultivated from a young age. The joys of loading a programme from a 5 ¼ inch floppy disk will be completely unknown to every new generation.

I started work for a company that operated job boards in the aviation sector, which subsequently sold off its most successful offerings to launch several start up boards in healthcare. I grew one of those sites,, into one of the main industry players and it continues to thrive today.

I moved to Newcross Healthcare in 2012 at a time when the business operated from 19 branches nationwide with the primary aim of increasing the volume of applications to their job vacancies in line with the projected business growth. Now at 45 branches nationally and continuing to expand, there’s never a shortage of opportunity to try new tactics and evolve the digital strategy.


User Experience – why is this such an important step for organisations to consider as part of their digital strategy?

User experience should be an essential part of every digital marketing and communications strategy because it represents the process of considering every element of a user’s interaction with the organisation, its products and / or services.

It’s important to emphasise that there are differences between the two concepts of user experience and usability. Usability concerns how easily and efficiently a user can utilise a digital property to achieve their goals whereas user experience is a holistic consideration of every interaction and the resulting perceptions of the organisation.

The Nielsen Norman Group define user experience as ‘a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design and interface design’.

It’s an important part of the digital strategy because poor user experience can have such a negative impact upon the target audience that one dissatisfactory interaction could alienate that person permanently.


We hear a lot in the industry about customer experience (CX) too – how would you explain the differences?

The key difference between being a user and a customer is conversion. A user becomes a customer when they have in some way subscribed to or purchased from the organisation.

A customer experience strategy will include the user experience strategy, but will expand upon it taking into account the increased level of commitment of the customer and their advanced situation in the lifecycle. For instance, offering advocacy incentives to the customer group rather than the user group is likely to be much more successful because users are not yet at the stage where they are fully committed to the product or service.

In my opinion, customer experience is also about the offline service received by customers (if indeed there is any). Call centre or in-person post-conversion support and service shouldn’t be neglected when considering CX.


What do you see as the biggest challenges for organisations to embed a UX culture?

In one word, feedback. Listening to the comments of both users and customers is important, but collating them into a SMART action plan that can then be implemented is crucial. As the needs of the target audience change, so too must the user experience. Not evolving with users risks not meeting their needs most likely causing a negative impact upon the bottom line of the business.


For start-ups or organisations without the luxury of big budgets, what could they be doing now to embed and implement UX?

Perfect question, because I have just such a blog post giving 3 points for practical user experience on a small scale here.


With the proliferation of a number of digital channels to reach users (e.g. mobile, desktop, app) – how should UX be embedded as part of the process? i.e. should it be “bolted on” as a requirement or embedded within the digital marketing strategy?

The consideration of the user experience should underpin each stage of the planning process. After all, without a positive experience users are unlikely to complete the conversion goals set out for them. Using a digital marketing planning framework, it’s possible to consider the users at every stage.

Stage 1 – Use market research and personas to define the situation of the users, their digital habits and challenges. Incorporate this into the marketplace analysis when defining the target audience.

Stage 2 – Using the 5S model, user experience can support Sell and Service objectives by ensuring an efficient, easy digital interface. A good user experience has the potential to Save money through reducing the need for offline support interactions.

But where it can really create a USP for the organisation is through Speak and Sizzle. What will make your organisation’s online experience unique? How will it engage customers in a way that alleviates their fears and meets every need identified in the first step?

Stage 3 – When segmenting the target audience, consider their digital skills, devices owned and their online behaviour, especially the way in which they use mobile compared with desktop.

Stage 4 – Using all the information from the first three steps, incorporate user insights into the content plan, product design and every element of the organisation’s offering.

Stage 5 – Define responsibilities for actions, giving a timescale and structure that puts the needs of the users first.

Stage 6 – Define the KPIs that will show how well the app or website is performing. I would suggest dividing digital KPIs into three categories – traffic, conversion and engagement.

Traffic KPIs – total sessions, unique sessions

Conversion KPIs – total purchases, average order value, conversion rate from basket to order and from visit to order.

Engagement KPIs – divide each by device type for in-depth understanding of user behaviour.

  • Bounce rate – a good indicator of how well a page met the needs of the user
  • Time on site – use this not in isolation but as part of a measure of how useful the page is
  • Conversions by source – how effective are your channels at supporting the user to customer transition
  • Conversions by type – newsletter sign ups, video watches to completion, purchases
  • Conversions by customer type – repeat vs new customers will tell you how engaged your current customer base is but also how effective your site is converting new users
  • Conversions by visitor type – does a new visitor convert first time, or does it take more than one visit to produce a conversion?

Of course, social activities need to feature in all of the above sections, but that could be a whole other post.


Any recommendations for organisations on how to quantify money spent on User Experience and the need for ongoing investment?

This is tricky, especially if budget has not previously been available for this activity. I would suggest interrogating the data available from a CRM, analytics package as well as existing marketing personas to pinpoint some of the potential areas for improvement and relate that to the bottom line of the business.

As long as the suggested objectives and KPIs that are relevant and realistic regarding time and resources available, it will have maximum appeal to the budget holder.

Quantifying the activity after the fact is always more appealing to a senior team if it’s aligned with the business goals and bottom line. If your goal was to increase user engagement using a range of engagement KPIs, then translate that into meaning for the business.

For example, ask questions of the data such as do engaged users typically spend more? Do they share products or content more on social media? Do they have a longer lifecycle than customers who only purchase once?


What processes would you recommend for organisations to turn insights from user experience testing into making platform changes?

I would suggest collating the feedback during the control part of the plan and then turning it into a high, medium and low priority project list including the risks if not achieved. By working towards a culture of continual evolution, it should become a natural process to act upon feedback given by users, but culture change is slow and don’t expect everyone to come on board instantly.

Bring them on a journey of why acting upon feedback is important and what it means for the business. Competitor insights can really help give context to the urgency and need for action.


Any advice to someone looking to focus their career on a path into User Experience?

I once asked Jon Dixon from Bunnyfoot (@BunnyfootSays) that exact same question. He used to be a stormtrooper (no, really. Ask him some day). It is possible to direct your career from digital marketing into user experience, I’m on that journey myself. User experience has a role to play in every digital strategy, so you can start incorporating it now.

My best advice would be to make friends with your development team – without them you will really struggle. Most of the improvements you will want to make to support your user experience goals come down to the available development resource.


What’s on your reading list?

It’s not very extensive at the moment as I’m currently enjoying the absence of digital marketing and research methods text books on it!

I want to go back and read all of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett (in order this time), but just for fun next up is Guy Martin’s autobiography.

In terms of reading that’s relevant to my work in user experience and digital marketing, I’ve just started Dan Ariely’s book entitled Predictably Irrational.






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