UX writing and marketing writing: what’s the difference?
My career started with writing for various marketing departments until a UX writing internship at UserTesting led me to discover the growing field of writing for user experience (UX). Working in both fields, the similarities and differences between them struck me. Let’s take a look.
What's UX writing?
UX writing plans and designs microcopy in apps, websites, and other experiences to help customers navigate a product or service. While the writing is meant to inspire action, the purpose is to be an intuitive guide to the user in a way that aligns with a brand's voice.
UX writing is designing with words. It’s research-backed, iterative, and user-centered. Beyond microcopy–the stuff of button labels and error messages–UX writing is all about using words to help users achieve their goals and to shape better user experiences.
What's marketing writing?
In marketing, content and copywriting are vital in turning prospective shoppers into satisfied customers.
Marketing writers can focus on various niches, but their writing, whether it lives on social media, websites, emails, or advertising, is used for marketing purposes. It helps brands tell their story, establish and maintain trust, and build relationships with prospects and existing customers.
While marketing writing is primarily meant to help, educate, or entertain, it’s almost always written to inspire the reader to take an action that results in a sale.
How UX writing and marketing writing are similar
Marketing writing and UX writing are similar because they always keep their audience in mind. Both content and UX writers interview subject matter experts and submit their work to various stakeholders before going live. While both UX and marketing writers want to prioritize content with the biggest impact, that impact is often measured differently.
How UX writing and marketing writing are different
Content marketing and UX writing have different strategies, goals, and KPIs. These differences are reflected in how the writing process is structured and how success is measured. I’ve worked in both fields. Here are the biggest differences I noticed.
1. Marketing writing wants to be noticed, UX writing doesn't
Marketing content and copywriting are focused on eye-catching copy that drives business goals. UX writing isn’t flashy. It’s a helpful tooltip or a well-chosen button label, and it’s quite a lot of work to do simple writing well. UX writing is meant to be a seamless experience. UX writers don’t want readers to stop and consider what they’re reading as marketing content writers do.
While UX writers prioritize establishing patterns, consistency, and conciseness, there’s still wiggle room for creative and personable writing. For instance, a celebratory success message or quirky error message is one way to show a bit of personality that can make your platform more enjoyable. UX writers use guiding principles like a voice and tone guide to help them maintain consistency.
2. Marketing writing success is measured by KPIs, UX writing isn't
With marketing writing, key metrics include open rates, click rates, and conversion rates. Marketing writing must drive business. It should be tied back to ROI, MQLs, and closed-won deals. It can be challenging and exhilarating to finally find the phrase or value proposition that resonates with your prospects.
Alternatively, as a UX writer, or content designer, your measure of success might look like this:
- Understand your customers' and organization’s needs (e.g., a messaging matrix that maps language against these needs).
- Validation that your customer forms the right mental model about your feature.
- Proof that you’re giving the customer the right information at the right moment to make the right decision for them (e.g., time on task, task success rate).
- Product copy is consistent and on brand everywhere, building trust with your users
- Matching your customer’s average reading ability so that the information you’re communicating is accessible and understandable.
UX writers care less about how many people see their message. They want to know—was it helpful for the people who did see it?
3. UX writers prioritize collaboration, marketing writers can't
As a growing discipline in the design field, UX writers and their colleagues work differently than marketing content writers. As a marketer, my writing process was typically solitary. I would often interview a subject matter expert, but most of my writing was done alone and relied on communicating someone else’s expertise. This had a lot to do with needing to meet deadlines and goals.
Alternatively, I found that UX writers have to be extremely dynamic and collaborative. For me, UX writing feels less siloed and less lonely. We collaborate with products and marketers on naming and branding. We collaborate with project managers, designers, and researchers. Importantly, as a growing discipline, we often advocate for the importance of strong UX writing in a given product, platform, or service.
Both UX writers and marketing writers should feel empowered to create value
Because of where UX writers sit in an organization, there’s typically less pressure to make the sale and more freedom to learn from customers. In marketing, it can sometimes feel like speed trumps creating value because of the way that success is often measured.
As a marketer-turned-UX writer, I would go back in time and tell my former self that providing value shouldn’t feel like a side hustle. While meeting KPIs quickly is important, sometimes you have to slow down to write something that’ll have a more meaningful impact and provide more value for your audience.
But it’s not always easy for marketers to gauge the value of their content. For example, at a previous organization I worked for, we hosted sales-oriented webinars. After receiving feedback that attendees weren’t at the buying stage of their journey, we switched to a more interactive and educational format. After the switch, attendees said that the experience had improved. But all this feedback was anecdotal and wasn’t enough for me to push for wider strategy changes.
The good news is marketers can prove the value of their writing by leveraging a human insight platform to ask customers what they think directly. Get leadership's attention by showing them a highlight reel of prospects and customers reacting positively to something you’ve written. Test marketing writing before committing dollars to promotion. Experiment with new marketing strategies and validate existing ones.
Now that you know the difference
At UserTesting, UX and marketing teams are customers—and frequent users of the UserTesting platform. Gathering audience and customer insights at all stages of the design or content development process, from understanding mental models to testing comprehension and clarity of copy.
Regularly connecting with our audiences helps keep our writing valuable and rooted in customer empathy. By knowing more about our customers' needs, wants, and how they think, we design the right marketing and UX writing to help them accomplish their goals.
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