Usefulness wins - service design and the future of marketing

Alex Wright

3 minute read

I like useful. I want to make useful things.

By “useful things” I mean digital products and services that run errands, connect things that were previously apart, bring distant things close, make invisible things visible, make impossible things happen. Good digital products and services are useful. They’re like a kind of magic.

Usefulness has momentum – it helps people get stuff done. Usefulness puts a power into the hands of people who’re moving. It takes out clutter, friction, hassle, legwork. It creates possibilities.

“The Network” creates the potential for all kinds of new usefulness – and for that usefulness to be available to everyone, in every pocket, on a scale that’s unprecedented, at a cost that’s so low it’s almost irrelevant, and at a speed that’s effectively immediate.

The Network itself gives rise to usefulness – it is fantastically inevitable.

I love the digital businesses, products and services that live up to this inevitability. Senduit, 37signals, LinkedIn, Thetrainline,, Confluence, iPlayer, Paypal, Jira, Eventbrite, Insta, Mindbodyonline… These are some of the things I use that bring the network into my life as a layer of magic that makes impossible things happen.

I want to make things like them.

Useful services cannot ignore the people they serve. They only become useful by fitting perfectly what people need. This sounds obvious. But I’m often asked to make digital services that exist for some other reason – corporate vanity, an imagined need, or for a need that was proven in yesteryear but has evaporated. These are services that do not serve.

I don’t want to make things like them.

At its most basic, marketing is managing the fit between products and audiences. This task is delivered now by product management and service design.

Both involve working in close proximity to the audience to understand them; designing the features of a product or service to meet that audience’s needs; and shaping the organisation underneath to support the intended customer experience.

If the product or service is good, appropriate and right – and perfectly fits the needs of users – it won’t need big-budget claim-making marketing. We all used WhatsApp, Amazon, Google, Ebay and countless other really useful things long before we ever saw an ad for them. And if the product or service is bad, inappropriate or wrong, then all the claim-making in the world won’t save it (Nokia, Blackberry, Blockbuster, Woolworths etc.)

Bought media, filled with claim-making “creative”, is mostly meaningless, valueless silt in The Network. Usefulness shines brighter, reaches further and converts more powerfully. Usefulness beats shouting.

So, marketers need to make useful things to avoid sliding into irrelevance in The Network. They need to get stuck into product management and service design – urgently – defining and iterating the service experience for and with customers, to meet their needs, in order to be useful.

Because usefulness wins. It's way better than shouting.

Alex Wright

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