Why Brand Experience Design is the new ‘must have’ for brands…– Part 1
With today’s social media savvy consumers, one bad customer experience can destroy a brand, literally overnight. So how can brands avoid this kind of risk, or recover from it when it happens? It all comes down to good ‘brand experience design’. In other words, designing the whole customer experience so that it builds your brand, in the right way.
Let’s face it, we’ve all experienced something like this at some point. Booking a dream holiday at a posh hotel based on their impressive website, full of hope that our stay will be the perfect fulfilment of all our expectations, only to discover when we get there that one jarring experience destroys the whole image, and our dreams collapse before our eyes…
For me that was when I booked a 60th anniversary trip for my parents, in a picturesque hotel in Wales where they spent their honeymoon. I booked a ground floor double room suitable for elderly guests, particularly as my mother had mobility issues. When we arrived they offered a single room for my mother, well apart from from the room offered to my father, and fitted out like a municipal handicap toilet. The manager refused to offer any option, or even apologize for the mistake, and the whole staff displayed an indifference to my parent’s needs that was deplorable. Luckily for them this was before the days of social media, so I couldn’t trash their reputation online afterwards, as they deserved. I found a superb alternative and quit the hotel immediately, but while that was good for me it was hardly ‘good’ for the hotel, because no-one was holding them to account.
Not so today, as one recent example shows. Back in 2019 an Indonesian Vlogger took a Business Class flight on Garuda Airlines. Expecting a premium level of service, the influencer was shocked when the Business Class menu was handwritten on a piece of paper, torn out of a spiral notepad! The steward who politely handed it to him explained that the menu was “still being printed”. The influencer promptly posted the story on social media. But instead of apologising, Garuda prosecuted the influencer for defamation, and banned any future customer from taking photos in-flight. In so doing they turned a bad but redeemable ‘mistake’ into a PR disaster that they will probably never recover from.
And it isn’t hard to see why. The hard truth is that a brand is only as strong as its weakest link. And if that weakest link is a customer touchpoint, and something goes badly wrong, a brand can be ruined overnight. It doesn’t matter how many other links in the chain the brand gets right, the only thing that matters is the one thing they got wrong. Even if the brand has been carefully built up over many years – one mistake can destroy it in five minutes.
What Garuda and the hotel mentioned above overlooked was the need for every customer touchpoint to be totally consistent with their core values. They should have designed and managed the experience of their brand in such a way that whenever people came into contact with it, they got the same good experience. Because every manifestation of a brand needs to express the same brand promise. If your brand fails to do this, then your reputation becomes hostage to the next bad experience a customer has.
But there’s much more to this than simply avoiding a costly mistake. Brands which design a good customer experience and manage it well are seen to have integrity, and people trust them. Which leads to a further benefit – if a brand is trusted, even if they do screw up they are generally forgiven. Because they are expected to own the mistake and put it right. And if they do that promptly, they might be trusted even more than before.
So how do brand owners provide a consistently good customer experience, and minimise the risk of an unexpected screw up that will destroy their brand overnight? It’s all down to what’s called ‘Brand experience design’. But what exactly is brand experience design, and how do you do it? First let’s take a look at how we define it.
What is brand experience design?
If you do a google search on this subject you will find various definitions out there, including terms like ‘Service Design’ or ‘User Experience Design’, which is a bit confusing. All of them are technically correct, because they all share the same goal of making the customer journey easier and more efficient. But each of these disciplines focuses on a different aspect of the customer journey. For example, User Experience (UX) Design usually addresses the digital components of customer service delivery. So for a hotel that would be about designing the hotel booking app or website to have all the right features, and be easy to navigate for customers. It would also include all the IT infrastructure supporting the management of the hotel. Service design on the other hand focuses on the human-centred aspects of service. Like the way staff deliver the check-in, check-out and concierge services, and the guest room experience, as well as the experience of the hotel amenities such as the F&B venues and spa.
Brand Experience Design includes all of the above, but seen through the lens of the brand. It’s about holistically designing all the interactions customers have with the brand in such a way that it delivers not only what the customer needs in a pleasant and efficient manner, but also evokes all the sensations, emotions and responses that uniquely define the brand. Experiences that with each new interaction, will continuously build the overall image of the brand, in the right way.
So much for the definition of Brand Experience Design, but how about what it contains – what are its defining features? In our view Brand Experience Design has four key components.
The components of Brand Experience Design
To put it simply, the four key components of Brand Experience Design are Utility, Usability, Desirability and Outcomes. The first two, Utility and Usability are what we would call hygiene factors, something every brand should possess as the minimum requirements in that business category. As for the last two, Desirability and Outcomes, they are the differentiating factors that will make your brand stand out and become popular. Because at the end of the day, unless your brand experience is desirable and delivers the outcome customers expect, it will not be considered a good brand.
Utility is about the core purpose of your product or service, and answers the basic question of whether it delivers that purpose and is useful to your customers. A lot of times, a brand may say they value simplicity and ease of use and deliver that in their customer experience. But it also has to translate into the work that goes on behind the scenes to deliver that service. In other words, the processes operated by your staff and business partners like suppliers. Your staff experience is just as important as the customer experience, and if you want to know why you can read here. If your back office systems are bogged down with unnecessary processes, not only is there a disconnect in your brand values but it can undermine your brand’s purpose.
Usability addresses the ease of use for the user. Your product or service may do the basic job, but how easy is it engage with it and use it? Nothing spoils the delight of unboxing a new product than to realise that not only do you have to assemble it yourself, but the instruction manual is an inch-thick, badly translated into every language under the sun. Compare that with IKEA’s simple pictorial instructions using no words, and even the challenge of self-assembly is doable. But what makes IKEA so popular is not simply the utility and usability of its products, but the quality of their design and the brand image that IKEA have built up over the years. Which is about the desirability of their brand.
In any category of product, there are many competitors. Assuming that the market for the product is well established, it’s likely that every product will have the hygiene factors – it will pass both the utility and usability tests. What sets the market leaders apart will be down to the desirability of the product. Desirability is what commands a premium in the market place. Think about smart phones. Samsung or Huawei’s devices may have better features than an Apple iPhone, but it’s Apple that possesses the greater desirability as a brand, which is why it commands a premium in the marketplace.
The same argument could be made for cars, like the difference between a Skoda and a BMW. Both meet the criteria for usability, but only BMW has that elusive cachet of desirability. And what creates that difference? It all comes down to branding, and the crafting of the customer experience so that it is the living embodiment of the brand. That is what people buy into, and creates a product’s desirability, at an emotional level.
But even desirability is not enough. At the end of the day, unless the product experience delivers what the customer wants in terms of aspirations, it has failed. Which brings us to the fourth and most important component of Brand Experience Design, it must deliver the right customer outcome.
Even though it’s the last component on the list, it’s actually the most important, and the very first thing to think about when it comes to designing the brand experience. And that’s because of a very basic truth – you can’t build a successful brand without having a successful customer. And how do we create a successful customer? By delivering the outcome the customer wants. Which is not so much about the actual product or service you are providing, as the aspiration the customer wants to fulfil or the problem they want to solve, by purchasing your product. So in every customer interaction or brand touchpoint, it’s important for brand owners to ask themselves this question – “Does this brand touchpoint deliver the outcome my customer expects and wants to achieve, by purchasing my product?”
For example, if instead of hiring a specialist contractor to do my home improvements, I decide to purchase a hand drill from a hardware supplier, I’m not buying a drill per se, I’m trying to fix my shelves, or hang a picture, or (sexist content warning) impress my wife/girlfriend/partner. So the outcome for me here is whether the product satisfies those bigger needs, both practical and aspirational. Likewise the hotel example I mentioned earlier. I wasn’t booking a picturesque hotel stay per se, I wanted that hotel to fulfil my parent’s dreams – for a trip down memory lane to those lovely days when they first got married. That was the outcome they failed to deliver.
Product desirability matters, but it is outcomes that should be the central focus of Brand Experience Design. Because it puts the brand in a position to deliver real business impact, and truly deliver what the customer wants. Delivering this result requires a full organization working together, not only across all departments internally but also with external partners and vendors. Because customer outcomes are not owned by a single department.
And the outcomes are not just limited to what the product itself delivers. It’s also about creating memorable interactions with your brand, in the customer journey. Customers never forget a memorable experience, which is why designing a good brand experience is so important.
So to sum it all up, Brand Experience Design is about managing the experience of your brand so that every touchpoint delivers on your brand promise, and its four key components are Utility, Usability, Desirability and Outcomes. In our next blog post we’ll be explaining how Brand Experience Design works, and is built, in a step by step process.
Please note: We understand the challenge of creating a compelling brand promise and managing the experience of your brand in a consistent way, at every customer touchpoint. With our unrivalled expertise in brand strategy and identity design, we are able to craft inspiring brands and a holistic brand experience, across all channels. If anything we have written above in the blogpost strikes a chord, and you need our assistance, do get in touch with us here.