Why Brand Experience Design is the new ‘must have’ for brands – Part 2
In part 1 we talked about how one bad customer experience can destroy a brand, overnight. Bearing in mind that today, the perception of a brand is shaped by customers, not by brand owners, making sure the entire customer experience of a brand is on-target and consistent, is more important than ever. In this post, we describe how to do it.
As we highlighted in our previous blogpost ‘What’s the future of branding?’, today we live in a new consumer-centric marketplace, where customers are the people who essentially shape the success and life of a brand, not brand owners. Empowered by social media and the digital marketplace, brands are not what their owners say it is, it’s what consumers say it is… in their peer groups and online reviews. And today’s consumers are not just buying products or services—more and more their purchase decisions revolve around the experience they have of a brand, and how it meets their lifestyle aspirations and self-perception.
If we look for example at the retail environment, in the pre-digital world all a brand needed to succeed was to be well designed, well marketed, and stand out in-store. Today, consumers will Google the brand and its alternatives, check out the reviews, validate their choices with friends, check the brand’s website or aggregator platforms like Amazon, and then go to a store to check out the size and feel, before purchasing it in-store or online, and sharing their post-purchase experience on social media. So never before in the past has what happens before, during and after the purchase been as important to get right, as the performance of the product itself.
So brands need to think not only about designing a compelling product, but also about creating a compelling experience, curated from start to ﬁnish around the consumer. And this will be what makes a brand stand out, and take it from being just one of many options under consideration, to being bought, liked and trusted.
So what is brand experience design, and what are its benefits? In part 1 we defined it from a brand perspective, but here we want to describe it more from a customer standpoint.
What is brand experience design?
Brand experience can be described as the sum of all the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that people have in response to a brand. It’s the overall impression a customer is left with after experiencing the brand across the entirety of the customer journey. Typically that will include (but not be limited to) the visual image of the brand, the product performance and design, the advertising, tone of voice, retail environment, promotional events, customer service delivery, and digital presence. It will also include the sensory impact of any physical environment where the brand is promoted, sold or serviced – including touch, taste, sound, smell, sight, and the emotions these senses excite. It’s a 360 degree multi-sensorial experience.
Brand experience happens not only to a brand’s customers, but also to anyone who has enough exposure to a brand to formulate an opinion. For this reason, a ‘brand experience’ happens regardless of whether it is intentional or not, designed or not. So better to make it intentional, and designed to create the right impression.
Ikea has deliberately invested in creating a consistent brand experience, which is why whichever Ikea store you visit across the world, you’ll get the same impression
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Think of a familiar brand like Ikea. Whether you realise it or not, your experience of Ikea has been thoughtfully designed from start to finish. From their website, to their product design, to their store layout, to the taste of their food. Even the use of Swedish in all their product naming is a point of differentiation. As a result, if you visit an Ikea store anywhere in the world, the store has a uniquely ‘Ikea’ feel to it, and every visitor will be left with more or less the same impression. And why? Because Ikea has deliberately invested in creating a consistent brand experience.
So much for defining brand experience. But why do it? What are its benefits?
What are its benefits?
We would argue that there are three clear benefits that good brand experience design offers. First of all, it creates much greater depth to a brand and offers a richer and more memorable experience of it. All those extra dimensions such as its digital presence, events, customer service and the environment within which the brand is sold, provide deeper layers of meaning and connection to a brand that, if carefully managed, can really enhance it. Which leads to the second benefit, that it helps a brand to differentiate itself and stand out from competitors. The richer the brand experience, the greater the differentiation.
Lastly, brand experience really helps to build greater brand loyalty and emotional involvement with customers. As one person put it, brand experience ‘is the intersection between a brand’s objective and a consumer’s need’. The stronger the overlap, the stronger the emotional response. A positive brand experience can often mean the difference between being chosen over another brand or losing the sale.
In particular, today’s millennial consumers want to feel a personal connection to the brands they buy, and that it aligns with their values. Which is why delivering the right brand experience is so important, because it reflects the brand’s purpose, and it’s true values.
So how do you build a good brand experience? Here we describe the process, in four simple steps.
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How brand experience is built.
Step 1 Define your purpose
The first step in developing the right brand experience, is to define who you are, and what you stand for, in a simple statement of purpose. The business author Simon Sinek famously said that every brand needs to “start with why”. In other words, brands should always define why they exist, and what their central purpose is. Then they need to ‘tell their story’ in the experience they create for their customers, in a way that is as compelling as possible.
Telling the brand story is important in and of itself. Because it can help a brand clarify what kind of products and services they should offer. Sometimes that might mean stopping doing certain things that aren’t really true to the brand story, or adding new services that are more aligned with it. Beyond that, it will also help the brand figure out what kind of brand experience they should be offering. Because every dimension of that experience, and every aspect of the customer journey, should be consistent with their brand story.
We worked with one of our clients to achieve exactly that. Beato were formerly known in Singapore as a kind of ‘luxury florist’, but in a market which was saturated with other florists, all making similar claims. This limited their growth potential, but above all it wasn’t really who they were. They saw themselves as customer advocates and creators, ‘giving a voice to the emotions of our clients’, as they put it. The flowers, events and training they offered were simply expressions of that.
So we helped them redefine their core purpose and product offering around this new proposition – a proposition that allowed for many new products and services to be added in future too, unrelated to selling flowers. Their entire brand experience was then reshaped to be consistent with their new purpose. It was a turning point.
As we said in our previous blogpost here, brands should have a certain integrity – every iteration of the brand, and every experience associated with it, has to express what it is all about, at its heart. And when a brand has a clear purpose, and stands for certain core values, it can be much better at attracting new customers, particularly those that share those values. With so many choices out there, this is what really helps a brand to stand out, create interest, and build a connection.
Formerly known as a kind of ‘luxury florist’, Beato were more than that. They saw themselves ‘giving voice to the emotions’ of their clients in the gift ideas they created. We helped to reposition Beato with this new brand story, and shape their brand experience around it.
Step 2 Know your customer
It may be stating the obvious, but before any effective brand experience can be designed, brands need to know who their customers are, and find out everything they can about them. Which first of all means carefully narrowing down who their target customers are – because a brand will fail if it tries to be all things to all people. Then it means conducting market research on the target to understand what matters to them, and where they want a brand to be. Research will also help to unlock insights that reveal not only what their material needs are – in terms of the features required in a product or service – but also, what their desired outcomes are. Even if these motivations and triggers are unconscious.
As we pointed out in part 1, their desired outcome is not so much about the product itself as it is about fulfilling some kind of aim, or lifestyle aspiration, or dream. In this sense, brands need not only to be good at telling their own story, but also, good at figuring out how to be part of their customer’s story, and meeting their needs.
As we discovered with our client Beato, this could determine a reshaping of a brand’s offer away from a product-performance solution towards a more customer-outcomes one. Because an unmet customer need frequently turns out to be a company’s next business opportunity. Only then can brands create authentic, meaningful, and memorable experiences that will appeal to their customers.
Step 3 Map the customer journey
Knowing the customer means brands will need to put themselves in the shoes of their customers, and understand what the experience of their brand is like for them, at every point in the customer journey. This is called ‘customer journey mapping’, in which every possible interaction with the brand is identified, mapped and owned, in granular detail. For a retail product a typical journey might begin with pre-sales advertising, and other brand exposure like influencer marketing or live events. This is followed by visiting the brand’s website, online research and user reviews. Then comes the in-store experience, customer service and purchasing. Finally there’s the delivery, product performance and after-sales service.
All these contact points in the customer journey we call “moments of truth”, in that they are intended to reveal not what the brand owner likes to think about the experience they provide, but what their customers actually encounter on their journey. They all need to be documented in a way that will help the brand enhance the personal experience of each customer, at each stage. Every interaction should identify the customer outcome required (in terms of thinking, feeling and doing), as well as possible pain points that might be compromising the process.
As we said in part 1, one bad experience in the customer journey can destroy a brand, overnight. On the other hand, fixing these pain points are excellent opportunities to delight customers, exceed expectations and earn their loyalty, thereby building the brand in their minds.
The aim is simple – to close the gap between what the brand offers and the outcome the customer desires, at every “moment of truth”.
Step 4 Shape the experience
Having defined who you are and what your core purpose is, and then understood who your customers are and mapped their journey through your brand, now is the time to conjure up the right experience. This requires a certain alchemy bringing together people, technology, creativity and the senses. In our view it has four core pillars:
Pillar 1: Excite the senses: Perhaps the most important pillar is that the brand experience needs to excite the five senses, and create a positive emotional impact in the customer. The Covid lockdown taught us that human beings are relational creatures, who crave physical contact and the arousal of the senses. So brand experience should be characterised by the engagement of all the senses. Author and sensory expert Dr Aradhna Krishna talks about how engaging two or more senses in the customer journey, creates a more compelling experience. Senses go hand in hand with emotions. Bring the two together in a symbiotic relationship, and it’s bound to result in a powerful brand experience.
Pillar 2: Be consistent: As we highlighted in part 1, a brand is only as strong as its weakest link. So creating a consistent brand experience, throughout the customer journey, is absolutely essential. Some brands make the mistake of pouring all their resources into a few big experiences, and neglect the rest. With the result that, as soon as something goes wrong, the brand experience falls apart. So as we said here, it is vital to make sure that everything a brand does ‘front office, back office and out of the office’, delivers the same brand promise.
If you want to keep customers coming back, it’s vitally important to make the customer journey as easy and pain-free as possible. Zara’s flagship store London leverages cutting edge digital tools to do that.
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Pillar 3: Make it easy: One way to think of brand experience is that it’s a pre-purchase promise to potential customers of what being a customer feels like. Another is that it’s about making sure you keep customers coming back. For both reasons, it’s vitally important to make the experience as convenient and effortless as possible.On this point, it is essential to exploit as many digital tools as makes sense, while not neglecting the human touch. For example, Zara’s biggest UK store features many technology-enabled touch points such as app bookable fitting rooms, automated returns and two hour click & collect. Digital tools create the opportunity to gather more data on existing customers too, and invite new customers to experience your brand, at live events or on social media.
Pillar 4: Engage your people: As we highlighted in our blogpost ‘Inspiring your people to live the brand – Part 2’, your staff are the most important part of your brand experience. Because as far as customers are concerned, how staff live out your brand in their actions will make the difference between success and failure. There are two sides to this. First, staff need to be motivated to love the brand and become living incarnations of it. Second, their creativity and skills will need to be engaged in building the optimum brand experience.
This means inspiring all the different parts of the staff team – management, sales, R&D, production, service, HR, finance and administration – to work together. Because every staff member is crucial to delivering the brand experience, not just the leadership.
So to sum it all up, although the Covid pandemic led many people to predict the shrinking of the physical presence in business, and the rise of online transactions, the global lockdowns counter-intuitively taught us how much we crave real-life human interaction and social connectivity. Which is why the relationship focus at the heart of brand experience is so important.
The more a brand has an experience-led mindset, the more genuine the human connection, and the more likely consumers will commit to a brand, and stay loyal to it. That’s why intentionally designing the customer brand experience is so important. As we said above, the task is simple – to close the gap between what the brand offers and the customer desires, at every touchpoint.
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.