Have you ever talked about creating a ‘full brand’, or what some call a ‘360 degree’ experience, for your brand? If you haven’t, I think you should. I believe creating such an experience isn’t just one of the latest strategies for increasing your brand’s value and equity: it’s also one of the best.
So what is the brand experience? Let me refer to Marty Neumeier, author of The dictionary of brand. He defined it as: “all the interactions people have with a product, service, or organization; the raw material of a brand.”
Neumeier’s definition is short, but very much to the point. A brand experience resembles the experiences you have with the people in your life. Just as your perception of someone is formed by every direct or indirect interaction with them, so is your perception of a brand. It is literally everything you have seen and heard – or even felt or smelt or tasted – about it. The brand experience is everything you know about a brand.
Best Tips to Create a Memorable Brand Experience
Six principles to build a better brand experience
1. Know yourself
In a landscape crowded with competing brands, yours must stand out to succeed. This might seem obvious, but there’s a proliferation of generic companies out there shouting for attention. To differentiate itself, an organisation or brand must deeply understand why it exists, what value it brings — where its purpose lies.
So how does this relate to customer experience? Purpose sharpens a brand’s focus and helps leaders make strategic decisions — a new product line, a new location, a new e-commerce strategy. Purpose defines the look, feel and tone of a brand’s communication with customers. It defines the attitude employees bring to customer interactions.
Take fashion brands for instance. Every store stocks a standard white shirt, but the product and surrounding store experience are different. A Ralph Lauren store offers preppy elegance, while an Alexander McQueen store provides subversive tailoring. Each designer creates their own white shirt, but their specific worldview influences its design, the choice of buttons, the surrounding store design, the advertising photography. By being true to themselves, fashion brands create unique customer experiences that help them to stand out and connect with their target audience.
2. Be consistent
Repetition is the way we learn, the way we become familiar with something. If the experience is positive, we seek it out again and tune into the things we recognise from before. Many brands use consistency to great effect. Go to any IKEA store around the world, and you will have exactly the same experience, even down to the little pencil you use to mark your order form for pickup. It reassures us that what we expect is what we’ll get with no unwelcome surprises.
There are exceptions to the rule. Australian beauty brand Aesop famously has completely different store designs in every branch around the world, but this is a carefully managed lifestyle brand, where new stimulus is a key element of their offering.
Consistency is also a key factor in processes, whether it’s finding a product on a website, finding your room in a hotel, or paying at a self-service kiosk. These are all processes that come with preconceived notions of how they should work. Through our day-to-day lives we learn these routines, depending on them to go about our business. Make the routine inconsistent with what customers have learned, and they will quickly become frustrated. A strong foundation of purpose makes it easier for companies to identify those factors that create a consistent impression and experience for consumers.
It’s important to remember that being consistent is not a contradiction to being able to evolve. There are many creative ways of transitioning without losing your brand’s consistency.
3. Make a strong first impression
The entry point to any experience creates a strong impression of what lies within. The first page of a website, the entrance to a store, the label on a product all trigger expectations of the subsequent experience. For example, if a customer lands on a website and the first page takes too long to load, and he or she closes all the pop-up ads only to find that the site didn’t have what it promised, it’s unlikely that the customer would engage with the brand again. Smart brands think hard about reducing the barriers to entry and the following steps to ensure a smooth customer experience.
Purpose helps brands create a desirable first impression, one that can be refined and deepened through customer engagement. Apple stores are a case in point. Their facades are consciously open, light and welcoming, free from noisy promotions or overly eager staff. Their interiors provide open sightlines, where choices are easily identifiable, with clear walkways to get there. Large product images often surround the stores, providing lures to draw customers in and acclimatise them to the environment. Apple’s website is the digital equivalent, following the same principles as the stores, helping visitors enter, learn and explore with similar techniques.
4. Be a guide
How you want people to experience your brand should colour the way you lead them. Guiding the customer through your offering is the discipline of brand architecture. It defines the structure of a site, a product range or a building, helping consumers interact with the information within. It’s a far-reaching topic, too big to cover here, but one useful aspect of information architecture is called chunking.
Many businesses and brands make the mistake of being so proud of their products that they want to explain everything to everyone, confident that the world will surely fall in love with all they have to say. Sadly, this is never the case, as we humans only have the capacity to take in three to five items of information at a time. For example, most people can remember five words for 30 seconds, but would struggle to remember ten words for that duration. Our brains are simply not made to receive information without it being broken down into smaller manageable parts.
Chunking applies to the customer experience in many ways. An online fashion store has thousands of fast-selling products. To help the customer find what he or she is looking for, the retailer will chunk information into gender: male, female > item: tops, trousers, shoes, etc. > colour: black, blue, grey > size: small, medium, large. This path helps shoppers navigate a complex offer quickly and easily. The same principle applies elsewhere, from the structure a book, to the organisation of a department store. Even this chapter is written with the principle of chunking. It’s a simple, effective and purposeful way to guide customers through a product range, to demonstrate the brand’s empathy for its audience, and to create a welcome customer experience.
5. Remember Hick’s Law
Hick’s Law declares that the time it takes to make a decision increases as the number of choices grows. This principle comes into play as more brands expand their range. Often, giving customers lots of choices is a good thing, but sometimes it can mean that the brand is spread too thin, messaging gets muddy or, even worse, the organisation’s purpose gets lost.
That being said, part of the appeal of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is the 40 flavours we can indulge in. Choice within services implies a deep range of competence and negates the need for the customer to go anywhere else. But within the context of customer experience, when choice meets a desire for speed, problems occur.
Companies often grow their range of products with line extensions, to provide a new talking point or accommodate a new demand. The risk is that over time, the range expands to a point where it can become overwhelming and frustrating for customers to search through. Similarly, some businesses grow through acquisition, offering an ever-expanding range of services, with no thought to how the value chain is communicated. Every brand is obliged to steward its range — balancing a broad offering with the discipline to edit down to just the right mix. Brands that make it easy for customers to find and select what they want, with minimum confusion, attract buyers and retain fans.
6. Practice forgiveness
We’re all human and therefore mistakes are inevitable. The principle of introducing forgiveness in a customer experience minimises the mistakes that customers might make in the buying process, thereby earning their trust and their willingness to proceed with the transaction.
Forgiveness is regularly found in the real world, from no-entry signs to product instructions, and is crucial to providing a positive customer experience.
A strong brand experience has huge benefits:
It brings in revenue to fund your original business idea.
It upholds your hard-earned reputation.
It transforms your purpose from theory into practice.
It works as a magnet for your audience and thereby maintains the revenue stream by keeping customers happy.