Designing brand experience is an artistic approach to the brand purpose that can be an important aspect of winning consumer’s heart and mind and mapping consumer journey. In today’s brandy-brand world, like everything else in brand management designing purposeful brand experience is the most sought-after brand strategy. The process is intense and required well-designed game-plane because it is about how do companies go about designing experiences, as a way to differentiate their brands, it might be useful to think about how companies think of differentiation in the more traditional sense.
One-way companies have visualized is differentiation through performance curves, which is also known as value curves. But what companies are doing that they are going from the various attributes that their products and services have to the consumer benefits. And then they ask themselves for this consumer benefits. For example, how white is any company washing powder wash, or how reliable is any company’s service? And of course, the most important one may be or one of the most important ones is it is affordable. Companies must know what cost is offering it? Is your brand affordable to the customers? And the companies can kind of visualize that the value companies provide based on that. And companies can think about well how do they line up. Companies must consider the comparison to the competition and look for those points of difference. Now, these tend to be kind of measurable components of the companies offering, quality dimensions, and tend to be quite functional as a result. Now if that’s the spine that’s driving company’s differentiation that passed, things have shifted quite a bit. The spine for an experienced delivery is the customer journey.
What are the different journeys one company’s different customers go through as they interact with their offering over time, and across different parts of the organization? Whereas service in the old model tends to be quite reactive, problem-oriented. This is real events and experiences companies should have that kind of celebrate the brand, and maybe shine a bright light onto where the companies have a point of difference, in terms of the brand purpose or the brand positioning. And importantly, it’s also about making that journey as smoothly as possible. Just from an experience standpoint, and just to what any brand appetite is to think of the most mundane products or services and how companies can enhance them with an experience. And of course, for some brands, the experience is core to their brand promise. For Disney, the magical experience you have in their theme parks. For Nespresso, the experience you have in making coffee.
Of course, companies want to offer an experience which can benefit them in building their brand image. In very unsurprising ways, things companies don’t think or even observe as companies, they destroy the customer experience. Moments which we think are insignificant, like two staff members talking to each other In the store might be seen not as insignificant, but as indifferent or signally indifference towards the customer. So really nothing is neutral when it comes to the experience and it’s sometimes taking those very mundane aspects of the experience and branding them.
For example, Singapore, where the brand is about customer service. The flight attendant, which they’re called in the old days at least, Singapore girls, if you went to the bathroom, you would return and you would see your seatbelt folded in a certain way on the aeroplane. Which signalled the attention to detail, the service orientation, of the company. And many companies have also transformed themselves from being product providers to experience providers.
Another example from Hong Kong is Hong Kong Gas or Town Gas. They isolate. Now, these are monopoly providers. Their competitor is electricity providers in Hong-Kong and them kind of really went down that route of efficiency. So, how do I provide you with this commodity, the gas at a lower price?
And the first app they produced was also to, you could read your gas meter by yourself. We didn’t have to invest in the cost of the person coming to your home and reading your meter. But then something happened inside the company, they asked themselves the question, well who are our best customers? Why are they using gas? And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that our best customers are those who love cooking. They cook with a very high hit in those works, they use a lot of gas so they said, well, what is the purpose of us providing gas? And that purpose became very much around cooking. And rather than using the mobile app to reduce cost. They said, well how can we enhance that brand purpose? So how can we share with our consumers’ recipes, for example? How can we give them tips for cleaning their pots? And rather than preventing our people from visiting our customers. Let’s think about all the touchpoints we have and turn them into kind of the voice of the customer. They learn about the customer so we can enhance our services and customer experience. They visited their customers much more than the companies that made the woks or even designed the kitchens and they became such experts, that they have their range of kitchenware. They even have a restaurant called Flame, where they have cooking demonstration classes for their customers. And this permeates the entire organization, the senior management including the CEO will spend time visiting customers in their home to be reminded of the purpose, which is really about the customer experience around cooking. And surprisingly they’ve won major awards and they’ve continued to win major awards for their services going forward. They’ve also built such a strong customer relationship that they now have their credit card service and gas you might imagine is really about safety. They even offer insurance to their customers. They’ve gone from providing a commodity product which is gas. To a customer relationship around cooking and safety in the broader sense. They now own the customer relationship and it’s transformed their business.
Companies can already see in that story from Hong Kong gas, their seven or at least seven stages in terms of designing and delivering on a customer experience that is on-brand. The first one starts by understanding what the brand purpose is from an experiential component. It’s about doing. Why am I doing this? Why am I buying this product? And that’s really, one can call it designing the purpose and if you think about it, well for Hong Kong Towngas, this was about cooking. For Nike, it might be about running. And to understand what that purpose is, from a doing standpoint, that already puts companies into the realm of experiences. And then companies think about that purpose.
The second step is to understand the customer journey, and you want to map that out. What are all the different “things” that customers are doing? Well, they’re learning about your product. They’re navigating the information. They are buying. They’re trying. They’re using. They’re disposing of. These are all different events, if you will, in that journey. And you want to map those out, not just from a basic service standpoint, but from a brand standpoint. Is it undermining companies brand promise, or is it demonstrating, delivering on the brand promise? Not like slapping your logo on something, but maybe like in the Apple store, the idea of creating, being creative, being evident at each of those steps and adding up consistently.
Now to deliver on that, of course, companies have to map the various touchpoints of the organization against those different moments that matter in the customer journey, that’s the third aspect. Think about your organization, how it has all those various silos. And the customer is cutting across them over time. Across these different touchpoints.
The fourth step then is to think about, well how do I go from maybe a generic or poorer experience to creating one that is meaningful, rich, and on-brand. How do I express the brand experientially? That’s the fourth step.
Today the brand landscape is not what it used to be some years back. Today the brand landscape is more complex, intense and highly competitive. Today the brand landscape can be economical theorised as “Perfect Competition” in which market rivalry is so ferocious that the players in the industry are forced in terms of their pricing down to their cost base. They don’t make a profit anymore. All the value that’s created goes to the consumer.
Now, what are the conditions under which you have perfectly competitive markets? One is you have a large number of sellers with low barriers to entry. The other is you have perfect information and the third is you have homogenous or commodity-like products. Well, have a look at Google and think of a product like the iPhone. Lots of retailers are selling the same product. Just consider the retailer profits, they’re basically under huge pressure because everybody’s selling the same products. What about the concept of perfect information, especially in a global environment? Today, you look at the internet. You look at Google. You look at Metasearch engines like Kayak, which is a search engine on top of search engines. In the UK, we have moneysupermarket.com. Consumers can even go to a store and use their mobile phone, and scan in the barcode, and find a better price elsewhere. And there are even some websites, like ratemyprofessor.com where you can get information on the people that teach you. So, there’s a lot more information consumers have. Not only do they have more information today than they had yesterday, but they often have more information than your very own salespeople at least about the products they are interested in. For example, if one goes and buy, let’s say, a television. One might have done his or her search online beforehand. The consumer has selected two, three different models and he researched them in depth. And when the buyer goes to the store, the buyer wants the sales person to help me make my decision. Now of course, they have dozens of TVs to deal with. They have lot of other electronics in their mind. It’s quite difficult to know more than buyer know, so that whole relationship in terms of information has shifted. The customer often knows more than the company.
Most of them are very, very much alike between competitors. And even think about the iconic Apple brand in terms of the pad, in terms of the iPad. The lawyer when they were suing Samsung went to the judge and showed the tablet from Samsung versus the pad from Apple and said, look, they are so similar. They’ve copied everything we do. Competitive benchmarking and competition have commoditized industries, and one doesn’t have to tell those of you in business to business products how difficult it is to differentiate your products from each other. Not only that, but potential customers are driving this commoditization. In business to business, we’ve got strategic functions now, which are procurement and they are making products seem very similar. Why? Because they want to ask you to compete on price. They’re telling you as competitors, hey, you’re the same as all these other prequalified suppliers. Give me their best price.
The question is what role does a brand play in this environment? Does it matter if the same product comes from one brand versus the other? If the oil comes from Shell or it comes from Total Parco, does it matter. In reality, it does matter.
The brand is not a product or even a service, it’s an experience that happens over a prolonged time. There are many, many touch points and these touch points cut across all consumers’ different business silos. It can be the parking lot attended. It can be the ticketing person. It can be an operator of a little choo, choo train where you can listen to. It’s a small world and you’re in your own little magic bubble while you’re there. And you can think of even vendors who are constantly fixing and upgrading the shopping window, they have to disappear into the background. It’s very, very difficult to create a magical experience. It’s not the same as commodity products. This is the behaviour of dozens, if not hundreds of people that occur across this experience that you have.
What matters is about the brand promise and delivering the promise accordingly which traditionally, marketing communications was about creating that promise. It’s creating those expectations and about the delivery of that promise. The brand is not just the icing on the cake, it’s the cake itself. It’s not an outcome, as in the brand image. It’s part of the process itself. It’s its inside the organisation. It fuels innovation. It drives your people’s behaviour who then deliver the costumer experience. Now, this is a real step change from the way we think about branding before. Before, it was very controlled. It was the visual identity. I could have advertisements, place them media, again, which were very controlled. Now it’s about internal to the organisation, engaging with different business functions that marketing traditionally has not engaged with. Operations, human resources, IT.
And it’s about those functions, delivering the brand at many various touch points across the customer experience, that’s really what matters the most!