What is brand experience?
Brand experience (often shortened to BX) is a catchall term for the feelings that result from a customer interacting with or otherwise knowing about your brand. And, just as there are lots of facets to what makes a brand in general (brand story, brand identity, brand image, brand promise, brand design, brand proposition, etc.), there is a raft of components that make up the brand experience.
Customer service and customer experience are important parts of the puzzle, but so are other tenets of your company’s entire presence – like online representation, visual design, marketing, advertising, reviews, and more. BX is the summation of how a customer perceives you across every touchpoint, and a great brand experience encourages consumers to buy into you on – an emotional level.
[Brand experience is] how consumers interact with brands in real life, generating feelings, beliefs and behaviors that result in comparative marketplace advantages that lead to more sales, pricing power and resistance to competitive threats.
– Frank Zinni, Senior XM Scientist, PhD
What’s important to remember is that while you can design strategies to help influence both immediate brand experience and long-term BX, it’s a metric that is, by its nature, owned by your customers.
In other words: it’s your customers who decide what your brand experience is – and it’s your customers who’ll share that with their peers.
What is customer experience?
Well, for starters, it’s not just a fancy way of saying customer service. That’s because customer experience (often shortened to CX) goes way beyond that lone part of your customer’s journey, and gives a more modern, holistic view of how customers are interacting with your business.
Think of it this way: customer service is a department. It handles the pre-and-after-sales interactions you have with your customer, where a concern or an issue is raised, then solved. That contact center is a vital part of every business, but it’s just one part of the CX puzzle. That’s because making your customer’s experience with your company a happy one is a challenge that’s solved by many parts of the business, across all touchpoints.
Third-party reviews your customer comes across form part of the customer experience. So does the length of time your website takes to load. And as does the layout and appearance of your physical stores.
Think: marketing communications, advertising, merchandising, product design, hiring decisions, logistics, brand purpose, in-store aesthetics, and supply chain choices – they all affect how customers perceive you. And collectively, that’s the customer experience.
Brand experience vs customer experience: What’s the difference?
The two terms may seem similar, but there’s an important difference between the two.
Whereas brand experience describes the feeling a customer has about your brand – and often through indirect contact with it – customer experience describes the impact your efforts have had on the customer journey when they enter into more direct contact.
Short on time? Here’s your branding and customer experience cheat sheet:
The feelings, reactions, and ideas that result from the direct or indirect exposure to any branded/brand-medicated interaction – influencing a future purchase decision.
The feelings, reactions, and ideas that result from direct consumption, purchase, and use of a branded product or service.
But here’s the thing: while the two are different, we’ve seen a huge increase in discussion and interest in how the two can be combined to help each other over the last few years. After all, they’re both metrics that describe what your customers think of you, just in slightly different ways – and they should both be the subject of targeted efforts to move the needle in a positive direction.
In practice, however, the two are often siloed. In 2021 we found that only 28% of leaders in marketing, brand, or CX have processes in place to ensure that brand strategy feeds into CX design and delivery.
But by tracking both brand experience and the customer experience in a more intelligent, aligned manner, companies can shine a light on where and how resources can be better spent for the former to help boost the latter (and vice versa).
How your brand sets customer expectations
Your brand is the face of your company, so it’s only natural that it’s a powerful way to build consumer expectations. Thinking about customer experience as a part of your overall brand experience lets you think broader, with a wider net on what ‘experience’ really means. After all, while we might know the difference, many customers don’t distinguish between the two.
In fact, when you’re tracking ‘X-data’ (experience data that measures attitudes, beliefs, emotions, sentiments, intentions, etc.) you’ll see how much BX and CX overlap – and that will often lend itself to straightforward, actionable changes that can aid both.
The aim of the game for both CX and BX is to create a network of positive experiences, but your branding efforts should be the starting point for that – instead of starting that with your customer experience. Remember: It takes a lot longer for positive customer experiences to filter up to brand-level awareness than it does to set out your stall early on as a brand that offers incredible CX.
In super simple terms, that means building your brand story and expectations around four core experience types, which your customer experience can then work to deliver:
- Consistent over time
How customer experience can create brand differentiation
Excelling at customer experience can mean much more than happy customers. It can breed a reputation. If customers think of you as a brand delivering brilliant service across every touchpoint available, that will gradually become a major part of your brand.
It’s a well-trodden example, but Apple sets a great standard here. If you think about what Apple as a brand offers customers, your mind will probably conjure up two things:
- High-quality products
- Excellent customer experience
And that’s because Apple has worked hard to make CX become part of its BX. No-quibble returns and ‘Genius Bar’ appointments fulfill the customer service part of that CX equation, but the seamlessness of its online store, fast delivery, and even its checkout-free in-store experience all add to the story.
Everything from staff training to your marketing and communication strategies can and should go into forming your customer experience, and when all those things are working seamlessly together, you’ll become known for that top-tier experience.
What’s more, analyzing your customer experience interactions through a brand lens can help you answer key questions – like whether you’re spending excess energy on areas that don’t materially affect how your customer feels, or whether CX interactions are remembered.
Minimizing experience gaps
An experience gap occurs whenever a customer expects one thing and gets another. Think: claiming to be a five-star restaurant when you’re just serving microwave meals. In the world of branding and customer experience, that probably means attempting to make your brand known for customer experience when – in reality – your CX efforts leave a lot to be desired. If you’re going to talk the talk, you need to be able to walk the walk, too.
Why is customer experience so important?
In recent research, we found that some 65% of people surveyed have switched brands because the customer experience didn’t match the brand promise. Things are even more dramatic for Gen Z and millennials specifically – where that figure rises to 70%.
But you don’t need us to tell you that bad customer experience will force customers to look elsewhere – we are all consumers ourselves, after all. What is important to point out, however, is that the opposite is also true: if a business is known to offer speedy shipping or hassle-free returns, customers pay attention.
5 benefits of improving CX:
- Drive revenue and customer lifetime value
- Increase brand value
- Boost customer loyalty and advocacy
- Keep close to customers’ changing behaviors
- Reduce costs and invest in the right things
In many cases, customer experience is a bigger driver of growth than product and price. We know that strong customer experience feeds into strong brand experience, but it also impacts other key metrics like brand loyalty and brand perception. According to Temkin Group, 86% – of those who received a great customer experience were likely to repurchase from the same company; compared to just 13% of those who received a poor CX. And brand loyalty, in turn, will help attract new customers.
How to improve your brand and customer experience
The best way to improve both brand experience and customer experience is to bring them together and start analyzing them as less siloed entities.
If you continually listen to – and anticipate – customers’ expectations, you’ll be able to take steps to ensure that your brand and customer experience teams are working together to meet them.
To achieve that, you’ll need to employ an intelligent experience management suite that offers real-time insights and the ability to hone in on areas where the customer journey is letting your CX and BX down. That means a few things:
As with any area of business improvement, always-on data provides much more scope for improvement than data that’s stuck in the past. Continuous monitoring allows you to act on insights that are timely and relevant – you’ll be able to fix issues before it’s too late, and take advantage of potential opportunities you spot early.
Attitudes and expectations vary across demographics, so you need to be able to monitor feedback on a granular level. That’ll help ensure that you’re tailoring your experience to specific audience sets, as well as learning how the opinions of new customers differ from returning ones.
Sometimes metrics like NPS don’t give you enough detail, and customer feedback slips through the cracks. That’s where conversational analytics comes into its own – it can detect emotion and sentiment from the language your customers use – whether that’s on the phone, over email, or in a Tweet. You’ll get vital context that will give you the tools to act on what your customers are telling you.
Naturally, Qualtrics’ Experience Management software can help with everything your business needs to fine-tune your brand and customer experience – and drive more positive consumer expectations as a result.
If you’re interested in learning how to practically bring BX and CX into alignment, our free eBook – Use your brand to supercharge your CX – can help.