What is brand experience?
To understand brand experience fully, it’s useful to remind ourselves of the related customer and employee experiences:
- CX: The feelings, reactions, and ideas that result from direct consumption, purchase, and use of a branded product or service
- EX™: The feelings, reactions, and ideas that result from direct engagement with a business as a current or former employee
With this in mind we can describe BX as follows:
It’s obvious who customer experience and employee experience programs focus on, and these are easily measurable using feedback surveys at touchpoints to collect and analyse actionable data.
A brand is more nebulous. However much a company likes to think it owns a brand, it doesn’t really. A brand lives in consumers’ minds, and customer perception can make or break it. While organizations have never fully controlled their brand, ensuring great brand experience has become even more challenging in today’s hyperconnected world, where every consumer has a megaphone. A bad reputation, faulty product, rude sales assistant, company representative saying or doing something controversial – each a bad brand experience – all can harm a brand and prevent future sales.
“It’s how consumers interact with brands in real life, generating feelings, beliefs and behaviours that result in comparative marketplace advantages that lead to more sales, pricing power and resistance to competitive threats.”
– Frank Zinni, Senior XM Scientist, PhD
But what if the brand/customer relationship could be such that people are so connected with the brand that they feel they belong to it, they’re part of the ‘family’, willing to share in the brand triumphs and to forgive minor transgressions? The word ‘feel’ is important here. Brand experience is all about helping your customers form an emotional connection.
“Brand experience is creating an ecosystem around the brand in such a way that people can fit themselves into that ecosystem, and when they interact with your brand then they should feel the connection with you.”
Brand experience is important because it engenders brand loyalty. And when you consider that it can cost five times as much to attract a new customer than to retain an existing one, keeping a loyal customer base makes solid business sense.
Image Source: invespcro.com
Ways companies create a brand experience
A positive brand experience rarely results from just one interaction. Companies need to adopt a joined-up approach so that every interaction with a consumer produces those same warm feelings of brand belonging. All these events are likely to influence how people think, feel, judge, and behave towards the brand.
1. Direct marketing
- Impeccable customer service that makes consumers want to buy from the brand again (and again)
- Brand-owned website – a rapidly-growing form of direct-to-consumer marketing
- Advertisements that express the brand’s personality and ‘feeling’
- Design – on logos, advertisements, web content, stores, signage, and other marketing communications that chime with customer emotion
- Discounts, rewards, and promotions to attract new customers and reward loyalty
- Newsletters and press releases tailored to interest-specific target audiences
- Product placement or celebrity endorsement in films or commercials
- Influencers on social media
2. Indirect marketing
- Great employee engagement: where enthusiastic employees are also your brand ambassadors, they deliver a great customer experience
- A strong online presence beyond the website into social and search that comes up when customers express a need that the brand can fulfil
- Customer reviews on marketplaces (like Amazon)
- Press articles about the company’s social impact initiatives
In other words, experiential marketing is the key to building a strong brand. Every positive interaction and experience with a brand, however large or small, goes towards building brand loyalty over time. By asking consumers about all those moments, and understanding which matter the most and to whom, we can deliver an even better experience.
The brand experience secret weapon
But in our fast-moving world, just using a traditional brand tracker to gauge customer sentiment towards a brand is not enough, because:
- It’s incomplete: Marketers must connect the brand with what’s really going on in the business to ensure it’s driving the organisation forward
- It’s not fast enough: With more competition, disruption and the speed of consumer expectations, businesses need a way to have a constant pulse on their brand and how effective it is in growing new customers
You need to collect data from all the elements of a brand. This is where you bring out your secret weapon – combining O (operational) with X (experience) data:
- O-data: operational data derived from objective, observable, measurable processes (sales data, finance data, employee data, marketing spend)
- X-data: experience data that measures attitudes, beliefs, emotions, sentiments, intentions, etc. that often don’t lend themselves to straightforward, objective measurement
The intersection of X and O data unlocks the possibility of more robust predictions, more precise and impactful actions, and long-term positive brand experience management. Using a combination of customer and brand experience data, and employee experience data, you can be better positioned to manage your brand experience at every level: employee, customer, and consumers/public.
The link between brand experience and brand awareness
It has been argued that brands grow by being mentally and physically available, and there is beauty in this simplicity. But this recommendation skims past a simple truth: people often forget what a brand says or does, but they remember how a brand makes them feel (apologies to Maya Angelou). Experiences happen at an emotional level: it’s the emotion, the feeling that lodges the brand in memory, it’s the feeling that the experience evokes that triggers the memory of the brand, driving overall brand awareness. Of course, the feeling that is evoked when thinking about a particular brand may not necessarily be a good one, but by consistently meeting their needs through the experiences you provide, your chances of it being so will certainly be higher.
The link between brand experience and brand image
Research shows that the two are closely linked: brand experience is significant and has a positive influence on brand image. And a strong brand image influences consumers to choose a company’s products or services. What your consumers feel and experience will determine how they view your brand, so ensuring that your brand promise is consistent with reality is important. And likewise, how your consumers perceive you may pre-determine whether they will use your brand.
Creating a great brand experience strategy
Your product or service is what you sell, your brand is how your customers perceive you, and branding is the strategy you use to create that perception. And you need to differentiate between consumers and customers, too:
- Customers have bought your product before
- Consumers are a brand’s current customers, lapsed customers and prospective customers
CX focuses on the existing, current customer, BX cares about them all.
There are enormous challenges to your brand, which is why your BX strategy has to be well-developed, targeted and differentiating. You’re up against:
- More competition than ever before
- More market disruption
- Keeping tabs on consumers who make snap judgments and rapidly change their minds
- Customer empowerment to speak up and choose where to spend their money
The keys to keeping up with these challenges are frequency and speed. You need data more frequently and you need to analyse it quickly to inform your strategy. A pulse survey each month is probably the least you must do.
Successful brand strategy places brand experience at its core
A brand strategy that places brand experience at its core, is one that recognises what we noted earlier in this guide, how people feel about you is what they will remember. Always be sure to place your bets in areas that can have targeted, high impact, like digital ads, social media, and influencers. But you must also be sure that those actions grab attention and evoke an emotional response.
Our 10-point plan for creating a brand experience strategy
- Draw up a mission statement that identifies your target audience, outline your vision, informs marketing, and puts brand experience at the forefront.
- Tell your company story: everyone loves storytelling – it chimes with us emotionally back to our childhood, and is a great way to make a brand memorable.
- Understand your target audience by performing a segmentation analysis and creating customer personas. Take this further with…
- Analyse the competition to identify ways to differentiate and make it easy for consumers to choose you over similar offerings
- Build unique brand positioning use your mission, company story, and differentiators to speak to a specific audience.
- Don’t be afraid to get emotional: A brand experience depends upon a relationship with a customer, and sentiment is involved, whether happy, thoughtful or moving.
- Personalisation – this is becoming a major driver for brand experience; when a customer feels valued and treated with empathy they are more likely to remain brand loyal.
- Find the ways that your customers will respond authentically whether on social channels, with reviews, etc. Customers can greatly influence the perception of the brand to new audiences.
- Enhance your in-person experience: whether it’s pop-up events, in-store offerings, or collaborations, use live experiences and employees to immerse consumers and create memories.
- Take a frequent pulse of brand health: Consumer expectations change fast. Stay ahead of the market with frequent check-ins, so you can ensure you’re taking the right actions overtime to drive business growth. Use brand experience management software, such as Qualtrics BrandXM to move your business forward in a dynamic way.
3 examples of companies who have got brand experience right
Duracell have taken an everyday item that we put in our remote controls, torches, and children’s toys – a battery – and elevated it to a product whose unstoppable power we feel we can trust in. By playing on the concept of power and the emotion of trust, Duracell’s brand experience stands out:
- Through their ads telling inspirational, moving stories that create an emotional connection with the brand:
- Through their sponsorship of sports, such as NASCAR and rugby
- Through their association with the Star Wars movie franchise
Vroom is a US online company that really came into its own during the Covid-19 pandemic. The market for second-hand cars boomed with many people unwilling to use public transport, and unable to visit dealerships. Its brand experience was exactly what locked-down car buyers needed:
- High-quality, low-mileage cars with clean vehicle histories
- Easy online finance
- Delivered to your door
- No need to visit pushy, gimmicky dealerships
Nobody does total brand experience quite like Apple. Walk down any street and somebody is scrolling on a shiny Apple product – the legacy of Steve Jobs is everywhere. Just how did he, and his Apple team today, achieve such dizzy heights of brand equity?
- They keep it simple: Clean, sleek, consistent design on everything from their computers to their packaging to their marketing emails are instantly recognisable as Apple. They don’t need to clutter their brand identity when the tech speaks for itself.
- They become the product: You hoover your home, wipe your nose on a Kleenex, make a call from your iPhone… Apple ‘owns’ the smartphone market, bringing newer, more innovative features with each new product release.
- They speak their customer’s language: Tech can be utterly bewildering, and Apple knows this. By cutting out the jargon, and communicating in their trademark clean simplicity, Apple presents their features as simple and intuitive to use
- They are masters of mystery: from feeding rumours of a new product into the media, and keeping it top secret until its triumphant unveiling, Apple ramp up the hype to trigger a sales frenzy when a product is released
- Their customer experience is premier: In-store, knowledgeable Apple staff make you feel special: they help and advise you, and once that all-important purchase is made, bring you your beautifully boxed product with a certain ceremony from behind the helpdesk