Founder & CEO Beyond Philosophy
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Brand or customer experience - what comes first?

24th Apr 2019
Founder & CEO Beyond Philosophy
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Brands are everywhere. Everybody feels like they understand what brands are. However, when we ask the fundamental questions of “What is a brand?” and “What does that mean?”, there's a surprising amount of variation in opinion.

Branding is a critical topic in Customer Experience. We discussed where branding and Customer Experience interact and prioritize in a recent podcast. We also explained how the two concepts are crucial to creating brand and customer loyalty.


Which Came First The Chicken or The Brand?

People often ask me when it comes to branding and Customer Experience, which one comes first? What's most important?

The answer is they are both important, but branding comes first, and Customer Experience follows. Here’s why branding comes first and the difference between them.

Branding makes the promise in the marketplace.

Customer Experience delivers against that promise.

When the Customer Experience is successful in delivering on the brand promise, that is a Branded Customer Experience.

For example, Apple delivers a Branded Customer Experience.  

Colin Show - Brand or CX Blog

When I go into Apple, I feel that the “store” is on brand, from the way they dress to the way they act to the absence of tills. It feels like the brand promise they made me in their marketing.  

Another example—and cautionary tale—is Aviva insurance brand Norwich Union,  an insurance company in the UK. Norwich Union had a slogan, “Quote me happy.” They used advertisements of people that were ecstatically happy and rolling about the floor laughing their heads off because they were so pleased with the quote they received.

Not surprisingly, the Aviva Insurance company ditched the campaign a few years later “amid claims that it was failing to live up to its promise.”  After all, when was the last time you were ecstatic about buying insurance?


Practicality Wins Over Philosophy in Branded Customer Experiences

The Norwich Union example leads to my next point. Your brand promise and brand value should be practical. Sometimes organizations fail to grasp this concept, and it leads to problems delivering a Branded Customer Experience.

For example, I was chatting with a mobile phone company. We were talking about their brand values, and the team from the mobile phone company said one of their brand values was “Red.”  

Red? What does that mean? How do your call center employees deliver on a brand value of “red?” The answer is they can’t.

In other words, colors are for logos, not for brands.

A brand is an inspiration for your Customer Experience. Therefore, it must have a practical application if you want the Customer Experience to deliver on it.

Our global Customer Experience consultancy is named after this concept. Beyond Philosophy means that having a philosophy is excellent, but you must be able to do something with the philosophy. Otherwise, it’s useless.

In simpler terms, when Bert Scroggins phones into the call center to complain, your philosophy should inspire that interaction with some practical application in the Customer Experience. If you have somebody working for you in a call center or in a store, what do you want them to do? It’s the doing where the Customer Experience exists not the high-falutin’ theory behind it.

Don’t get me wrong. You need the high-minded ideals. But you also need to have at least one foot in reality.


What is a Brand?

You can think about a brand in two ways. There is the organizational perspective and then the customer perspective:

From the organizational perspective, a brand is a series of symbolic decisions, like a logo, the colors, the character you want to anthropomorphize. These decisions are necessary for consistency. However, too many firms treat that as the brand, and it's not. That’s just the beginning.  

From a customer perspective, a brand exists as a network of memories in the mind of your customer. Managing a brand is managing customers’ memories. It means you should have ideas that you want to be associated with your brand. Then, you have to form consistent and repetitive memories in the minds of your consumers.

Think about the brand for Volvo. Many of us will think of the word “safety” because for decades Volvo hammered that message into our brains over and over (and over) again. Now we associate the concept of safety and Volvo in our memories. That said, Volvo didn’t make the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick honor for 2018. Maybe the other brands have caught up with them. However, Volvo, at least to some of us older types, is still associated with safety.


The Staggering Importance of Memory to Your Brand

The Volvo brand is built on associating the word “safety” with their cars. Memory is a crucial factor for a brand, and brand loyalty, for that matter. If you didn't have a memory of an experience, then, by definition, you can't be loyal to a brand.

Loyalty means you're going back to something; you're going to use something again. The word “again” implies you know what you're doing and returning is based upon your previous experience. Therefore, loyalty suggests memory, making your customers’ memories really (really, really) important.  

When we talk about where Customer Experience interacts with branding, experiences are profound. We remember clearly and deeply experiences we've had with something.

When you have a list of brand values, how does that translate to the customer? The answer is it doesn’t. Your brand values mean nothing to your customer.

What your customer is going to remember, what's going to be built into that networked memory structure in their brain, is the experience they had, and their expectations based on what they've learned. As a brand or Customer Experience manager, you must manage what people remember.

Professor Daniel Kahneman talked about the Peak-End Rule, which describes how memories are formed. People remember the peak emotion they felt—and that could be positive or negative—and they remember the end emotion they felt in an experience. Those two points form a memory.


So, What Does This Mean to Your Customer Experience?

  1. You need to evoke the proper emotions. Emotions are the most significant influence on the outcome of a Customer Experience. You should ask yourself the following:
    • What emotions are you evoking?
    • Are those emotions the ones that you want to evoke, meaning they drive value for your organization?
  2. Look at it from the customer memory perspective. What do we want people to remember about our brand? Now, to be fair, brand management from that memory perspective is unsexy. It is built on consistency and a narrow focus around a few key elements. Delivering on that in terms of messaging and experience over and over (and over) again is managing memory. It is a slow, repetitive process, but it works.
  3. Keep your promises.  A brand creates the promise in the marketplace, and the Customer Experience delivers against that promise. They should be in line with each other. The brand promise should be practical, something you can do in the call center, in the store or in the way you market.  You must consider how you will have the promise manifest in reality.

I don't think organizations consider enough how to implement their high-minded ideals for the brand. However, this implementation is essential to your Customer Experience. Customer Experience is the practical application of your brand.

And it should not be red, because no one knows what that means.


Hear the rest of the conversation on Branding and CX on The Intuitive Customer Podcast. These informative podcasts are designed to expand on the psychological ideas behind understanding customer behavior. To listen in, please click here.

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