How does brand experience provide competitive differentiation and how can organisations deliver one?
In an increasingly complex business environment, all organisations face the challenge of delivering consistent, connected and meaningful brand experiences. It’s only relatively recently that people have begun to use the term ‘brand experience’ to talk about how a brand lives across all of the touchpoints that customers interact.
But what is brand experience, and how does it differentiate from customer experience?
Where customer experience is about matching consumer expectations on the hygiene factors (e.g. fast-loading web pages, delivering parcels on time), brand experience refers to the memorable hero moments along a customers’ journey. Brand experience is all-encompassing, totally transforming the UX, impacting how people feel about a brand, and in turn, having a significant impact on spend, recommendations and, inevitably, loyalty.
Securing this loyalty is important, and doing so through effective brand experience is especially vital at the moment, as it’s clear that brands can no longer rely on marketing and advertising as go-to ways of building a brand. As a result of digitally-driven developments, brands are presented with a new cohort of demanding customers, and these customers have come to expect a highly intuitive and personalised experience. Getting them on board, and keeping them there, is harder than ever, so brands need to be moving away from a sales- and product-focused mindset to one of genuine customer centricity.
Brands with a strong brand experience command 79% higher purchase intent and an average of 45 more Net Promoter Score points than those who offer a lesser experience, and a MESH Experience study revealed that a positive experience has around 3 times the impact on brand consideration compared with a neutral experience – to not utilise brand experience to propel your brand to the top would be a huge mistake.
So, who’s doing it well, and reaping the benefits?
- Premier Inn: Premier Inn deliver on their powerful promise of ‘A good night’s sleep guaranteed’ with genuine service offerings, creating a premium bedroom experience with a choice of pillows and Hypnos Mattresses. In a climate where taglines often seem hollow, a brand experience built on genuine promises – in Premier Inn’s case, on tangible benefits – is an incredibly meaningful one that will stick with customers.
- Lloyds Bank: Lloyds Bank use communications to clarify their purpose at both a group level, ‘Helping Britain Prosper’ and a brand level, ‘By Your Side’, setting high expectations. They are at pains to then exceed these high expectations by their high investment in key elements like their market-leading app. They have taken steps to join up their channels, so a visit to the branch reflects changes made in the app or online.
- Virgin Atlantic: Virgin Atlantic – a brand based on glamour and fun – provided a unique and exciting brand experience, becoming the first airline to have video games in the entertainment systems in the economy seats. This sets Virgin apart from its competitors, acknowledging what customers may want/need when on a flight, and acting on it.
- Giff Gaff: Giff Gaff changed the game, catering to an audience who wanted a different kind of mobile model. Delivering on their ‘mobile network powered by you’ position, and consumers who are more comfortable online, Giff Gaff customer service runs on a community of ‘members’ – a community of highly active customers who share advice, content and new ideas, rewarded for their level of interaction. It’s an alternative take on loyalty, but one that’s proving hugely effective.
It’s important to note that extraordinary brand experience isn’t about throwing money around, but about finding the right value exchange and surpassing your customers’ expectations. Often, as we can see in the likes of Premier Inn and Giff Gaff, it’s the players who get this right, and deliver a far more meaningful experience than premium competitors.
How to deliver a great brand experience?
When looking at what builds an extraordinary brand experience, we have identified five main facets – Think, Sense, Feel, Do and Connect – which represent the key ways in which people become engaged with a brand. These should be used as a framework for identifying the memorable heroes of brand experience:
THINK: Engage your consumers’ intellect by creating an experience that backs up your brand story at every touchpoint.
- Stand for something, share your idea and engage with your customers, and prove you’re different: follow the idea throughout the experience, and don’t let standards slip.
DO: Become a go-to brand by supporting relevant behaviours, solving the right problems, and empowering customers throughout the experience.
- Enable consumer actions by letting individuals choose how to engage, create personalised ‘next best actions’ to solve specific needs, and create new and unique ways to solve the trickiest, most important problems for you customers.
CONNECT: Attract people to your brand and purpose with social experiences that create a sense of community and an identity for both the individual and the group.
- Bring like-minded people together around shared experiences, and a shared point of view to foster a sense of belonging. Provide a social identity while still supporting the individual’s identity and contribute to and engage with your wider community.
FEEL: Create emotionally engaging experiences that display a deep understanding of people’s needs and act accordingly and when appropriate.
- Create positive associations with your brand through actions and behaviours at moments of need/stress. Show empathy for the needs you should be resolving and never leave a problem unsolved. Consumers should feel better after engaging with your brand.
SENSE - Immerse people in your brand, and everything it stands for, by creating an experience that is flexible enough to appeal to all five senses.
- Consider the context around every touchpoint to understand how it relates to and integrates with the world around it and craft all elements of your experience accordingly, considering the primary and secondary senses. Take the opportunity to show what your brand stands for with inventive and innovate use of objects and environments, interfaces and interactions.
It’s crucial as well to work internally to make sure your staff can deliver the brand experience perfectly. The key to good brand experience is employee engagement – and this means from board to front-line staff. It’s important that the entire brand know what the brand stands for, and are able to communicate this to customers. Reinforce your core brand ideas as often as possible, give regular training and make sure your staff are consistently fully equipped to deliver the brand experience you’ve built – otherwise it essentially won’t exist.
How BX will continue to evolve
In the future, consumers will expect to be able to contact brands through voice (e.g. Alexa), social channels (e.g. WhatsApp) and chatbots. They will expect brands to seamlessly track their conversations across these multiple channels. This poses both technical and cultural challenges for brands.
There will be an increasing need to make it simple for customer service staff to track the conversation. It will become essential that employees are trained on how to talk in the brand’s voice in very divergent contexts.
Ultimately, however, businesses that keep consumer needs and their brand promise at the heart of their investments will continue to succeed.
About Laurence Parkes
As a former Campaign ‘Face to Watch’, Laurence Parkes has collected many awards throughout his career - including a Gold Cannes Cyber Lion and Gold IPA Effectiveness awards. Heading up Rufus Leonard’s ever-expanding strategy team, he is responsible for providing the overall strategic vision and direction for the agency both internally and externally, creating bespoke and rewarding brand experiences for the likes of Lloyds Banking Group, Reckitt Benckiser, Pizza Express, the AA and Stagecoach. His specialist subjects include brand and marketing strategy, product, service and experience design, CRM, business transformation, lean principles and data-driven decision making.