What is brand experience and how can it be simplified in a more complex world? Focus on product, service and culture to break through the noise.
In today’s landscape, it’s easy for brand messages to get lost among the noise. To be heard, brands need to streamline their tone of voice and enhance brand experience for the customer.
When a brand reviews marketing output or plans a new product launch, two questions are paramount:
- How can we create a meaningful connection with our target consumer?
- How does this speak to our existing consumers and is there a disconnect?
The gulf between target and existing consumers seems to be widening across many areas, as the number of businesses struggling to compete shows. Their message is getting lost. They’re sacrificing the now to chase the tomorrow.
Why is this happening, and how can brands identify more clearly what differentiates them?
Identifying the Brand ‘Sweet Spot’
By trying to be too many things for too many people, brands can lose sight of their core focus: what makes the brand special and how to build brand experiences around it.
Let’s start by focusing on the core of the brand, itʼs purpose, and identify where its ‘sweet spotʼ lies. By reviewing the three pillars that make up the essence of brand delivery – product, service, and culture – we identify what to bring to each that is above and beyond the consumer’s expectation.
There may be no singular ‘sweet spot’ for a particular brand or target customer. That’s why it’s important to dissect brand expectations and match them against customer reality at every stage. From anticipation of purchase through to post-purchase ‘glowʼ, the feeling that builds long term brand loyalty, reviewing all customer experiences against each of the three pillars is key.
Identify the areas where a brand misses the mark in terms of consumer attraction by spending time with both internal and external customers – those already passionate about the brand as well as those who are not.
By focusing on these weak areas and applying existing and found knowledge to each of the three pillars, the brand’s ‘sweet spot’ is identified. That’s the attributes woven into a brand’s DNA that make it unique and identifiable. And it’s here that brands can leverage built-in moments that entice and delight.
The Three Pillars of Brand Delivery
Brand product output can usually be segmented into one of the following three categories:
- Origin product
- Bespoke and collaborations
- Enhance lifestyle offer
The big global players have long sold lifestyle products as part of their mix. Louis Vuitton supplement their travel credentials with a range of city-focused travel books that have led to a curated library of third-party books. While no less covetable, the Vuitton boxing bag is less clear in its contribution to the brand’s lifestyle halo.
Chanel launched its iconic bikini in the 90s and it spawned clothing across multiple segments not normally approached by a luxury house. Ski boots and surf-boards became the norm to the discerning consumer.
This poses a larger question. How can you compete and create credible and authentic lifestyle moments when such levels of lifestyle immersion are on offer?
While at Aesop, we looked to the consumer to build their lifestyle into the physical shopping experience by adding facial treatments and innovative dining experiences by local chefs with a focus on natural organic food. These brand experiences speak to a complete cycle, a holistic approach to feeling good inside and out.
It is through defining and clarifying range and consumer expectation that the magic of brand experience can be sprinkled across each category in an authentic way.
Service is one area that is driving massive global change. There are, of course, many taxi companies, banks or security services. But it’s the ability to adapt rapidly and speak to multiple consumer types and expectations via technology that’s driving this transformation, and rightly so.
These filters can be applied to service to create three main areas of delivery:
- Core Customer Services
- Above-and-Beyond Customer Service
- Hospitality and Educational Services
Itʼs easy to overlook Apple, a brand so extensively written about, copied, and bettered. Itʼs easy to just see product and forget that there is one area where Apple continues to excel and others can only hope to follow: service-led culture.
Where to begin? Genius bars, Apple Pay, scan your own in-store shopping and leave without ever talking to a team member. Removal of traditional pay points, theatre-style seminars where customers can learn new skills, or instant swap on products that need repair.
The App store and iTunes have revolutionised the way we view ownership. As a result, the wider consumer lexicon around the very notion of what it means to ‘own’ has shifted beyond the point of no return. The list of Apple’s innovations in service-led culture is endless.
Authentic moments connect when they build and align cultural values between brand, team and consumer. How does this lend itself to brand experience? With the advent of social media we’ve become a tribal society more so than ever. When brands dive into culture, it helps us see through purely commercial opportunity. It helps us to understand who is like us, who shares our values and who cares about the same things we care about.
Culture can be looked at through three main prisms:
- Brand purpose and values
- Cultural and charitable initiatives
- Personality and geographic location
It’s important to adhere to brand ethos, mission, vision and values at every step, from staff training through to the day-to-day behaviours of colleagues. To do so, assess how efficient a brand’s culture is in terms of its impact in the world, partnerships, creativity, and the brand’s ability to break the mould. Build meaningful product adjacencies and collaborations that inspire and surprise.
At PUMA, we reviewed not only the visual approach to unifying a global brand but also internal global brand communications along with creative and visual training. This approach ensured that we spoke to each other with as much joy as when speaking to the consumer.
Global brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton have harnessed collaborations with artists, developed fashion shows as digital theatre shows for a ‘see it, buy it’ consumer, and built museums as brand destinations. Following in the footsteps of the Marc by Marc Jacobs bookstore, they’ve branched into curated cultural offerings too. This has led to charitable initiatives like Gucci’s campaign with the United Nations, ‘Chime for Changeʼ, which goes far beyond simply selling books. Instead, they opened a museum as a bridge to create lasting cultural change both for the brands themselves and their relationship with the consumer.
Experience-led Brand Culture
Todayʼs consumer demands brand experience. In a post-ownership world, building rich, engaging experiences is more important than ever. By focusing on product, service and culture, brands create clear, consistent communication and experiences that attract consumers and gain trust.
Clarity of purpose builds authentic experiences.
Brands must translate their existing product ranges into rich and meaningful moments that live beyond the point of purchase. Across both the physical and digital world, with AK Brand Experience I strive to understand how a brand’s service is currently perceived, and how I can craft personalised touches for the brand that stay with the consumer. It’s via this innovative, almost daredevil approach that we succeed in assisting brands to create a clear tone of voice and purpose.
By identifying a brand’s true, authentic, purposeful ethos both inside and out, we find their ‘sweet spot’ and create a streamlined brand experience that’s built around a consumer and designed to effectively connect the target audience.
In our new series ‘Let’s Talk About’, Ales Kernjak shares invaluable insight, tips and tricks that draw from his extensive experience in physical retail concept and design as well as predictions for the future. Upcoming articles will cover all aspects of today’s retail landscape, from product to culture, visual merchandising to store design and much more.
About the Author:
For 25+ years, some of the world’s biggest brands like Aesop, PUMA and Timberland have worked with Ales Kernjak for his passion for creativity and ability to deliver results. He creates rich, meaningful 360° brand experience moments, authentic storytelling and consumer engagement reflective of today’s consumers need and tomorrow’s desire. His expertise in retail brand identity engages all the disciplines; retail concept development, design and roll-out, visual merchandising, visual marketing, staff training and retail operational guidance. Learn more about his agency, AK Brand Experience here.