Marketing is increasingly focused on the operational elements in the organisation as a means to drive acquisition and retention, but CMOs need to be careful not to neglect other aspects.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the operational side, and overlook those interactions that make a brand special, unique, and valuable for the customer.
Designing a brand experience has become central to a CMO’s efforts to orchestrate marketing activities across all touch points and communications. It’s the unique brand experiences that serve as the source of innovation, disruption, and distinctiveness for brands.
For customers, great brand experiences attract our attention and create evocative memories that stay with us. Here are ways to bring those to life.
Brand Experience Design Principles
The following principles are critical for brands looking at how to design an effective brand experience:
- Focus on engagement to differentiate—declining customer engagement is the new battleground for brands in a world of distractions, compelling brand experiences attract and retain customers.
- Apply design thinking principles—design thinking provides an innovation framework to address feasibility, viability, and desirability of the brand experiences created, giving structure to the way brands can apply resources through technology, processes, and people to solve marketing challenges.
- Embrace customer-centricity and human-centred design—empathy for customers gives rise to experiences that are highly intuitive and meaningful on a functional, emotional, and social level.
- Map the customer journey—journey mapping helps to understand, influence, and innovate end-to-end brand experiences, providing clarity on customer missions, points of friction, gaps in perceptions, and how to build positive brand engagement at moments of truth.
- Apply learnings from behavioural science—customers often appear to be irrational in their choices. Insights on factors that aid and bias decision making such as priming, framing, anchoring, and attribution effects, as well as on psychological principles behind influencing behaviour, can give clarity on how to shape and influence customer choices through brand experiences.
- Use storytelling to build immersive experiences—storytelling enables brands to connect with customers on an emotional level and develop associations that lead to action. There is growing recognition that stories can help to design immersive brand experiences that inspire customers to change their behaviour.
- Harness collaborative partnerships that enhance the brand experience—partnerships can give rise to brand experience innovation through distinctive relationships that add value in new ways for customers.
As we see a convergence of activities that drive brand strategy, marketing communications, and customer experience, well-designed brand experiences through structured creativity ensure that all interactions with the brand, in whatever form, work together to build perceptions that attract customers and impress them enough to become advocates.
Bringing The Brand Experience To Life
Innovation at Nintendo demonstrates effective application of design thinking to the brand experience. In 2006 Sony PlayStation and Xbox were in engaged in graphics resolution and gaming performance race based on graphics resolution against which Nintendo could not compete.
Nintendo changed the rules of the game by introducing the Wii, addressing resource constraints by using empathy with gamers to address different needs, differentiating the experience through gestural control and family entertainment. Sales of the Wii took off at the launch, with 600,000 consoles sold in the US within the first eight days of the launch generating $190 million in the first week on sale.
Ten years later, with the advent of Pokémon Go, Nintendo and Niantic have tapped into the nostalgia of the iconic franchise of Pokémon and coupled this with a unique Augmented Reality (AR) gaming experience that is accessible on smartphones. By mapping the game onto key geographic locations and points of interest, AR has served to blend traditional digital gaming environments with the real world, creating a new community that is interacting in new ways in real and digital environments through PokeStops and gyms. Real world interactions have also created a network that brands can tap into by offering incentives to players who visit key locations, and brands such as Starbucks have invented coffee cocktails that are based on the Pokémon characters.
The results of Pokémania have been explosive: the game was downloaded more than 10 million times within a week of release, becoming the fastest such app to do so and then went on to reach over 100 million global downloads by August. This integrated immersive AR gaming experience has become a geolocation-driven social media phenomenon, and appears to be reshaping customer engagement rather than just being a one-off craze.
The Nationwide Building Society and Macmillan Cancer Support partnership is another example of a unique and well-differentiated brand experience that has been built through empathy for cancer patients who require support with their financial affairs. Nationwide deepened this long-standing partnership by thinking about how to cater more effectively for customers dealing with cancer.
Nationwide listened to the experiences of their own employees who had been through cancer treatment as an initial step to understand the type of financial services support that would be valuable during the time they were facing this challenge in their lives. In collaboration with Macmillan, they used this feedback to design new services. Frontline staff have been empowered as relationship managers, and new offerings and processes have been designed to deliver a brand experience that supports the unique requirements of customers living with cancer.
The Nationwide partnership with Macmillan provides a two-way referral system of support between the two organisations, and other banks are being encouraged to follow their lead. By thinking differently about how the brand experience is delivered, Nationwide has demonstrated customer-driven leadership in the banking sector.
Implications For Marketers
Customers are seeking experiential brands that are authentic, memorable, and add value through finding better ways to address needs. With convergence of brand, customer experience, and marketing communications being accelerated by digital, all interactions work together to influence customers—often the emotional highs and lows experienced stand out as memories and have the most impact on customer perceptions of the brand.
Expectations are increasingly set by the best brand experience we have recently had, irrespective of the type of product, service, or experience. Therefore, customers have rising expectations of the brands that they trust and believe in. Effective brand experience design can take this into account by building experiences that are rooted in latent needs to find the magic, reducing cognitive load or delivering more than we expected or imagined possible.
A big idea, a compelling brand vision, new technology, and collaborative partnerships can combine as game changers to create remarkable brand experiences that enable CMOs to imagine the future and find ways to design it today.
For the WARC best practice paper about how to design a branded customer experience click here.