Redefining Brand Experience for the Relationship Era
"It’s time to design experiences you want people to have, remember and share. Customer experience is the new marketing and customer experiences (what they have, feel and share) become the new “BX” (brand experience).
More importantly, CX becomes a way of doing business that permeates and reshapes every facet of how and why companies operate.
It’s about purpose, vision and meaningful engagement…not corporate mission and vision statements, taglines and creative campaigns."
-- Brian Solis, Altimeter
It goes without saying that the phrase "customer experience" occupies a center of gravity in contemporary business strategy — and rightfully so. After decades of digital evolution across both consumer and business landscapes, the focus is squarely on trying to understand how best to deliver insanely great products and services that customers can't get enough of.
But what we sense from working across industries and markets is there’s a tension undermining the vision of CX nirvana: in chasing customer-centricity, businesses are accidentally getting into a dangerous and unsustainable feature and function arms race. To guard against this short-sighted view, companies need to re-anchor in how customers truly perceive them: through the lens of brand experience.
You may be asking, what's the relationship between brand experience and customer experience (and what’s the difference)? Here’s how we see it:
· Customer experience focuses on functional interactions to consistently meet customer needs across every touch point along their journeys. It answers the question: “What do you need and want?”
· Brand experience focuses on the customer’s perception of a company’s value, reputation and purpose built over time in a mutual relationship. It answers the question “Who am I to you?”
As the above quote from Brian Solis points out, a common misperception is that “brand experience” is limited to logos, visual identity and marketing communications. On one hand, that’s understandable. The brand is the representation of the company and these surface-level identifiers are easy to latch on to. But just like you as a person are more than what you look like, so is the brand more than its visual identity.
The brand is what customers form a relationship with. It’s not communicated, it’s co-created — formed through interactions over time that deliver functional and emotional value. And ultimately, as famously put in The Brand Gap — “A brand is a person's gut feeling about a product, service, or company.” Just like the way we all remember people — It’s the memories and feelings that people hold onto.
Who am I (to you)?
While many companies are still early in their CX maturity it may seem that we’re fighting against customer-centricity by tipping the conversation back toward “brand.” Nope. Just the opposite.
What we are suggesting is that before brands can truly serve customers, they have to take a hard, honest look at who they are — and who they want to be. What purpose and personality does the brand want to bring into the relationship? What functional and emotional value does the brand want to resonate with customers and amplify over time?
These questions are more critical now than ever because complexity and pace of change are only increasing. In a world where it’s impossible to do everything and authenticity is at a premium, without a firm grounding of the business’ intention two things are certain:
1. The business will struggle to achieve the growth and efficiency its seeking
2. The relationship expectations (known or unknown) will inevitably be violated, with reputation implications often far beyond the scope of an individual customer relationship
Integrity of word and deed
In a recent brand experience engagement with a global engineering firm, we galvanized the organization about the interdependence of business model, customer experience and employee experience through a conversation about integrity between “word and deed.”
The company, seeking to stand out in an undifferentiated and increasingly commoditized industry, sought to redefine its core brand purpose. From a marketing vantage point, we were laser focused on defining our role in a customer relationship — what was essential to the company’s purpose and personality that had yet to be expressed, and how could that resonate with customer’s needs?
Once we landed on our answer, we realized it was a distinct and compelling position, but one we weren’t sure we could pay off in the experience. So instead of stopping there, brand led the way for a bigger transformation — one looking at the company’s foundational purpose at a more structural level — including the mission, vision and values — as well as to the role of the brand in the employee experience. The brand’s first relationship is with its employees — who in turn enable the customer experience.
Towards more valuable relationships
What this case study proves is the tremendous power that starting a conversation about brand can provide toward aligning and guiding an organization through transformation. For many companies, converging and accelerating competitive landscape has caused deep rifts between the business model, employee experience and customer experience that need to be unified.
Brand experience provides a model for businesses to look holistically at interconnected components across communications, operations, systems, and strategy through human-centered relationships. The value isn’t just in meeting needs, it’s in providing meaning.
Take a look in your own market. Chances are your customers, your partners, and even your employees, are all signaling that they expect more than a slick mobile app or cleverly integrated chatbot to stick around. They want a relationship they can trust with a brand they can invest in for years to come.