As customers grow more accustomed to making purchases online, internet sales are at an all-time high. In 2021, for instance, Black Friday and Cyber Monday saw a combined $14 billion in online spending from consumers. Businesses stand to gain significantly from the change to online-first purchase, but there are also possible drawbacks to consider: There is increasing competition for consumer conversions as the number of digital product options rises.
What was the outcome? A battleground for the brand’s experience. Businesses can boost sales and establish a foundation for enduring loyalty by making a good first impression on prospective clients. However, what is brand experience exactly? What is the prerequisite for effective design, and how does it manifest itself in practice? Above all, how do brands develop experience strategies that yield consistent outcomes over an extended period of time?
What is Brand Experience?
Brand experience describes the tangible and emotional experience consumers have while interacting with your brand. Think of it as a holistic approach that combines elements of user experience, customer experience, and brand identity all in one.
Brand experience encompasses all the feelings consumers have before, during, and after interacting with your brand. Take Nestlé Toll House for example. When most people think of them, they think of cookies. You may even remember baking cookies using Toll House chocolate chips, the smell as they baked, and finally, savoring every last bite. You may even associate the brand with moments of bonding with family as you baked cookies together.
In this case, the Toll House brand experience has moved beyond just the consumption of chocolate chips. It’s an emotional connection built over time with consumers and how their products integrate into the lives of the people who buy them.
While brand experience is similar to user experience, it encompasses a broader perception of your brand at large. Where user experience speaks to the takeaways — positive or negative — of a user when they interact with your website or social media profiles, brand experience refers to the impression of your brand as a whole. Not surprisingly, positive user experiences inform better brand experiences (and vice versa) but the two are distinct concepts.
It’s also important to understand that brand experience is subjective. While it’s possible to create experiences that produce reactions along a generalized spectrum, individual users will have different reactions to your efforts. In practice, this means that no matter how carefully you curate brand experience efforts, there will always be customers who come away with a negative reaction. As a result, the goal isn’t to create a universal experience but rather to create one that resonates positively with the largest number of target customers.
Brand experience is a key measurement in successfully managing the evolution of brands. A brand is essentially the device through which customers perceive and understand products, services and the organizations that create and provide them. However, brands are not static in terms of their audience perception. This is both a threat and an opportunity to brands and brand owners.
Understanding brand experience allows organizations to perpetuate and shape the perception and emotional response of customers. BX measurement is particularly useful in ensuring consistency of brand experience. It also plays a key role in allowing organizations to anticipate and influence new directions in brand experience.
All this ultimately adds up to a strengthened brand that:
- Engages new customers
- Re-engages and reinvigorates existing customers
- Remains fresh and relevant as times change
- Stands out against competitors
- Generates positive emotional response and sentiment
- Engenders customer loyalty
- Is memorable for the right reasons
Brand Experience Design
Just 39% of business decision-makers say their brand effectively resonates with prospective buyers. This is a problem: If customers don’t connect your brand with positive thoughts, feelings, and reactions, they’re less likely to remember your products and services when it comes time to make a purchase.
Worth noting? Neutrality isn’t enough. While negative impressions of your brand can drive customers away from your site, neutral impressions are just as problematic — even if consumers see your brand listed in search engine results or advertised online, the absence of a positive brand impression means they won’t seek you out over companies that offer better connective messaging.
So what does effective brand experience design look like? Four components are critical:
Perception forms a key part of the experience. This includes audio, visual, and tactical interactions that allow customers to connect a specific sense to advertising campaigns. In much the same way that particular smells can bring back memories of childhood experiences, brands that successfully merge senses with marketing can create connections that drive sales.
It’s also more likely that customers will walk away with a positive brand experience if they’re able to participate in some way rather than simply watch. This might include the ability to submit suggestions online or interact in real-time online question forums, or it could feature the use of physical installations that allow consumers to touch your product or provide direct feedback.
Generic marketing campaigns can produce steady returns, but personalization can help encourage connection across different customer segments. By leveraging both user-provided data (with their consent) along with social media interactions and other engagement data, it’s possible to create more personalized efforts that help create connections between consumer needs and current product offerings.
Brand experience can’t be all things to all people. Attempts to capture every consumer in every circumstance actually undermine experience-driven efforts — as a result, it’s worth selecting specific brand metrics such as positive social mentions or repeat purchases to prioritize.
Creating a Brand Experience Strategy
Creating a fantastic brand experience should be the ambition of any organization. But because brand experience is so comprehensive, almost everything your company does can have an impact on it.
For this reason, gauging brand experience is crucial. By creating a baseline for how people view and interact with your brand, you can assess the effectiveness of changes. Brand experience measurement can even be used to determine which areas should be improved first.
So how do you build an effective brand experience strategy?
1. Assess whether or not you’re meeting customer expectations.
First up is identifying areas where your current experience isn’t meeting customer expectations. Social media interactions and customer service calls can help pinpoint potential problems — if consistent concerns around brand interaction or reaction arise, this can help frame the foundation of brand experience strategy.
2. Identify areas for improvement.
Next is targeting an area for improvement. While there may be more than one aspect of brand experience that could use a refresh or redesign, attempting to do everything at once can spread strategy efforts too thin and deliver less-than-ideal results. For example, you might choose to increase positive social mentions across specific channels such as Facebook or Instagram. While the eventual goal could be a larger social impact from initial contact to eventual conversion, easily accessible social platforms provide an ideal starting point.
3. Measure your results.
Effective measurement follows to ensure efforts are bearing fruit. In the case of our social media example above, this means tracking user views, reactions, and responses to social media posts along with the sentiment — positive, negative, or neutral — that goes along with them. This is also the time to explore and innovate by testing multiple strategies to see which one sticks. From video campaigns to personalized storytelling to marketing efforts all designed to elicit specific emotions, it’s worth finding that resonates with your customer base and then fine-tuning your efforts to deliver ideal outcomes.
Brand Experience Examples
Speaking about brand experience building is one thing, but really seeing it in action is quite another. Here are five brand experience initiatives that provide useful real-world examples.
One of the reasons Apple has such a devoted customer base is because of the brand experience they’ve created. From ads to Apple stores to the packaging of their products — all touch points work together to create a cohesive brand experience that highlights innovation, style, and functionality.
Their products are cool, sleek, and user-friendly, all attributes highly coveted by Apple’s fans. Even their product announcements have become anticipated events. Apple is a pro at conquering the four “Ps” of brand experience (perception, participation, personalization, and prioritization) and incorporating them in all messaging. This helps Apple stay top of mind for consumers whether they’re in the market to buy or not. It’s not a smartphone, it’s an iPhone. It’s not a laptop, it’s a MacBook.
2. Red Bull
In 2012, the company went all-in on its tagline “Red Bull gives you wings by sending skydiver Alex Baumgartner 24 miles above the Earth’s surface to pull off the highest skydive ever recorded and become the first person to break the sound barrier during freefall.
While his record was broken two years later by an executive from Google, it doesn’t change the fact that Red Bull did something no one had ever done before and created a unique brand experience that aligned with its core marketing message.
3. Cadbury India
Cadbury India opted for consumer suggestions in creating their new chocolate bar flavor. Customers were encouraged to visit the company’s dedicated chocolate bar platform which let them select ingredients and create a recipe. Cadbury then tried all suggested recipes and selected the best of those submitted.
By prioritizing interaction over simple reaction, Cadbury facilitated consumer connection and encouraged customers to view chocolate bar making as a collaborative effort rather than a corporate endeavor, in turn creating a community-based brand experience.
Similarly to Cadbury, Nike found that giving customers more control over their products was a win. Nike By You allows customers to customize their favorite Nike kicks online using various color and style combinations.
Their flagship store in NYC’s SoHo boasts a sneaker bar where customers can customize their shoes in person with dip-dyeing, patches, and accessories. This emphasis on customization and personalization allows Nike to fully integrate into their customers’ lives, creating a brand experience that lasts long after they’ve made a purchase.
5. Lean Cuisine
While healthy eating has taken off in recent years, messaging around this effort is often the opposite. With a focus on weight loss instead of overall health, many brands find themselves reinforcing harmful stereotypes that equate weight loss with personal worth.
Lean Cuisine’s #WeighThis campaign looked to change the narrative by placing “scales” around New York’s Grand Central Station that encouraged women to “weigh in”.
The catch? These scales were actually boards that let women write down how they would prefer to be measured — such as by their own persistence, accomplishments or efforts.
Even better? Lean Cuisine marketers were smart enough to stay out of the way. There were no samples on offer, no surveys to fill out; women simply saw the scales and interacted with them, in turn boosting Lean Cuisine’s overall brand experience.
When it comes to building enduring relationships with customers, the proper brand experience is crucial. Building a brand experience that strengthens customer connection and fosters long-term loyalty can be achieved by identifying areas where current efforts fall short, prioritizing areas for improvement, and monitoring engagement metrics over time.