By guest authors Charles W. Bush and Kathy Hwang of 3Strand, a brand and business strategy consultancy.
Design the entire experience, not just singular marketing points.
Most companies think of branding as what gets your customer in the door. A fancy logo and some nice marketing materials and you’re set. Not quite. Companies who do it best are able to design a cohesive brand that incorporates all customer touchpoints to create an overall experience. Touchpoints are points of contact your customers have with your company that start to mold their impression of the brand. They can take the form of the product, website, packaging, user interface, environment, customer service, etc. Think about how your brand can stand out through the following touchpoints:
1) How will they first hear about your product or service?
2) What are their first impressions when visiting your website?
3) What activities will engage customers and encourage exploration once they are at your website? Purchase your product? Use your service?
4) What will they take away from the experience as fun, enjoyable and memorable?
5) What will make them want to come back?
6) What experience do you provide when they encounter problems with your product?
For example, when Barnes & Noble was growing its brand through new superstores, the management focused the experience on the concept of “theaters.” Coming into a bookstore would be a social experience, much like going to the theater. The brand was expressed through everything: the grand open space architecture, the warm woods and back lighting, the way salespeople acted, the art and decor, and of course the integrated cafes that acted as an “intermission” to browsing, buying and mingling.
Designing experiences becomes even more important in tough economic times. On one side of the spectrum, as competitors start dropping prices left and right, your once “valuable” product can quickly turn into a commodity in the customer’s eye. On the other side, if you’re offering luxury goods or services, now is the time when customers start re-evaluating whether your offerings hold enough value for them to hang onto in a budget crunch.
According to a study conducted by the British Design Council, two- thirds of companies who ignore design have to compete mainly on price. In companies where design is integral, just one-third do so. In an economy that focuses solely on the services or goods provided, the lack of differentiation in customers’ minds causes goods to face the constant price pressure indelibly associated with commodities.
As our economy has transformed over time, the next step for differentiation comes from adding value through the experience. And building a great brand experience doesn’t necessarily have to mean investing millions. In an open-source economy, where you can assume that your customers will be reading about your product/service from third-party articles, blogs and reviews, the customer experience is increasingly being molded by social media. A recent research study found that even in the midst of the current recession, 53% of marketers are determined to increase their social media marketing budget, and 42% will keep it the same. It seems that despite deep budget cuts, investing in how your company is seen through social media has proved to be one of the most promising opportunities for inexpensive viral customer engagement. How can your brand start to stand out through social media customer touchpoints?
1) What websites are they already visiting where they could find out about your product?
2) Where will they go to look up reviews on your product?
3) How will you continue to engage them on a regular basis?
4) What would make them excited enough to want to tell their friends about it?
5) What channels will they use to tell friends?
Pine, B. Joseph, James H. Gilmore. The Experience Economy. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 1999.