The world is growing increasingly complex and fast-paced, and technological improvements enable more and more companies to master the basics. Replication is becoming increasingly easy as the sameness of more products and services makes differentiation more difficult. Fortunately, brand-inspired customer experiences can help mitigate these effects.
What are brand experiences, exactly?
Brand experiences are interactions so impactful and uniquely identifiable to a particular company that they fundamentally define the brand in consumers’ minds, distinguish it from competitors, and favorably influence future behaviors.
While the concept of the customer experience is certainly not new, the dawn of the internet opened the world’s eyes to the importance of the user experience—the rise of the internet gave birth to a new discipline with significant impact on how organizations deliver value and interact with customers. In its purest form, customer experience is the sum of all interactions (touchpoints) that occur between a company and its customers throughout their relationship. Marketers commonly approach the customer experience across three distinct phases—pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase.
These touchpoints create awareness of and familiarity with the brand through advertising, websites, public relations, sales collateral, and word of mouth. They help to educate consumers, create interest and preference, and ultimately lead to purchases of the brand’s products or services. According to studies by McKinsey, brand experience is the most powerful driver of word of mouth. This focal pre-purchase touchpoint accounts for 50 to 80 percent of word-of-mouth marketing in any given category.
These interactions vary significantly by industry and transaction type. For consumer products, touchpoints may take place in a retail store and include things such as point-of-purchase materials and other merchandising collateral. In B2B, purchase touchpoints could be sales meetings with customers to educate or approve or sign contracts. Whatever the format, the goal is the same: to facilitate a smooth transaction, reinforce the buyer’s choice, and pave the way for an ongoing relationship.
Much like those in the purchase phase, post-purchase touchpoints vary widely by industry. These typically involve factors such as customer support, repairs, warranties, ongoing maintenance and service, and follow-up communications. Post-purchase touchpoints aspire to reinforce customers’ continued satisfaction with a purchase, encourage additional purchases (i.e., maintain loyalty), and encourage favorable word-of-mouth marketing.
Example: Guinness Class
Think luxury cars and private jets—things that we aspire to own. Private jets are what set apart the Guinness Class experience. For a few weeks in 2013, ambassadors dressed in Guinness-branded flight attendant uniforms frequented bars throughout the U.K., surprising unsuspecting customers with a chance to win all types of prizes.
To participate, bar attendees had to order a pint of Guinness, then shake a mobile tablet that generated and displayed the prize they had won—anything from passport cases to keychains. However, one lucky patron per night would get the ultimate prize: A free trip to Dublin—naturally, via private jet—with four companions.
This experience associated the brand with something aspirational and, according to Nick Britton, Guinness Western Europe marketing manager, held the brand up as one that doesn’t “settle for the ordinary.” Maintaining authenticity, while also adapting to a changing landscape and audience, is key for a brand that’s almost 260 years old. Importantly, Guinness didn’t have to change anything about its actual products. Rather, it created an experience that addressed changing consumer preferences—the fact that 78% of millennials prefer spending money on memorable experiences versus buying desirable things.
Experiences should add value
Customer experiences are what people remember most about your brand. Keep your customers at the heart of your strategy—deliver experiences that are not only relevant and engaging but also add value. Customers will view your brand in a favorable light and even become loyal advocates.
Mitch Duckler is managing partner of FullSurge, a brand and marketing strategy consultancy based in Chicago, Illinois. He has more than 25 years of brand management and consulting experience at Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company, and Prophet, where he co-led the brand strategy practice area. His client base includes Fortune 500 companies and numerous world-class brands, such as ExxonMobil, Deloitte, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, ManpowerGroup, and Hyatt Hotels. Mitch is also Amazon best-selling author of The Indispensable Brand and a faculty member of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Marketing Training & Development Center.