The Customers’ Experience now defines the Brand

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Customers can engage with brands in more ways and places than ever before. As a result, customer expectations are higher than ever. We expect consistent and continuous products and services with instant access, always, on any device.

If the 1990’s and 2000’s were about building strong brands; the 2010’s have been about delivering exceptional customer experiences.

Working with clients, I consistently find branding and customer experience two conflicting organisational silos. Branding, or the marketing department, is often focused on delivering messages about the brand proposition and employing marketing and communication strategies to build consumer expectations of the brand; whereas customer experience is focused on delivering the customer experience, primarily through service. My firm is usually brought in to help with customer (experience) strategy and people are surprised when we begin to talk to brand and marketing.

Isn’t marketing about what the brand ‘is’ and customer experience about what the brand ‘does’? If the customer experience is where the brand comes alive physically, emotionally and virtually in its interactions with the customer, shouldn’t the two be intimately entwined? Brands need to tell a coherent and authentic story; and customer experience needs to adhere to that brand story, consistently across all touch points.

Customer experience activities without brand alignment represent a lack of strategy. Branding without customer experience cannot truly exist as the brand comes alive through customer interaction.

It is puzzling that only 18% of companies use their brand as the base for their customer experience strategy, according to a recent report from Forrester.

There is opportunity for organisations to more closely align brand and bustomer experience. I am seeing increasingly the merging of marketing and customer experience within one department. This alignment should help alleviate any issues that arise from a disconnect between the expectations set by the brand and the experience that it delivers.

Brand or Branded Experience?

Should the experience be a Brand Customer Experience or a Branded Customer Experience? Is there a difference?

A brand customer experience is where the brand’s essence, promise, values, and all that it stands for, come alive through its customer experience. The brand sets customer expectations for experience. Customer experience then delivers on those expectations through an intentional and guided design framework so that the experience that customers encounter is clearly true to the brand. An example here might be John Lewis where its customer experience is in tune with its brand values of ‘Quality Service and Value’.

A Branded Customer Experience goes one step further where the experience itself becomes unique and is recognisable. The customer experience becomes a source of competitive differentiation. An example here might be Lush where the core brand value of ‘handmade’ is elevated through its immersive and sensory experience.

Lush’s stores are ‘home made’ themselves and are reminiscent of a homespun deli or unrefined grocery in feel. Customers are encouraged to pick up, smell, and touch products as they explore. Staff show how products work and what they can do by way of demonstration. This all builds on their natural and simple positioning.
For some organisations, a brand customer experience will be appropriate; for others, it will need to deliver a brand customer experience. It depends very much on the context, market and strength of the brand itself. Whatever the ambition or level of synergy between brand and customer experience, the experience is the reality of the brand.

Aligning Brand and Customer Experience

Some marketers appear not yet engaged in delivering the brand through its customer experience. There is a continued sense that consumers are to be ‘influenced’ through marketing communications, rather than customers’ brand perceptions being an outcome of the customer experience.

The degree to which this last point is true begs several probing questions.
– Is your brand delivering on its brand promise to customers through your customer experience?
– How and where do customers interact with your brand?
– What do they say about it?
– How do they feel about the brand and the experience that it delivers?
– Is the experience the same at any point in time, at any touch point?
– How would customers describe the customer experience themselves?
– How would customers articulate the promises that a brand is making to them?
– How does this fit with the brand essence?
– Is the brand consistently represented through the behaviours of people?

To align brand and customer through the experience, companies should look to align three areas of what we called an ‘Aligned Experience’.

Customer Intimacy:
– In depth understanding of the brand and its influence on the overall customer experience
– Intimate understanding of the emotional and rational customer journey
– Integration of and access to all sources of proprietary customer data (structured, unstructured, formal, informal, requested, unrequested)
– Articulation of the brand story and establishment of the brand narrative to be told through the customer experience

Agile Execution:
– Translation of the brand promise into experience principles/rules
– Optimisation and improvement of the experience based on customer value, that follows these rules:
– Consistent delivery at each touch point
– Collaboration of marketing, brand, insight/research and customer experience

Connected Organisation:
– Employees are motivated, they embody the customer and brand promise in their interactions with customers
– A sense that everyone is equally responsible for ‘living the brand’ – inside and outside of the organisation
– A high degree of coherence between brand, products, services, sales, marketing, IT and operations

At the end of the day, two of the greatest assets an organisation has are 1) their brand and 2) their relationships with customers. The brand must inform the customer experience and motivate employees and customers.

“Your brand is a story unfolding across all customer touch points” (Jonah Sachs storyteller, author, designer and entrepreneur).

In an increasingly digital world, customer experience leaders have understood this. They align a distinctive and engaging brand promise with a coherent and fulfilling customer experience – wherever, whenever brand meets customer.

Smiling Companies, Happy Customers.

Image via Alpha Stock Images – http://alphastockimages.com/

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