To Build an Emotion-Packed High-Performance Brand, You Have to Go All the Way

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Picture a Starbucks store. What comes into your mind? What feelings do you have about Starbucks? Now picture the Virgin logo. What are your thoughts?

At Beyond Philosophy, we view a high-performing brand as one that is widely recognized by its target audience and which evokes defined feelings that differentiate it in the market. A high-performing brand builds trust and loyalty with an organization’s target customers to such a point that they do not need to look at the competition, even for comparison basis.

But be clear. There may be people who recognize a brand without sharing the target audience’s feelings. Some people love Southwest Airlines for its fun personality; some do not. That’s fine; it is about playing to your target audience.

Too many organizations project one image in brand-building ads on TV but deliver an entirely different customer experience.

Brands are thoughts and feelings in people’s minds. To build a brand, you need to understand how these thoughts and feelings are created. Human beings take in information through our five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. Therefore, the brand message has to come from one or all of these sources.

Within a nanosecond of your brain receiving an input, you have analyzed it to give it meaning. You consider previous experiences and judge the new one against your terms of reference, evoking an emotional response, positive or negative.

If I am confronted by a dog barking at me, my brain says, “This is an aggressive dog.” I recall having been bitten by a dog; fear is evoked. My brain sends a message to my legs to move backward; another message is sent to release adrenalin, in case I need to physically react quickly to avoid the dog. My previous experience has given meaning to this situation, and I have an emotional reaction.

This evaluation of inputs happens thousands of times a day. If I ask, “What do you think about call centers?” your mind immediately pulls up a picture defined by previous experiences and what you have heard from friends and seen in the media.

To build a high-performing brand, you need to understand what preconceived notions, from a rational and emotional point of view, your target customers have about your industry, your competition and your company. From this you can define the areas that will differentiate your brand and subsequently: the experience you give your customers.

(Watch a short video describing my groundbreaking book, The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value and what would we need to change. The implications are vast.)

A promise to customers

The brand makes the promise in the market, and the customer experience delivers against that promise.

Too many organizations project one image in brand-building ads on TV but deliver an entirely different customer experience. That’s a mistake. As we stated in our first book, Building Great Customer Experiences, great customer experiences are an embodiment of the brand.

Take Apple, a great brand. It is distinctive. It is clear. It is clean. Less is more. The company has a “club” feeling. This is something Apple leaders have deliberately grown.

Initially, owning an Apple Macintosh showed you were different from the Windows crowd. It said, “I am individual.” Nowadays, you can even take a trip to the “club house,” where everyone meets to play. Some people who aren’t in the club think of this as just an Apple store, but for those in the know, it is a pilgrimage.

The store is a sensory experience. When we take clients around central London on an “experience safari” to show good and bad experiences, we always take people into the Apple Store. Our clients are amazed by the layout and the way people are interacting with the product. The touch, feel and design are consistent and deliberate. The flagship store in London is not efficient from a retail perspective. Yet, every square inch is used—to reinforce the brand and the experience.

When you enter the London-Regent Street Apple Store, you are confronted by a large glass stairway inviting you upstairs. It is wide, taking up floor space, and the floor above is not covering it. For the target audience—those “in the club” or thinking of joining—it is great! And it’s fine that, for those not interested in technology, it is pointless. They’re not the target audience.

Upstairs, you can visit the Genius Bar to have problems resolved. In the workshop area, you’ll see people being taught about software, some intently listening and others just playing about on their PCs. This is fun, and everyone knows that everyone else here has a love of Apple in common. The company employs people who love Apple and exude confidence and commitment. It dresses them in all black, on brand. Downstairs, the cash registers are at the back of the store. Apple employees carry remote terminals, so you can simply walk up and pay for your merchandise. This is a deliberate experience Apple executives have thought through.

To build a high-performing brand, you need to consider how it will need to be delivered. I explain the four stages of the customer experience journey—Naïve, Transactional, Enlightened and Natural—in my article, Aim for “Natural” Customer-Centricity—So Ingrained You Don’t Have To Think About It.

I was once talking to a company board for a budget airline. Board members wanted the customer experience with the airline to be one of punctuality. And yet, as I pointed out to them, they had been late to every meeting we had ever had with them. The culture was, “It’s OK to be late.” It was no surprise, then, that their planes used to take off late. It all starts from the top.

The first strategic question you need to ask is, “What is the experience we are trying to deliver to our customers?” And given that 50 percent of an experience is emotions, what are the emotions you are trying to evoke? These need to provide you with a differential. Then ask the big question: Are you really prepared to run the course and align the whole of the organization?

If your answer is yes, you are well on your way to creating a high-performing brand that provides a differentiated customer experience. If your answer is no, that is fine. Life is full of choices. But be clear that what you are actually saying is: “We will just be the same as everyone else.” That’s not such a good idea in a commoditized market.

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