What Should You Do? Experience the Brand or Brand the Experience ?


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Life is all about change. And business life is no different. In the beginning we had CRM which was all about extracting profits by managing customers. As business got smarter, it came to relaise that customers expected something more in return for their hard-earned cash. They expected decent products, at fair prices and the heart of the matter, they expected support over the end-to-end ownership experience. So Customer Experience Management (CEM) was born. And almost inevitably, a whole host of business books about CEM too.

Read through the books on CEM and you will find two different camps. The first, populated mostly by branding types, says that the customer experience should allow customers to experience the brand. That the brand comes first and that the customer experience should revolve around it. The other, populated by customer service and consulting types, says that the experience should be continuously improved so that it becomes a real brand in its own right. A brand fit for real customers. That the customer comes first and the customer experience should revolve around them.

Which one is the best approach? Experiencing the Brand? Or Branding the Experience?

To answer that question, let’s step back to look at what a brand actually is. Contrary to the opinion of the mighty marketing industry, a brand is not a company’s marketing communications. They may help create category need, awareness, even interest in a product, but that is not the same as a brand. The iconic marketer Tom Asacker has what is perhaps the best definition of a brand in his book A Clear Eye for Branding . He says , that a brand is “an expectation of something or someone delivering a certain feeling by way of an experience”. In other words, brands are the results of experiences that you have. They exist primarily in the hearts and minds of customers. Not in the communications of marketers. This is what CEM is really all about. The customer experience is the brand. The real brand. The one that evokes strong feelings in the customer. The brand is not the experience.

Some marketers have finally got the message. People like P&G’s CEO AG Lafley who stunned the October 2006 meeting of the Association of National Advertisers by imploring marketers to Just Let Go of brands and let customers take charge. This was quickly followed by Time Magazine declaring YOU, the customer as person of the year and by Advertising Age declaring the Consumer as agency of the year. If P&G, Time Magazine and Advertising Age recognise that the customer is in charge and that their experience with their products is the brand, isn’t it time that you did too?

What do you think? Should you experience the brand? Or should you brand the real experience?

Post a comment and get the conversation going.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

PS. Here are the best books on CEM and the consultancies that sit behind them These are the ones I use in my own CEM consulting and interim work with clients:

Bernd Schmitt
1. Experiential Marketing
2. Customer Experience Management
The Ex Group

Colin Shaw
1. Building Great Customer Experiences
2. Revolutionise Youe Customer Experience
3. The DNA of Customer Experience
Beyond Philosophy

Lou Carbone
Clued In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again
Experience Engineering
Carbone also works with IBM too.

Shaun Smith & Joe Wheeler
1. Uncommon Practice
2. Managing the Customer Experience
3. See. Feel. Think. Do.
(Smith) Shaun Smith + Co
(Wheeler) The Forum Corporation

Michael Dunn
Building the Brand-Driven Business

There are other, newer books too, but they either just repeat the same stuff less well, or are simply confused. These books are by far and away the best.

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamhill/


  1. I forgot to include the book that started the whole Customer Experience thing off in 1999.

    Joseph Pine & James Gilmore
    The Experience Economy
    Strategic Horizons

    Although it doesn’t include any sort of approach to CEM or a step-by-step process like the other books, it is worth reading for its overall vision for the experience economy.

    I will never forget lying by the pool reading The Experience Economy at a private chateau in the South of France on summer holiday in 1999. Halcyon days. And an epiphany for me. The moment that I realised that the book would finally catalyse the evolution of CRM to CEM. A topic that I had already been involved in for three or four years. And I have been deeply involved in since.

    Pine & Gilmore have also written a number of other excellent books too:
    1. Mass Customisation
    2. Markets of One: Creating Customer-Unique Value Through Mass Customisation
    3. Authenticity

    Happy reading.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. An interesting anecdote here from “Customer Centred Brand Management” at Harvard Business Online….
    A case of Branding to meet customer expectations- i understand this as a case of Branding the experience to suit the customer tastes….

    Let’s take an example from the entertainment world, courtesy of songwriter and performer George Clinton. Known as one of the founders of funk, Clinton in the 1970s sought the attention of two different segments of record buyers—mainstream listeners, who liked vocal soul music with horns, and progressive listeners, who liked harder-edged funk. Clinton knew that his band was accomplished enough to play both kinds of music, but he realized that alternating between the styles would muddy the band’s image and serve neither audience well. The solution was simple. The same group of musicians, essentially, recorded and performed under two different band names: Parliament, when the music was aimed at popular tastes, and Funkadelic, when it was edgier. Both bands were very successful, even though some Parliament fans would never listen to Funkadelic and vice versa. The point is that Clinton did not try to make his original brand a big tent by stretching it to accommodate the tastes of very different markets. His branding reflected his customers’ identities instead of his band members’. ”

  3. Vandana

    An important point. Thanks for bringing it up.

    Only a few of the simplest brands can stretch to have similar meanings for all users. Even a simple iconic brand like Marlboro cigarettes actually has a number of different meanings. Most brands require customisation/allow personalisation around the needs of distinct affinity groups or user communities. Communities dominate brands as the title of Ahonen & Moore’s excellent book puts it. This is an inportant factor that often gets forgotten in value proposition design and particularly in customer experience design.

    It is part of what has to be done to bridge the gap between artificial experiences based upon marketing’s specification of what the brand should mean and the real experiences that customers sense, feel, think, do and relate to in their everyday brand touchpoints. It is what makes brands fit for customers.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  4. Brand is the totality of experience across every touchpoint.

    It does not matter whether the firm brands the experience for the customer to experience, or the firm helps the customer experience the brand.

    What matters most is both the firm and the customer should experience the experience together in order to deliver a win-win experience, just like love.

    Daryl Choy, the founder of Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at wisdomboom.blogspot.com.

  5. Daryl

    I wish that it were so.

    A study by Beyond Philosophy found that over 80% of customers didn’t expect the experience to be as good as what marketers promised. And knowing that, that 80% of the customers would still be disappointed. That’s the zero-sum game of win-lose. That’s what happens when the customer experience is designed (explicitly or tacitly) around the brand rather than around the customer. And that’s why it matters whether you build a brand-first or a customer-first customer experience.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  6. Graham

    But then if the brand is of the customer, by the customer, and for the customer in the first place, building the experience around the brand is the same as around the customer.

    Daryl Choy, the founder of Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at wisdomboom.blogspot.com.

  7. Daryl

    Most of the brands you see on the high-street are not built for customers, they are built for their parent companies. They are a legitimate part of buiness in a free-market economy. Faced with lots of competition, companies communicate the unique benefits of their particular products. If their products are distinctive, brands may ensue as something that means something to customers. A feeling inside when you see the brand, as Tom Asacker describes. But brands are still largely about companies, not customers. The customer’s view of the brand may be somewhat different from the company’s. The company may think that their product is a peach, but if customers thinks it’s a lemon, it’s a lemon. Crossing this gap between what the company thinks their brand is and what customers think it Ís, is one of the primary goals in good customer experience design.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  8. Graham

    You’ve said it right. It’s because most brands are for companies which really shouldn’t be, that’s why they need to be constantly reminded that brand should be of the customer, by the customer, and for the customer.

    If every firm got it right, then there needn’t have any books on branding.

    Daryl Choy, the founder of Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at wisdomboom.blogspot.com.

  9. Antonella Caru and Bernard Cova
    Consuming Experience

    Max Lenderman
    Experience the Message: How Experiential Marketing is Changing The Brand World
    Carroll & Graf

    Daryl Choy, the founder of Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at wisdomboom.blogspot.com.


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