Rich Brand, Poor Brand: Differentiate Your Product Through Outstanding Customer Experiences


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Most people gravitate toward luxurious experiences. Some crave a perfectly made $4 cappuccino. Others, a unique handbag they’re willing to pay thousands for. But all standout brands, from the most luxurious to the utterly humble, share one thing in common: They successfully deliver an outstanding customer experience.

Today’s brands are scrambling to refine their programs so as to better satisfy the desires of an increasingly sophisticated consumer base and to compete on what is now a global playing field. And customers have more choices than ever before in how to spend their discretionary income. To capture their attention—and their dollars—brands must bring more to the table than an outstanding product. Successful long-term growth will hinge on brands’ ability to wrap top-quality products in an experience that entices and enthralls and keeps customers coming back for more.

In the typical retail store experience, the onus is on customers to figure out how products fit into their lives.

Upscale online apparel and accessories retailer Net-a-Porter is a prime example of a brand that gets this type of customer experience right. Its sole outlet,, is a cleanly designed and fast web site that allows users to move fluidly between sections to browse, view and purchase items. Its full-featured and well-designed interface—combined with highly personalized customer service—has resulted in distinct financial rewards: Net-a-Porter’s business has almost doubled in size every year since its inception in 2000, and ambitious growth plans are in place to continue the trend.

Consider the experience of a young research professional who has worked with our consultancy. I’ll call her Cindy. She described her direct experience, shopping for a Marc by Marc Jacobs sweater coat on on our internal blog. The sizing specifications on the site implied she should buy a size “small,” even though she usually wore medium Marc Jacobs clothing. Skeptical, she clicked on the “More questions?” link to a Net-a-Porter Product Advisor right below the online sizing chart. She typed in her question and received a personal email response in a little more than an hour:

Dear Cindy,

Thank you for your email.

The Marc by Marc Jacobs Wool Cardi Coat is gorgeous!

Team it with jeans, flats and a large bag for a more casual look.

Shown here with Marc by Marc Jacobs M Pocket Jeans, Antik Batik Zobra Ballet flats and Chloe Bay Leather bag.

We can confirm that after trying this coat on, we felt that it was true to size. It is slightly oversized by design.

Given you usually are a size Medium we feel that the size Small should be suitable for you.

The email provided the sizing and confirmed she really was a small. Cindy was delighted. The response seemed to come from a sincere, real and fun person who was knowledgeable about the product. She liked the fact that the size chart in her email was specific to the piece of clothing she was interested in and she was engaged by the creative merchandising. The email included a photo of the coat paired with different items than the web site had displayed.

At the core of the success of this communiqué is the fact that the company is viewing the purchase from the customer’s point of view. It demonstrates that the company is committed to doing everything it can to make Cindy’s selection a good fit in her closet. In the typical retail store experience, the onus is on customers to figure out how products fit into their lives. Based on my experience with luxury brands, it seems to me that Net-a-Porter is one of very few retailers making the most of the heritage luxury experience. Viewing the sale from the client’s point of view—focusing more how the product can make the customer successful instead of how to get the customer to make the product successful—is an approach luxury brands used to take. Unfortunately, such a viewpoint has all but disappeared from the retail experience.

Creating a deeply satisfying customer experience at this level requires that you know not only your customers but also your brand and what it represents—and, perhaps most importantly, what you want it to represent to your customers. To that end, it’s critical to find the right people and processes to enable your brand to most effectively keep its promises. Here are three recommendations to guide you in establishing a branded online customer experience:

  1. Do your homework. Whenever possible, use market research, including, if possible, psychographic and ethnographic profiling to pinpoint your target customers and understand why they buy. Some of the most engaged consumers prioritize their spending in just one category and economize in others.
  2. Hire people who have a “heart for service.” And a good measure of common sense. Then train and empower them to act on behalf of your brand. Treat procedures, scripts and templates as guidelines that must be personalized if you want to create a high-quality experience. Encourage staff to become intimately acquainted with—and to remember—clients’ needs and desires. And provide them with the technology to do so. This extends to touches generated by direct mail and the web. Aim for a personalized one-to-one communication with each customer whenever possible. A sincere, human connection provides a vital opportunity to extend the customer relationship and reinforce your brand’s personality through warm and friendly interactions.
  3. Embrace online commerce. E-commerce-enabled web sites already have proven to be the most profitable, highest traffic entry point for both mass brands and luxury brands. By combining the web experience with targeted email, your brand can generate a multitude of ways to connect with your customers. Unlike advertising, which is one-way, the email-web site combination gives consumers a way to actively engage with the brand. It also gives brands an opportunity to begin to blend the in-store and online experiences.

Creating a stand-out brand requires marketers to make the most out of each and every marketing opportunity. But most importantly, brands must walk the talk and deliver a consistent, high-quality customer experience at every juncture. The positive customer connections created today will be those that differentiate your brand—and ultimately ensure its long-term success.

Suzanne Hader
Suzanne Hader is principal of 4twin, a New York City-based consulting firm that provides evaluation of and strategic direction for luxury brands.


  1. Suzanne

    The evidence suggests that many people are not gravitating to luxury experiences at all in these difficult economic times. Instead, they are trying to search out for bargains offering more bang for their buck. They are struggling to make ends meet.

    In rich countries like the USA or Europe, this has already shown itself through reduced discretionary spending on items such as cars and holidays, and going downmarket for most other FMCG items.

    In the poorer countries that make up the majority of the world, this has shown itself through reduced consumption of meat and fresh vegetables, and in the poorest counties, cutting down on cereal staples so that they can eat at least one meal a day.

    The signs are that this will get significantly worse (more bad news in the sub-prime market, reduced liquidity in markets, increases in layoffs, increasing food prices, etc) before it gets any better.

    What a topsy-turvy world we find ourselves in at the moment.

    Further reading:

    Battered luxury goods

    How the poorest live

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. In a good economy, in a bad economy, people spend their money on a brand that has a highly-differentiating, highly consumer-desired PRODUCT-BASED Reason-for-being. I consult to Rolls Royce and Bentley. Both cars cost the same so why do some buyers pick a Bentley and another the Rolls? Rolls is for people who need to scream “look at me.” It’s an ostentatious display. Bentley owners confidence is internal; understated;elegant. They have the big stick but don’t need to wield it. Also explains why back in GM’s glory days show-offs bought Cadillac while doctors, attorneys and such owned Buick.


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