Why Customer Experience is Better Than “Brand”


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I’ve written about the relationship between customer experience and brand before, but I think it’s an important topic to think about. Especially in our space.

So let’s go over three reasons why I think it’s better to focus on customer experience than brand.


1.  Customer experience is tangible.

I’ve cobbled together a marketing career over the years, and I still couldn’t give you a solid definition of what a brand is. When forced to explain it, I usually sweep my hand along the horizon, look pensive, and whisper, “Brand is a feeling…”

Then I drop a smoke bomb and run away.


Alternatively, customer experience is self-explanatory. It’s right there in the name: the experience that a customer has with your company. What a relief.

In related news, I have some smoke bombs if you’re in the market.


2.  Customer experience is human.

“Brand” can feel like a big, amorphous blob. From the marketing side, you can focus on elements of a brand like aesthetics, language, training, promise or approach. But if your company doesn’t live up to the brand promise, the work can feel superficial. Customers and employees can easily feel the disconnect between what was promised and delivered—regardless of what color your logo is, or what your brochure says.

That’s what makes customer experience a much more effective target. When you focus on improving the experience of your customers, your perspective changes. You start to think about active response, correction, and improvement—through eyes of your customers.

In essence, your business becomes more human.

Listening to customers on an ongoing basis is like having a personal conversation. Your active response to their issues, concerns, or commendations will earn customer trust and deepen the relationship with your company.


Customer feedback helps your company break free from its self-perception. It helps you understand what the customer thinks you’re doing right or wrong. (And a good customer experience management partner can help you better understand how to improve, one step at a time.)


3.  Customer experience is overarching.

When you focus on the finite, personal interactions between your customers and your company’s touchpoints, you’ll realize that the customer experience is a long journey. For example, a person might take this path to becoming a bank customer:

  • She drives past a branch.
  • A colleague recommends the bank.
  • She checks out the company website.
  • She sees a promotional rate.
  • She calls the sales team.
  • She becomes a customer.

Some might believe the customer experience starts after that path, but we think it starts at the first bullet.


Because that’s the whole experience of that particular customer. All of those bullets inform the customer’s opinion of your company. And they’re touchpoints that could improved. The branch location could be designed for customer delight. The colleague’s recommendation could be stronger. The website could be better on a mobile device. The rate could suit some audiences and not others. The sales team could deliver a more personal and engaging experience.

We think about the customer’s entire journey, which starts well before they ever become a paying customer.


Let’s Fix It Together

We love helping clients with customer experience because we learn and improve as well. It’s empowering to help companies understand themselves and their customers. And, we’d be thrilled to help you.

It’s so much better than blowing smoke.



Want to dig a little deeper into customer experience strategy? Then download our free one-page checklist to learn how to make your customers happy.

Image Credits:

Republished with author's permission from original post.

George Jacob
George is the Inbound Content Architect at PeopleMetrics and works to share insights and understanding about customer experiences.


  1. A lot of good points, but I would argue that Customer Experience isn’t Better Than “Brand” because it is itself a ‘Brand Experience’.

  2. Those are good points (and I agree with them). I was just making the point of how much more human and understandable CX is than “brand,” which is often extremely subjective, intangible, and esoteric in nature. CX has the customer as an anchor, which keeps it grounded.

  3. It’s very difficult to separate brand from experience. Reputation and image have been shown to contribute as much, if not more, to the customer’s perception, memory, and action. In fact, numerous successful companies (Zappos, Wegmans, The Container Store, Umpqua Bank, Trader Joe’s, Lego’s, Amazon, Zane’s Cycles, Nordstrom, Rackspace, Zara, Southwest Airlines, etc.) have delivered humanistic value and branded the customer experience: http://www.targetmarketingmag.com/blog/customer-centric-trust-based-relationships-humanity-emotion-profits

  4. Both brand and customer experience are essential for acquisition and retention.

    Brands like Apple and BMW are powerful magnets for acquisition.
    However without a satisfying customer experience, retention and add-on sales could not occur.
    Therefore, both are essential, different but related and interdependent sides of the same coin.

  5. At first, I thought, ‘well, this isn’t a binary, either-or, thing. Don’t strategists have to pay attention to both?” But you’ve explained it well, and now that I think of it, I’ve encountered many instances when marketers have been obsessed with brand to the point of dysfunction. That point was reached because they became preoccupied with the inanimate brand, and ignored the context. That is, the customer, and his or her experience with the product.

  6. Thanks for the well presented piece. I have seen research that indicates brand loyalty is down as much as 15% from five years ago. Brand is about image; experience is about something in a customer’s memory bank (if it is extra good or extra bad). Brand communicates through the filter of a someone else’s presented set of values; experience is filtered through the customer’s set of values. Brand is the signature of the organization; experience is the co-created encounter of customer with the organization. While brand is extremely important and should never be taken for granted, it is for the customer as a key tool of attraction. Experience likewise is crucial and is with the customer as a tool of connection and must therefore be nurtured and thoughtfully managed. I agree with Andrew, it is “and” and not either-or.

  7. Bob, Ernan, and I are of rather similar mind here. Brand impression and image comes from both the customer’s memory of experiences and also what the customer takes in from the positive and negative expressions of others, through online and offlline sources. Brand image and brand-related customer experience are not the same, but they are chemically linked.

  8. Michael, if CX includes every thought, feeling and perception about a company, then I should think that would encompass any source including friends and family. And any channel, whether online or offline.

    Therefore, by that logic, CX and brand are one and the same. Or is brand now part of of the ever-expanding world of CX?

    Going back to George’s original points, it would seem that CX has expanded (or drifted?) quite a bit from the original idea. For example:

    1. CX is tangible.
    Not really. It’s whatever people want it to be, including thinking about a product you don’t actually own and have never used.

    2. CX is human.
    Yeah, that’s what I thought too. I thought interaction meant a customer/human is actually, um, interacting with a company. Except now “interact” apparently includes feelings about a company, even if there is no communication going on.

    3. Customer experience is overarching
    George lists a number of touchpoints where there is some kind of action or inter-action going on. Again, that’s what the word “experience” means. Except now it doesn’t.

    if you look up the words “experience” and “interaction” in the dictionary, you won’t find the esoteric logic now being promulgated by the CX community.

    This is a slippery slope that will lead CXM to same fate as CRM. When something is touted as meaning everything, it means nothing. Business people will see it as just another fad and move on.

  9. Brand is part of the memory and impression of the key elements of experience that remained, i.e. were positive or negative enough, and important enough, to help shape and drive future behavior. For instance, brand can represent trust or confidence (or lack of same). It does not mean “everything” about the experience (to me, at least), just what mattered most to the customer. If the opinions of others serve to help focus the consumer’s experience memory and impression, and brand is in the memory mix, that strikes me as ‘normal’, and has been part of everyday life since the beginning of civilization. Example: If Sam the butcher is known to put his thumb on the scale to make the meat weigh more so he can charge me for it, that helps form my memory of both the meat-buying experience at Sam’s and also my perception of the brand that is Sam.

  10. I’ve worked as a creative with either brand and customer experience as the dangling carrot in the distance. In my experience, if you have a great and aware creative director, either one can be effective. However, if you have a difficult boss, brand can turn into an obscure state of affairs–subjective interpretations of what the “idea” of the company is, or what “feelings” come to mind, or what colors and words “look and sound best.”

    I don’t consider it a binary choice. The title was meant to be provocative, but notice that “Brand” is in quotes. (Because I’ve been pummeled with the word by those who didn’t quite understand what it meant.) It’s more that I prefer customer experience as the focal point of discussion because it separates internal egos from the external goal of retaining customers and getting more. All past jobs considered, if I had to sit around a conference table to discuss changes to a website, I’d be more excited if the meeting invite had “experience” in the title than if it had “brand” in it.

  11. George, I think you’re on the right track. Customer experience is the proper context for everything a business does. And that shouldn’t scare us about customer experience being viewed as a fad or becoming diluted. Quite the opposite. Unless we acknowledge that customers are the source of financials that allow a company to exist, and that customer experience determines whether someone becomes/remains a customer or not, then we’re fooling ourselves and treating customer experience in ways that certainly will cause it to become a fad and diluted.

    Brand managers, as just about any other kind of managers, have traditionally viewed their work as an end in itself, or something they can declare. But to your point, George, branding must be done within the context of customer experience or else it will ring hollow. Brand promises set customers’ expectations, and customer experience suffers when customers’ realities don’t match up with expectations.


  12. Bob, you are raising a concern about how we get married to various words, and they become more important than what they are meant to be.
    The important thing is, that in spite of the supposed focus on Customers, we have so many problems. Why?
    Is there something we are missing? or are we going to call this human failing?
    So, whether CX, CC, CV, CJ CE, etc etc, what are we missing?

  13. Here’s a quote from a recent article that I think is on point here

    What do we mean by “brand”? The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller. So a brand is actually a unique identification by which a service or a product is distinguished. Every company has created its own brand, but all of them have not been successful due to reasons which are well known. Creating a great brand is good but maintaining and justifying it is important. Companies need to rework on their strategies in the area of Customer Engagement & loyalty, Product innovation, having agile systems and Passionate employees to back up and make it work. This is not an exhaustive list but some of the areas which make a difference.

    Wikipedia says:
    A brand is a name, term, design or other feature that distinguishes one seller’s product from those of others.[1] Brands are used in business, marketing, and advertising. Initially, livestock branding was adopted to differentiate one person’s cattle from another’s by means of a distinctive symbol burned into the animal’s skin with a hot branding iron. A modern example of a brand is Coca-Cola which belongs to the Coca-Cola Company.

    This is the definition from The Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB):
    A brand is a “Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”

    The Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB), authorized by the Marketing Accountability Foundation,[1] is an independent, private sector, self-governing group of academics and practitioners that establishes marketing measurement and accountability standards intended for continuous improvement in financial performance, and for the guidance and education of users of performance and financial information.

    And here’s one more from the AMA dictionary” about the relationship to CX.
    “A brand is a customer experience represented by a collection of images and ideas; often, it refers to a symbol such as a name, logo, slogan, and design scheme. Brand recognition and other reactions are created by the accumulation of experiences with the specific product or service, both directly relating to its use, and through the influence of advertising, design, and media commentary.” (Added definition) “A brand often includes an explicit logo, fonts, color schemes, symbols, sound which may be developed to represent implicit values, ideas, and even personality.” Source: SEMPO and Wikipedia

    My take is that CX helps create a brand, but they are not the same thing.

    Or is the MASB wrong?

  14. The MASB and AMA dictionary have stated the relationship between brand and experience in pretty accurate and real-world terms. Bob Thompson and I are in violent agreement – CX helps to create (and sustain or undermine) a brand’s image and equity level, and so they are related; but they are not the same thing.

  15. In mathematics, there are necessary and sufficient conditions. CX is a necessary condition to build a brand. But CX alone does not build a brand. CX is not a sufficient condition

  16. Doesn’t the AMA quote start with “A brand is a customer experience…”? The second sentence in that quote also adds “recognition and other reactions” to differentiate between human, emotional connection and brand iconography–the physical representation of that human connection. Brand is a promise, and customer experience is the delivery of that promise. Without CX, brand is an empty vessel.

    “Brand” has grown from its original meaning: the hot iron used on cattle to differentiate livestock. Over time, it’s evolved to include the implications of what that mark represents to the buyer/consumer. I’d argue that if your cattle (CX) is the best around, it doesn’t quite matter what your brand mark is. The mark is just the thing that brings the CX to mind.

  17. Yes, George, you and other CX professionals seem to say that CX means every thought, feeling or perception about a, um, brand. Therefore, CX and brand are one and the same.

    I don’t agree with that, personally. The core of CX is about interactions, and perceptions of interactions, with a company, including its people and products. These “experiences” help define the brand impression.

    Interactions, by the way, require some sort of influence between two things. A thought or feeling is not an interaction all by itself. I can sit at home with the lights off during a storm/blackout and be happy about my home owners insurance policy because it’s a brand I trust to take care of any damage to my property.

    My impression about Apple as a brand that was developed by watching ads, reading articles, watching people using iPhones, talking to someone about their iPad, etc. etc. I don’t use Apple products myself and can’t remember the last time I talked to an Apple employee. In the end, the Apple brand is just an impression in my mind. It’s not an experience in and of itself.

    If CXM is going to mean brand management, then the CX industry will need to take over advertising and many other things that don’t show up on journey maps or VoC reports.

  18. I don’t think they’re one and the same. I just think CX is a more focused area of improvement than brand. The Apple example is a good one, and they have an incredible brand. But that doesn’t make you a customer. Additionally, should you cross that threshold–from brand impression to customer experience–then the customer experience would take precedent over the brand. A rude Genius or a fussy MacBook hard drive could destroy your opinion of the brand forever.

    Unless you only want the logo, the status, or the $10k watch–in which case, the customer experience wouldn’t matter. And you would be lost to us… 🙂

    We tend toward the positioning of brand as promise, and CX as delivery. Just as a promise is more powerful from someone who delivers, a brand is more powerful when it represents a company with a great customer experience.

    To me, the stronger approach is focusing on the internal mechanisms of delivery, and letting that inform the brand, than vice versa. Does that make sense?

  19. There are two brands, the brand of the product (Lux soap, ipaD), and the brand of the company (Unilever, Apple). Brands should do many things, but two of them are awareness, and association (in some cases, belonging)
    CX may not impact the awareness (unless you say the experience of the advertising), but certainly impacts the association with the brand.

  20. Bob…your distinctions made in the 3/11 response are crystal clear to me! I also agree. Thanks for the clarity of thought! An experience is defined by Mr. Webster as the process of doing and seeing things and of having things happen to you. When the actor in the process is the customer, it would follow that CX is the process of a customer doing and seeing things with a product or service provider and of having things happen to the customer by that product or service provider. As for brand, we get a good emotional understanding of its meaning when we recall its origin–a symbol or image that contributed to the identity (and therefore designation of ownership) of cows that grazed open range before barbed wire.

  21. Thank, Chip.

    I know that Colin Shaw and others have been pushing the idea that emotions = experiences for some time. I’m never quite gotten comfortable with that.

    I think “doing and seeing” is a much more commonsense way of describing CX. Something that every business leader can understand.

    The result of doing and seeing *may* result in an emotion — good or bad. But most experiences result in nothing. They are routine and quickly forgotten, leaving no mark at all.

    I see emotions are a possible result of an experience, not the experience itself. And, you can have emotions (and thoughts) independently of experiences. Having an emotion doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having, or had, an experience.

    I think the point of CXM should be create more positive memorable experience, which build loyalty. And reducing negative memorable experiences, which drive churn. Doing so will, over time, will contribute to a brand impression, but other non-experiences will too.

    I really think trying to roll all of customer loyalty, interaction design and management and brand into one acronym is too much to swallow. Just my $.02, I know the CX crowd sees it differently, and I guess we will have to see how it evolves over the next few years.

    My view is terms mean what the market comes to accept them to mean. We’re in a state right now where CX/M is still be defined in the minds of business people. It’s very much like building a brand. Eventually it will be irrelevant what all of us “experts” say CX/M is or isn’t, because it won’t change the minds of business leaders. The brand will “stick” and will be impossible to change. That’s what happened with CRM and every other TLA I can think of.


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