The key to effective brand management is creating a positive and memorable brand experience for customers. A Brand experience is the ecosystem that exists around a brand or product, manifested in the sensations, feelings, cognitions, and behavioral responses evoked by a brand. We’ve exclusively interviewed Darren ColemanManaging Consultant of Wavelength Marketing , to get his take on the how-tos of creating an enticing brand experience.

BB: Brand experience is a real buzz term in the world of brands. In your opinion, and from the strategy manual of Wavelength, what are brand experiences really all about?

DC: Brand experiences are all about designing then delivering carefully sequenced, synchronized and selected touch points to brand stakeholders. It’s particularly important these touch points combine in ways that emotionally engage stakeholders as they progress through their entire journey with a brand.  The reason being humans decisions are primarily driven by the emotion they feel.

Darren Coleman

BB: How can technology enable brand experiences that empower the digital-savvy connected consumers of today? 

DC: Technology helps brands delegate responsibility for building brand experiences to its customers. This is incredibly powerful because it empowers the customer and puts them at the heart of the value creation process. The trick is to provide customers with the technology required to create personalised experiences without compromising the brand. This is easier said than done but a number of brands are getting it right.

Sephora’s Virtual Artist service lets customers test run thousands of looks on an iPad or a connected mirror before they buy. IKEA’s Place app uses AR to let users see what furniture would look like in their own home. Nike used a life-size Michael Jordan augmented-reality lens to promote the new, unreleased Air Jordan III Tinker sneakers. They went on sale exclusively via a special Snap code within the app and sold out in minutes.

IoT is providing wonderful opportunities for customers to take greater ownership of the experiences they have. For example, Schneider Electric’s Drayton system allows customers to control their home heating remotely via smart devices.  Exciting developments are taking root in healthcare via remote monitoring of diabetes, asthma, Parkinson’s Disease and depression. These are just a few examples which illustrate how brands are using technology to empower their customers today.

BB: Brands stand or fail based on the brand experiences they build. Can you mention the top 5 lessons brands can learn from the successes and failures of brand experience design around the world?

DC: Have empathy. Brands need to have a deep understanding of who they are building brand experiences for. This goes way beyond stereotypical gender types or demographics. The goal is to dig deep into their values, psyche, frustrations, challenges, goals and aspirations for life. Armed with these insights you’ll be well-placed to build relevant brand experiences. The Dubai Model for Government Services (DMGS) was driven by a customer centricity objective whilst ‘customer obsession’ is a key leadership principle at Amazon.

Connect your brand and experience. World-class brands ensure the experience they deliver are on brand. Virgin Atlantic is a master of this art courtesy of the delightfully fun and playful experiences it delivers at each stage of the customer journey.

Infuse your brand with emotion.  Human decision-making is primarily driven by the emotions we feel. Savvy CMOs know this and bring a brand-related feeling to life with ruthless consistency across all brand experience touch points. Mövenpick hotels deliver a sophisticated but not stuffy experience which helps its guests feel at ease. A refreshing change from most staid five star hotels.  

Don’t forget your people. A lot of brands overlook the human piece of the brand experience puzzle. You need to take your people with you when building brand experiences. This will help them feel educated, engaged and a greater sense of ownership. Doing this is especially important for services brands where the human element comes into sharper focus.

Measure employee, brand and financial measures. Due to their lag effect employee and brand measures act as a metaphorical crystal ball when measuring brand experiences. This contrasts with short-term, historical financial measures that tend to be ROI-driven.  Analysing employee, brand and financial measures delivers powerful causal insight when statistical methods such as structural equation modelling are used. This can help brands optimise the brand experiences they deliver or take pre-emptive action before financial performance goes south.

BB: Consumers tend to form an emotional bond with brands that deliver on their promises when it comes to the experience. Please comment.

DC: I completely agree and this is where parallels between people and brands can be drawn. Many brands promise the world but deliver far less. Think about it, if someone always lets you down how will they make you feel? Contrast that with someone you can rely on. They make you feel important, valued, secure, appreciated, respected and much more. These are powerful emotional levers that more brands would do well to pull when building brand experiences.

BB: The brand experience race is already on and the majority of brands around the world compete primarily on the basis of brand experience. Some brands are getting it right, some brands are learning it the hard way. What are your insights in this regard on brands of the Middle East?

DC: It’s hard to generalize across the Middle East as certain countries, categories and brands are more advanced than others. That said, there is a tendency for brands in the Middle East to compete primarily through functional product features and price. Doing this is a sure-fire way to commoditise your brand and get sucked into price-based competition. As margins evaporate, something has to give, so the quality of experience delivered suffers. In the long run, no one wins.

Competing through brand experiences offers an attractive alternative. To get started, I would offer three pieces of advice. First, clearly define your brand so you’re thinking in primarily emotional and not functional terms. This is powerful because the human brain is receptive to emotion. Second, map out key customer touch points then bring your brand to life at those touch points. Doing this will facilitate focus and consistency across your brand experience. Finally, it’s better to do less, well. Start simple and go from there or things will overwhelm you then spiral out of control. The complexity can follow once the brand experience mentality and supporting operational excellence have started to bed in.

Darren is the founder and Managing Consultant of Wavelength Marketing. Wavelength specialises in helping brands retain relevance through brand experiences and has clients across Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia. Darren holds a PhD is B2B services branding and is the author of Building Brand Experiences: A Practical Guide to Retaining Brand Relevance (Kogan Page).