Think of your favorite brand. Close your eyes and imagine it in your mind. Now be honest, what did you imagine? Was it the logo? Our bet is no. Instead, you probably envisioned your last experience with that brand, the sights and smells, and the way the brand made you feel.
Our favorite companies mean something to us because they fill a role in our lives and provide us with experiences that we enjoy. You might have a coffee shop that you prefer over others, not only because you love the product, but because the interior design speaks to you, the customer service is personal and friendly, and the cafe is always clean and pleasantly fragrant. These secondary brand qualities come together to add sensory elements to an otherwise transactional experience. They add depth, value and a human element to business. When we consider these neural elements along with traditional visual identity elements such as a logo, we come to a straightforward conclusion: a brand is not merely a logo. A brand should be an experience.
Your Brand is the Sum of Many Parts
Brand strategists have long recognized that visual identities (think traditional branding services) cannot stand on their own. A logo, meant merely to be an ambassador for your brand in the marketplace, can’t protect your business from the damages of poor customer service or a dysfunctional website. Visual design can’t make up for a cafe experience that goes wrong again and again, no matter how iconic a logo becomes.
A genuinely fascinating logo can capture someone’s attention and lead them off the street and into a shop but that’s where its power starts to fade. Once inside the door, the visual branding needs to be reinforced but so do all of the other senses. How does it feel? Is it comfortable? Friendly? Does it smell good? Is the music too loud or too soft? The goal should be to create a brand experience that is unique, inspiring and impossible to rip off by your competitors. It’s only then that visitors become customers, share their experiences with friends and family, and have the potential to become repeat business.
Be Intentional About Brand Experiences
Every brand touch point matters. A lot. However, this shouldn’t be overwhelming because as a business owner, it’s crucial for you to understand that you have control over all of it. While a brand strategist or skilled design agency can help bring the kinds of experiences you want your customers to have to life across mediums, there are many aspects that you can take charge of today.
Many environmental factors can help facilitate a quality experience at your physical location, whether that’s a retail shop or a local restaurant. Take time to plan everything from signage to storefront decoration and even how items are displayed, organized and merchandised. Interior design is an essential aspect of the brand experience in a brick and mortar location, but it is not the only factor. You should also consider things like lighting, music and accessibility as important brand elements.
Everyone loves excellent customer service, and it’s one of the most accessible brand elements to get right. Great customer service can be as simple as offering a cheerful hello or following up your services with a branded thank you card or email. Take this a step further and use your CRM system to keep notes on client birthdays, names of loved ones or other things that are relevant to your brand. These actions reinforce the experience and show that your company really cares about its customers. Get your employees in on the action by rewarding and acknowledging them when they are seen giving amazing customer service.
Who doesn’t love a good unboxing? There are plenty of brands with iconic packaging, and yours should be no different! Whether it’s a unique shape or an unusual material, getting the look and feel right is crucial. With so many great advances in the printing industry, unique finishes and textures are more affordable than ever. Think about what kind of packaging will best house your product, and then think about what would make for a memorable after-purchase experience – the kind that your customers would want to Instagram and share with all their friends!
Brand experience extends well beyond the tangible, especially since there is a good chance customers will find you online first even if you’re a local company. Your website should be up-to-date, readable, easy-to-use and accurate! Think of your site as a chance to give customers a preview of what they’ll find in real life. Or, if you operate exclusively online, treat your website as if it’s a space that needs daily attention just like a physical location, because, well, it does. Make your website an experience by keeping content fresh, so customers keep coming back to see what’s new or offer ways to engage through things like blog comments or social media integrations. These are both great opportunities to show people that real humans exist behind the screen.
If your customers didn’t find you on your website first, then they definitely discovered you on social media! What you share, and how often, says a lot about your business. It speaks to the culture and atmosphere that you’ve created for your customers. If the vibes on your social media account are fun and welcoming, then people assume they will be the same when they visit your store, restaurant, cafe or website. Have plans in place for things like how you’ll respond to negative comments, who in your organization will have access to the company accounts and what your expectations are for how long it takes to respond to messages. Remember that if their social media experience doesn’t go well, many people will never click through to your website or take the time to visit you in person.
Experience is the Differentiator
Creating a positive experience for your customers will do more to foster your success than leasing the best space, or embarking on a robust digital marketing campaign. A great brand experience appeals to all the senses, is memorable and is worth talking about it. No matter your business or industry, a word-of-mouth referral is always the best lead which is why it’s so important to be intentional about how you pull together all of the aspects of how your business looks and feels. After all, it’s the complete experience that makes a brand.
Kristine Neil is the founder and creative director at Markon Brands in Vancouver. Mike Wagner is the firm’s digital strategist. The branding agency provides design, web, social, and reputation management services for small-to-midsize businesses, nonprofits and other organizations.