How to create a memorable brand experience
Yasushi Kusume has headed up design and branding for household names like Philips and Electrolux. He has also co-written Brand Romance, a guide to building a loved brand. Here he talks through how best to create a memorable brand experience.
Have you ever talked about creating a ‘full brand’, or what some call a ‘360 degree’ experience, for your brand? If you haven't, I think you should. I believe creating such an experience isn't just one of the latest strategies for increasing your brand's value and equity: it’s also one of the best.
Sell and forget
Not so long ago, the approach many brands took could be summed up like this: sell and forget. You sold your product or service, the customer went away and the contact between you was complete - until the next transaction. But that's all changed. Nowadays, what most brands are aiming for is a continuous engagement with their audiences. What they’ve realised is how important brand loyalty is to the growth of their businesses - especially in an age when the internet and social media have influenced the acceleration of the ‘full brand experience’ approach.
Let me offer an example. Recently, a passenger with Southwest Airlines wasn't happy with the treatment he'd received from a customer service agent. So he promptly tweeted a message to the effect of: “Wow, rudest agent in Denver. Kimberly S, gate C39, not happy @SWA.” However, no sooner had he boarded his flight than he and his children were asked to leave the aircraft. He was told they would only be allowed back on when the tweet was deleted.
For me, what's important here is not what happened next, or who was wrong or right, but the impact of social media in the minds of those involved. The passenger was upset and tweeted an angry message. Social media enabled him to react immediately. The airline, aware of the negative exposure such a message could bring, reacted almost as quickly. Like many brands today, it knew the effect that such a message - broadcast to hundreds, perhaps even thousands, in an instant - could have on its image. It knew that its brand experience was threatened. And it took immediate steps to change that.
The brand experience
So what is the brand experience? Let me refer to Marty Neumeier, author of The dictionary of brand. He defined it as: “all the interactions people have with a product, service, or organization; the raw material of a brand.”
Neumeier’s definition is short, but very much to the point. A brand experience resembles the experiences you have with the people in your life. Just as your perception of someone is formed by every direct or indirect interaction with them, so is your perception of a brand. It is literally everything you have seen and heard - or even felt or smelt or tasted - about it. The brand experience is everything you know about a brand.
Given this, many brands do their best to supervise every phase of the customer’s experience. They try to make each of the ‘interactions’ Neumeier mentioned a positive one, starting with the moment a customer considers buying their brand's product or service, right up to the moment that service is completed or the product is replaced. If you rent a car, the rental company wants to make the process pleasant and the car problem-free for the duration of the rental. If you buy a washing machine, the manufacturer wants to make choosing their brand easy and the operation everything that was promised. They try to make the entire brand experience positive.
Three key actions
So how do you create a brand experience? If you work in marketing, marketing communications or design, you’ve very probably had discussions about how to do this. Strictly speaking of course, you cannot ‘create’ one since experience - by its very nature - is in the hands of the person doing the experiencing. That said, there are some steps brands can take, as listed below:
1. Orchestrate the message
Keep repeating the message of your brand - consistently and frequently - to minimise cognitive strain. Make it so familiar to audiences that they recognise it immediately.
2. Select and apply the most effective touchpoints
Find the best approach for your targeted audience, one that will deliver your message in the most cost-effective manner.
3. Create a meaningful, relevant and distinctive touchpoint execution
Make the most of every product’s concept, appearance and user-interaction to grab the audience’s attention and fully communicate the message of your brand.
For me, these are the three key actions involved in creating - or improving - a brand experience. They depend, of course, on the maturity of a particular experience - how old or new it is - but for the purposes of this article I’m assuming most of you will need to work on every phase. With that in mind, let me share with you some of my findings about how people experience an event. This may well help to influence the focus of your efforts.
It's commonly believed that there are two types of ‘self’ in us all. One is the ‘experiencing’ self; the other is the ‘remembering’ self. The experiencing self is the one that tells you whether you are feeling pleasure or pain when you experience an event. The remembering self is the one that tells you whether you felt pleasure or pain after the whole event. It's the self that controls our memories.
In his book, Thinking, fast and slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman described his findings about research conducted with 154 patients undergoing a painful colonoscopy - the procedure was carried out in the early 1990s, with neither anaesthetic nor amnesic drugs administered, since the use of these was not as widespread as today. The patients were prompted every 60 seconds to indicate the level of pain they experienced on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing ‘no pain’ and 10 representing ‘intolerable pain’. The shortest procedure lasted 4 minutes, the longest 69.
Summarised briefly, what Kahneman found was that the duration of the treatment didn't affect the patient's perception of the pain endured. Even when there was a similar perceived pain intensity by all patients, if the treatment ended with a high pain rating, the patient with the shortest treatment time retained a much worse memory of the event. Kahneman wrote that: “the retrospective assessments are insensitive to duration and weight two singular moments - the peak and the end - much more than others.”
Kahneman observed that:
1. People only really remember the peak moment of an experience and its end - he calls this the peak-end rule.
2. The duration of the event had no effect on the memory of the experience - he calls this duration neglect.
What this all means is that even though the remembering self may recall the event incorrectly, it remains the self that selects, memorises and makes decisions about the experience. The experiencing self has no influence on this decision-making process.
Kahneman wrote that: “Memories are all we get to keep from our experience of living, and the only perspective that we can adapt as we think about our lives is therefore that of the remembering self.”
Now, at first glance, you might find these findings surprising. You might think: How can someone’s long-lasting experience be highly influenced by only the final moments? If you do, I'd ask you to think of anyone you know (it might even be yourself) who’s been through the break-up of a long-term relationship. Such a break-up rarely involves positive, happy events. They’re more frequently bitter and painful. And such negative events tend to colour the entire relationship. So even though a long-lasting relationship must have had its good times, a bitter and painful closure will adversely influence the remembering self's overall perception of it.
At which point you may be asking yourself: how does all this influence the creation of a brand experience? Where do the ‘two selves’ come in?
Pinpointing the end-phase
In our book Brand romance, Neil Gridley and I described the importance of fully understanding the experience you want to offer by defining four aspects - people, activity, location and time. In the case of the colonoscopy Kahneman studied, the experience consisted of patients (people), the colonoscopy itself (activity), the examination room in a hospital (location), and the duration of the colonoscopy (time). And to be able to apply the theory of ‘two selves’ effectively, you need to clearly understand the end-phase of your particular brand experience.
If, for example, the experience involves renting a car, the end-phase comes when you return the vehicle. It consists of finding and driving to the drop-off location, handing over the key, unloading your belongings and heading for the exit. If the experience is having dinner at a restaurant, the end-phase consists of finishing your meal, paying the check, putting on your coat and leaving. If you're staying in a hotel for a few nights, then the end-phase consists of checking out and leaving the building.
In all three examples, the ‘two selves’ theory suggests that it will be the experiences during that phase that will have more influence on the ‘remembering’ self than any activities in earlier phases (such as searching for, selecting and using a service). The memory of the service will control the experience of it.
To illustrate, I’d like to share two examples:
Larry Olmsted is a journalist who publishes articles on various hotels under the title ‘Hotels I love’ on the Forbes website. In his article about the hotel Hassler in Rome, he shares a story about what happened when he checked out. Apparently his wife had left her jewellery, including her wedding and engagement rings, on the bathroom sink. As they were leaving the building, a doorman stopped them and one of the concierges arrived to enquire politely whether Mrs Olmstead might have forgotten some jewellery. Getting the jewellery back was a huge relief and made a long-lasting impression on both of them. He went on to describe how the owner, president and managing director of the Hassler explained that his staff “try to check the rooms as soon as a guest checks out because sometimes they leave things.” For me, this is a good example of how a hotel takes care not only of the experiencing self (every moment of a guest’s stay), but also the remembering self (the conclusion of the stay).
On a personal level, my experience with the Swedish fashion brand Acne has only been improved by emails I received from the shop staff who dealt with me after I’d shopped there. Although I was at first surprised by such mails, which promoted particular products of theirs, Acne's attention to detail and to the customer was a strong incentive for me to keep going back to them. In short, the mails only improved my good opinion of the brand.
But don’t think that this applies only to hotels and fashion brands. The same principle also applies to more ‘concrete’ products, such as TVs, dishwashers or cars.
Searching, purchasing, using
If yours is a brand that makes this type of product, you’ll probably have heard of - or may well use on a daily basis - the pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase phases. Roughly speaking, the time spent by the customer looking for the right product is the pre-purchase phase. The purchase phase comes when they buy it. And the post-purchase phase arrives once they get it home and start to use it. This last phase also includes what I call the end-time.
The end-time of any product comes when you stop using it. When it does, your memory of the brand experience will be highly influenced by ‘why’ and the ‘how’ your product’s life ended. It may well be negative, since a product’s end is usually caused by something unsatisfactory: it broke down or it didn't work as expected. It’s worth noting, though, that if this were due to something you the user did, the experience might wind up as an overall positive one: the product worked well until it was mis-used.
When I worked for Philips, I used the NPS - Net Promoter Score. For those not familiar with NPS, it’s a customer loyalty metric developed by Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company, and Satmetrix, and introduced in the book The ultimate question. For the authors, the ultimate question is: ‘How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?’
One of most influential factors - positive and negative - on an NPS score was ease-of-use. To take just one example, for any product that requires frequent cleaning, such as a kitchen appliance, the ease with which it can be cleaned becomes critical to how often it is used. It’s not hard to imagine how any such appliance that’s hard to clean ends up being used infrequently, or just pushed to the back of a cupboard and forgotten. If that happens, then the product’s end time will conclude negatively.
Brands offering concrete products must ensure that they function smoothly and can be easily operated - and serviced. It’s not enough for them to look good and work well for a while. They have to look good, work well and leave the user with a positive memory when the end-time comes.
For me the ‘two selves’ theory is more than just useful when improving and refining your brand experience. In an age of lightning fast social media, when almost anyone anywhere can share their opinion about any product or service at any time, it’s vital. Selling to a customer is no longer enough for success. Today you have to ensure that customers enjoy the experience you offer not just while they experience it, but also afterwards when they recall it.
That’s why, for me, the focus should always be on the remembering self. For if your aim is to increase the long-term growth in your brand value and equity by maximising your brand experience, it will be the end-phase that exerts the most influence. It will be the customer's remembering self that wields the most power. Because what people feel when they ‘leave’ your brand is what they'll remember and, more than likely, pass on to their friends. That will be their experience of your brand.
- Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on happiness, Vintage 2007
- Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, fast and slow, Penguin, 2011.
- Yasushi Kusume and Neil Gridley, Brand Romance, Palgrave Macmillan, November 2013.
- Jennifer Mayerle, Family asked to leave Southwest flight after Tweet, CBS Minnesota, July 2014.
- Marty Neumeier, The dictionary of brand, AIGA Center for Brand Experience, 2004.
- Fred Reichheld, The ultimate question, Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2006.
Main image: Lego offers an incredibly successful and memorable customer experience, as reflected in its position as the 91st most valuable brand in the world, according to the Forbes website.
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