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There is only one way to create impact with a brand: it has to be experienced. Brand experiences are the interface between people and the brand.
More and more SMEs are relying on the power of the brand to win new customers, to make existing customers more loyal, and also to attract the best employees. But all of these people only feel experiences and to remain in peoples’ memory, experiences need a differentiating specificity. But how can one reliably grasp what constitutes such an experience?
There are many models and methods used to formulate a brand, but there is only one way that it can make an impact. A strategy, no matter how intelligently developed, beautifully formulated, or fundamentally correct, remains a piece of paper in a drawer if words are not followed by actions.
Clear the stage for the brand experience, the only interface between brand and people. We speak of brand experiences in many contexts. An audiovisually impressive trade fair stand. A grippy steering wheel and a roaring engine sound. Friendly and intelligent advice that helps us move forward. All examples of situations in which a person's contact with a company shapes the perception and expectation that this person now attributes to this brand.
Good brand experiences create fans and margin. Bad brand experiences create shitstorms and declining market share. Especially in today’s world, where people are hard to reach and even harder to win over with pure communication tools, the experience that brands create plays a huge role.
People today listen almost exclusively to their own experiences and those of their fellow human beings. Experiences are nothing more than memories of interactions, good or bad. This is reason enough to approach the topic of brand management from an experience perspective and to take a closer look at what constitutes an experience, how it can be understood in its specificity, and how it can be reliably triggered again and again.
Brand experiences can be summarised in four dimensions:
Emotional experiences: experiences that evoke an emotion. A disappointed expectation moves our emotional world just as strongly as an exceeded expectation, only in the other direction. Experiences that do not reach a certain intensity are either not perceived at all or quickly forgotten.
Physical experiences: physical experiences are either active or reactive. Active in the case of consciously performed physical action, such as all sporting activities. Reactive in the case of experiencing physical responses to sensory input, such as laughing, crying, or being startled. However, it takes quite a bit of intensity before we actually call an experience a physical one.
Intellectual experiences: when our mind is surprised, when we experience something new or understand something (that interests us), we have intellectual experiences. These are usually sparse and highly valued when they occur. A good ‘a-ha’ experience can make a lasting impression on people and stays in the memory for a long time.
Sensory experiences: we humans are sensual beings. We have no other way of experiencing our environment than through our sensory perceptions. In the simplest case, these are visual impressions such as colour, text, a picture, or a film. But scent, the tone of a voice, and haptic impressions such as the weight, hardness, or texture of objects or environments also play a major role.
These four dimensions are not mutually exclusive, of course. Every intense, good experience, for example, will also cause a rash into the emotional. And just about every experience is at least partly sensory, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to perceive it at all. Brand experiences unfold their true power through specificity. Through a typical quality, completely in line with their brand essence. This can be as unique as their fingerprint—their brand experience fingerprint.
Cristiano Ronaldo is an exceptional footballer and has been Nike's figurehead for years. In 2014, Ronaldo played a header at an incredible 2.88m in a match between Real Madrid and Valencia. Nike turned it into a fantastic brand experience in some of their Niketown stores.
A football was suspended at a height of 2.88 m and visitors were invited to try and reach the ball. Many tried, none achieved, but all experienced the Nike Brand Purpose: "to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” and “if you have a body, you are an athlete." The physical nature of the experience further lent itself to the Nike brand.
Another example, albeit a bit outdated, is Swisscom's former store design concept. Originally in 2008, an interior design was conceived in clinical white with red and blue colour accents and the curved shapes typical of Swisscom. Accordingly, the Swisscom branches looked like laboratories. However, people found the ambience off-putting and technical, and the intended conveyance of the Swisscom brand heart "full of life" turned into the opposite.
Today, Swisscom stores are optimised for the human experience, from the choice of materials to the design elements to the behavioural patterns suggested to visitors by the design of the premises—with great success. Swisscom has people in its stores again and can thus effectively make its characterising features tangible.
People make decisions largely on the basis of their experiences. This also applies to the decision of which product they buy or what they tell their fellow men about your company. To foster customer loyalty and attract new customers, even small and medium-sized enterprises must consistently create experiences that are typical for them, relevant to customers and different from the competition. This creates loyalty and preference for the brand among the target groups, ultimately for sustainable business success.
Employees, external partners, agencies. Sooner or later, they all need access to brand design guidelines and assets in order to properly understand, maintain and carry forward a brand’s visual design. Today, difficult access to design assets is a roadblock. Instead, the easier the access, the more efficient and accurate the application of the brand guidelines, and the stronger the impact in the digital world.
For years and decades, it was the epitome of every brand design project, the pride and joy of the agency and the client: the corporate design manual. The reference work by which all those professionally involved with a company's brand should act and think. So much for the theory.