Online sales are reaching all-time highs as buyers become more comfortable with digital transactions — in 2021, for example, consumers spent a collective $14 billion online across Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
For businesses, the shift to online-first purchasing offers substantive potential, but also underpins prospective problems: As the number of digital product offerings ramps up, competition for customer conversions is also on the rise.
The result? A battlefield for brand experience. If companies can create a lasting positive impression among potential customers, they can drive sales and set the stage for long-term loyalty. But what exactly is brand experience? What does effective design require and what does it look like in practice? Most importantly, how do brands create experience strategies that deliver reliable results over time?
What is Brand Experience?
Brand experience is the lasting impression customers have of your brand. It includes thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and reactions to everything from direct marketing efforts to large-scale ad campaigns and specific product launches.
While brand experience is similar to user experience, it encompasses a broader perception of your brand at large. Where user experience speaks to the takeaways — positive or negative — of a user when they interact with your website or social media profiles, brand experience refers to the impression of your brand as a whole. Not surprisingly, positive user experiences inform better brand experiences (and vice versa) but the two are distinct concepts.
It’s also important to understand that brand experience is subjective. While it’s possible to create experiences that produce reactions along a generalized spectrum, individual users will have different reactions to your efforts. In practice, this means that no matter how carefully you curate brand experience efforts, there will always be customers who come away with a negative reaction. As a result, the goal isn’t to create a universal experience but rather to create one that resonates positively with the largest number of target customers.
Breaking Down Brand Experience Design
Just 39% of business decision-makers say their brand effectively resonates with prospective buyers. This is a problem: If customers don’t connect your brand with positive thoughts, feelings, and reactions, they’re less likely to remember your products and services when it comes time to make a purchase.
Worth noting? Neutrality isn’t enough. While negative impressions of your brand can drive customers away from your site, neutral impressions are just as problematic — even if consumers see your brand listed in search engine results or advertised online, the absence of a positive brand impression means they won’t seek you out over companies that offer better connective messaging.
So what does effective brand experience design look like? Four components are critical:
Perception forms a key part of the experience. This includes audio, visual, and tactical interactions that allow customers to connect a specific sense to advertising campaigns. In much the same way that particular smells can bring back memories of childhood experiences, brands that successfully merge senses with marketing can create connections that drive sales.
It’s also more likely that customers will walk away with a positive brand experience if they’re able to participate in some way rather than simply watch. This might include the ability to submit suggestions online or interact in real-time online question forums, or it could feature the use of physical installations that allow consumers to touch your product or provide direct feedback.
Generic marketing campaigns can produce steady returns, but personalization can help encourage connection across different customer segments. By leveraging both user-provided data (with their consent) along with social media interactions and other engagement data, it’s possible to create more personalized efforts that help create connections between consumer needs and current product offerings.
Brand experience can’t be all things to all people. Attempts to capture every consumer in every circumstance actually undermine experience-driven efforts — as a result, it’s worth selecting specific brand metrics such as positive social mentions or repeat purchases to prioritize.
Creating a Brand Experience Strategy
So how do you build an effective brand experience strategy?
First up is identifying areas where your current experience isn’t meeting customer expectations. Social media interactions and customer service calls can help pinpoint potential problems — if consistent concerns around brand interaction or reaction arise, this can help frame the foundation of brand experience strategy.
Next is targeting an area for improvement. While there may be more than one aspect of brand experience that could use a refresh or redesign, attempting to do everything at once can spread strategy efforts too thin and deliver less-than-ideal results. For example, you might choose to increase positive social mentions across specific channels such as Facebook or Instagram. While the eventual goal could be a larger social impact from initial contact to eventual conversion, easily-accessible social platforms provide an ideal starting point.
Effective measurement follows to ensure efforts are bearing fruit. In the case of our social media example above, this means tracking user views, reactions, and responses to social media posts along with the sentiment — positive, negative, or neutral — that goes along with them. This is also the time to explore and innovate by testing multiple strategies to see which one sticks. From video campaigns to personalized storytelling to marketing efforts all designed to elicit specific emotions, it’s worth finding that resonates with your customer base and then fine-tuning your efforts to deliver ideal outcomes.