We have reached a tipping point. As the value of Apple approaches $250 billion—roughly the annual revenue of GM and Honda combined—few marketers would argue with the claim that brands focused on customer experience (CX) are more valuable than ever. And while Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow is a siren song for the storytelling Mad Men days of yore, the rules of brand building have objectively changed. Experience has become central to success for brands and for the marketers who manage them.
From the Awareness Era, where brands could win based on availability, to the Engagement Era, which rose with the internet and enabled brands to compete for mental and social attention, brand building has now evolved to the Experience Era. Today, brands grow by making people’s lives better and easier, and by fulfilling brand promises to customers through services, platforms and ecosystems.
In this era where brands are more strategically important and financially valuable than ever, they can no longer afford to risk a poor experience breaking a great brand promise or, vice versa, a poor promise underselling a great experience.
It’s time for brand planning and experience strategy to work together and create a connected practice of complete brand planning. Brand builders everywhere must update their toolkits or otherwise risk getting left behind.
Activating customer experience to gain brand value
The important relationship between CX and brand can seem implied, with agencies often preaching mantras like, “Brand the experience, experience the brand,” “Customer experience will make or break the brand promise” or “A brand is a promise of an experience.” However, look beyond the inspirational quotes, and you’ll often discover that in practice, brand and CX teams operate separately, divided by history, tradition and tools.
Over the past few years, firms that compete on CX—such as Netflix, Amazon and Louis Vuitton—have gained the most brand value. Even retail giant Walmart saw gains in brand value of 12% after improving and modernizing their CX practices.
In order to embrace CX, these brands are integrating new talent, structures and leadership for this new era and disrupting agencies in the process.
According to Forrester, 84% of firms aspire to be a CX leader, but in reality, only one in five have made aligning the brand promise and CX vision a marketing priority. In order to keep up with these big brands, agencies would benefit from updating their approach and redesign their structures, talent and tools.
Any organization can design its own framework, but brand builders must combine the core elements necessary to guide both promise-making and promise-keeping activities. This includes the concepts and components of both brand planning and experience strategy.
With this type of framework, marketers can update their toolkits and capitalize on the brand building opportunities of the Experience Era. Here’s what a modern brand building toolkit should include.
Customer-centric journey maps
Think beyond touch point and message; focus on the customer’s agenda and highlight the brand’s opportunities to help the customer achieve their goals. Insight into the zeitgeist may lead to impressions, but insight into unmet needs makes for a lasting and scalable impact.
Identify your customer’s jobs to be done and prioritize moments of frustration, disappointment or helplessness. These are powerful opportunities to authentically spark joy and build lasting brand love.
Value proposition canvases
Even the smallest interactions are micro-exchanges of value; focus on creating balanced value propositions to ensure that every touch point delivers meaningful value to the customer and sustainable value for the brand.
Design customer interactions as services or products to perform a customer’s job to be done. Precisely define customer pains and desired gains, then craft solutions to systematically reduce pain and facilitate gain. Finally, identify pains that might be transformed into gains; these are the magic moments, distinctive experiences that can set you apart and help you stand out in customer hearts and minds.
Brand experience management framework
Design and implement a continuous feedback and measurement system at the intersection of customer, brand and business objectives: You know your OKRs, but have you defined customer OKRs? Are your objectives (e.g., engagement) at odds with your customer’s objectives (e.g., effortless purchase)?
Define a hybrid measurement system to leverage brand equity to improve CX outcomes along with capitalizing on customer experiences to build brand equity.
We are in the Experience Era
Establishing a seat for CX at the brand table is a strategic imperative for brand builders everywhere. In a more competitive and prosperous environment than ever before, the path forward for successful brands must be paved by a union between brand experience and customer experience.
Just as the internet expanded our understanding of how brands can grow, knowledge of the Experience Era can drive an evolution in our industry. A failure to embrace this new era will limit the potential of any organization seeking to maximize the value of their brand.