Experience Design: The Next Evolution of Brand Development

This blog is an excerpt of an article that currently appears on BrandQuarterly.com by Brian Solis, Principal Analyst at Altimeter Group.  He will be our featured speaker at PARC Forum this Thurs, Oct 27th at 5pm in Palo Alto at PARC’s Pake Auditorium.  This is free for the public and you can register here.

Online expressions are influencing impressions.  This is setting the stage for shared experiences to collectively shape how people view your brand, outside of how you define it.

Have you thought about what you most often share on social media?  Usually, it’s the experiences you have in any given moment.  You reach for your smartphone and capture a moment to share with your friends, which incites engagement in real time.  Whether you realize it or not, the experiences you share contribute to your brand.  Yet, these branded moments are largely left to chance.

Basically, companies offer products and services in touch points that engender reactions.  Executives want people to have delightful experiences, but I’d argue that reactions are left to chance and are not necessarily designed to elicit a given response… in each touch point… in every moment of truth.  I believe the next generation of branding will not start with creative but rather experience design.

It starts with understanding the behavior, aspirations, and values of different  people.  Then aligning your work and investments in technology, to deliver meaningful and shareable experiences, that form a more immersive and embracing brand relationship.

Technology Brings People Together Through Shared Experiences

energy3Whether it’s an amazing meal, a beautiful sunset, stunning architecture, funny signs, special events, whatever moves you; these experiences are shared with friends online, to include them in these moments.  These shared experiences form a unique bond between those in the community, bringing people together through conversations, reactions, and of course, more sharing.

We don’t only share the good things, though.  We also share the bad experiences.  We share when something doesn’t go our way, when we encounter horrible service, when we’re made to feel less valued, and the list goes on.  At some point, these shared experiences influence the impressions of others.

And at some point, these people shared expressions influence the impressions of others, contributing to how people perceive your brand.

Experiences are at the heart of our online engagement with our friends.  But what we share extends beyond that too.  We all have a network of audiences… who have audiences… who have audiences… and so on.  What we share also connects with strangers when they ask questions, search for options, or look to their online communities for guidance.

And since experiences are felt and shared, both good and bad, we now need to consider how people experience our brand, not just in any single moment or touch point, but throughout the customer lifecycle.  Welcome to a new era of marketing, in which your brand is defined by those who experience it.

People Have Experiences Whether You Design For Them Or Not

It’s been said that customers do not want products; they want experiences.  Connected consumers are saying they want more than transactional engagements, clever gimmicks, or outright marketing.  And customers are expressing their discontent by taking action.  89% of customers say they have switched brands because of poor customer experiences.  But for those companies that invest in experiences, customers are more than ready to stand by you.  In fact, a staggering 86% of customers have said that they are willing to pay up to 25% more for a superior experience.

Let me ask you this.  What is the experience you want people to have and share?  Does the answer align with your brand promise?  Do either align with the experiences people are sharing about you right now?

In my research, I’ve found that, more often than not, businesses are indeed investing in improving customer experiences.  But they are not explicitly designing intentional experiences, in each moment of truth, and then driving the level of change and investments necessary to deliver them consistently throughout the customer journey and lifecycle.  Instead, they are looking at ways to improve experiences that people have at transactional levels.

… Let’s expedite the time for someone to talk to a representative.
… Let’s retrain representatives to be more helpful.
… Let’s get a fully loaded app to serve DIY customers.
… Let’s make our website responsive for mobile users.
… Let’s improve our return policies.
… Let’s invest in the latest media, in creative ways to reach people where their attention is focused.
… Let’s find out what’s happening with AI, chatbots, and messaging apps to engage people their way!

While these are important steps forward, they aren’t examples of true experience design.  They are acts to improve slivers of experiences.  This is still important.  But, fixing what’s broken and removing friction in the customer journey is just the beginning.  That’s iteration in customer experience, where customers do the same thing but better.  This is also a time for innovation where you can introduce new things that create new value.

Experience design is an opportunity to both iterate and innovate to set the foundation, to write the book, for what people should think, feel, do; and how these human elements assemble the desired brand essence and experience.

Customers don’t see departments or transactions independently.  Each engagement, every moment, individually and then collectively, forms the universal experience people feel and remember – and share.  When you look at each moment of truth, every department, whether it’s sales, web, channel, social, email, even customer support, contributes to or takes away from the experience you set out to deliver.

Yet, knowing this, each function operates independently and often competitively, creating a disjointed experience as a result.  This takes away from the brand experience and over time, opens the door for customers to find alternatives that better align with their expectations, behaviors, and values.

Experiential Brands Are Empathetic Brands

A more empathetic brand takes an elevated, holistic level of experience architecture, which defines not only the customer journey but also the relationship between people and the brand as a whole.

To some extent, the work companies are doing around customer journey mapping, and persona development is helping.  It introduces them to real-world experiences from the customer’s perspective.  In many ways, this is still an iterative approach, as it mainly improves the journey so that customers can do the same things better.  This is the time to start asking what would innovation look like?

What if you took a step back to explore, not just what the experience is today, but also how proactively designing an experience, much like you do with a brand style guide, can reshape your customer journey?  The answers give your work purpose.  And, it gives people, your customers, the sense that you thought about them, that you took the time to get to know them.

Everything must work together seamlessly and add value, of course.  I believe that’s going to quickly become table stakes, however.  It’s those companies that go beyond branding, marketing, and customer experience to create a complete world where every touch and each reaction was by design.

And, that’s experience design.  It’s the standard, the sheet of music, the architecture to stimulate the senses in ways that bring the brand to life as intended.  Each touchpoint should spark desired reactions and sentiment and consistently remind people why they love your brand experience, and why they can’t live without it.

Tomorrow’s Brands Need Experience Architects

Experience design takes vision and the capacity to visualize and articulate how the experience should be experienced.  Not just physically, but also how it stimulates the senses and elicits desired reactions.  The brand style guide we lean on so heavily today to stay “on brand” and “on message” is no longer enough.  It’s time to invest in an experience style guide and a holistic, top-down, inside-out, and outside-in experience architecture that inspires every aspect of the customer experience.

People are going to feel something, so why leave it to chance? Why not design experiences that add up to something meaningful, shareable and irreplaceable?  The future of brand is shaped by experiences.  And, experience architecture is the path toward developing a more empathetic and relevant brand for a new generation of connected customers.

Brian Solis is a principal analyst at Altimeter, a Prophet company. He is also an award-winning author, prominent blogger/writer, and keynote speaker. A digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business and society. His research and books cover digital transformation, culture 2.0, and innovation and are meant to help people better understand the relationship between technology and humanity. His new book, X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, introduces the experience as the new brand, bringing the worlds of CX, UX, and BX together to re-imagine the customer journey and lifecycle.

To read the entire article, click here to Brandquarterly.com.  Please come join us at the PARC Forum with Brian Solis on Thurs, Oct 27 at 5pm as he will be talking about “The Experience When Business Meets Design”.  Please click here to register for free.

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