“Your brand is formed primarily, not by what your company says about itself, but what the company does” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Branding is the ultimate goal of all marketing communications, is it not? And a brand experience is a wider concept of branding, with a larger, more vibrant set of tools at an advertiser’s disposal. Brand experience is defined as sensations, feelings, cognitions and behavioural responses evoked by brand-related stimuli that are part of a brand’s design and identity, packaging, communication, and environments.
What constitutes a Brand Experience?
Consumer and marketing research has shown that brand experiences occur when consumers search for products when they shop for them and receive service, and when they consume them (Arnould, Price, and Zinkhan 2002; Brakus, Schmitt, and Zhang 2008; Holbrook 2000).
Product experiences occur when consumers interact with products—
The product experience can be direct when there is physical contact with the product or indirect when a product is exposed to the customer virtually or in an advertisement. For example one sees the advertisement of a bluetooth speaker on his/her social media feed, and then goes to a store to actually evaluate the product, or an e-commerce portal and then buys it.
Shopping and service experiences occur when a consumer interacts with a store’s physical environment, its employees, and its policies and practices –
for example, walking into an electronics store and browsing and enquiring about products and then buying it.
Experiences also occur when consumers consume the products.
Consumption experiences are multifaceted and are characterised by various dimensions, such as feelings, sensations, fun, excitement etc. For example, the happiness one gets after a good spa routine or the adrenaline rush one gets after a roller-coaster ride.
What aspect of a brand does a consumer consider when interacting with it the first time? What makes their transition to a purchase decision, easy? The brand stimuli. Ever noticed why maggi packets are almost always bought without looking at it twice? Wai Wai, Top Ramen, Yippee, all introduced their product packets in yellow first. Such is the power of the brand colour perception. When consumers search for and shop for brands, they are also exposed to various specific brand-related stimuli, such as brand-identifying colours, shapes, background design elements, and brand mascots. For example- The brand mascot of Vodafone the pug saw an increase of rates from 5000 to almost 15000-75000 per puppy, after it featured in the Vodafone ads. The people started observing the pug as a symbol of popularity, such was the stimulus aroused. These brand-related stimuli constitute the major source of subjective, internal consumer attitudes and decisions, which is referred to as “Brand Experience.”
Why is Brand Experience important?
Every customer interaction should be viewed as an opportunity, from a phone call to website content, Ad commercials, to personal interactions with your Brand representatives.
A memorable experience creates a positive perception, but a bad experience becomes a lost opportunity that can hamper the brand reputation.
You’re defined by what you do and not what you say — so, for example, if a company says customers are its top priority, but the call centre can’t answer their questions, that’s something that doesn’t work towards establishing a positive experience.
For instance, Starbucks as a company understands that people don’t just come to its stores to grab a coffee and go. They want a place to socialise, meet friends, and spend a relaxing hour with a book, have a mobile workspace, a familiar and comfortable living room atmosphere no matter where they go in the world. That’s why Starbucks created its stores around the sociological concept of the “third space,” which refers to a welcoming public space that promotes feelings of safety and attachment.
This creates the perfect environment in which people connect face to face, and the more they connect like that, the more face-to-face contact they crave, and hence keep coming back for experiencing it time and again.
A similar example is of various food outlets that involve you in the experience of making your own food. For instance, ‘Make your own pizza’ is a famous initiative taken up by restaurants where the customer can choose the base of his choice, add sauce and toppings of his choice. This is very welcoming for customers who are quite specific about their food choices and makes for a satisfying experience, and gives a sense of fulfilment that customers want to keep experiencing time and again.
How does Brand Experience influence purchase decisions?
A brand acts as a mechanism in engaging both, the buyer and the seller in a long-term consumer-brand relationship.
The development of the consumer-brand relationship has been the focus of branding in this age of ‘customer is king’. Consumers now wish for a more compelling experience. As the product/service market transforms in the 21st century, brand marketers must bond with their consumers by providing holistic brand experiences.
By connecting brands with consumers through experiential campaigns – there is a potential for deeper engagement and ultimately building customer brand advocacy. From events to retail promotions, to social platforms, experiential campaigns use the power of meaningful, shareable human experience and dialogue to inspire trial, purchase, and ultimately brand loyalty.
By adding a personal connect to the brand and by adding value to their offering, brand managers can convert potential customers to brand advocates. Hence brand experience has a direct impact on purchase decisions.
Brand Experience and the various forms it takes
In today’s competitive environment, every brand is challenged to differentiate its offering, more so, its experience. Having unique, innovative and relevant brand experiences can help brands stand out and maintain their brand market share.
Here are a few examples of how brands tapped into exciting, innovative new ways to create interesting experiences for their consumers.
- Liseberg, a Swedish amusement park took a mundane task of standing in line and made it amazingly enjoyable.
To make the wait equally exciting like riding on its rollercoaster, the park released a free gaming app that allows the visitors compete with each other in the line, and even skip the queue if they win/outperform the others.
- Travelling abroad is a luxury and is not a regular indulgence for people. Absolut Vodka used this necessity very well, providing customers with an experience of fantasy and indulgence.
In Hong Kong, Absolut Vodka introduced Apocalyspe Postponed where they transformed a café into a dark, scary bunker. The experience transports them into a scene out of a sci-fi story where crazy performances and vague cocktails all add to the dystopian environment.
- Social connections are directly related to happiness. Meeting a new person is even more fascinating and stimulating.
Copenhagen Airport took fabulous advantage of this research and built a pop-up restaurant Hallo Hello, which invites solo traveller strangers to meet, strike conversations and share meals.
- Tim Horton’s coffee cashed on the surprise and mystery element by carrying out #TimsDarkExperiment.
- Today’s technological advancement can truly help create novel and captivating experiences. Augmented and virtual reality are revolutionary steps taken in branding. One such example is the augmented reality and infrared technology powered Fantasy Mirror, launched in 2012 by Triumph’s Essence Collection.
The shoppers didn’t have to undress to try lingerie on, rather the infra-red technology would recreate a 3D silhouette of the body, on which one could try various styles, navigate different angles and even take their video home.
Why does all this matter? Because, when brands and consumers share emotionally rewarding moments, brand relationships are enhanced and brand value grows, and a long lasting relationship is built.
Brand Experiences and Websites
Research has proven that UI and UX defines brand experience. A positive user interface powered by a seamless user experience is directly related to a positive brand perception. The visual design, the interactive design, and the information architecture on a website decide if it can positively contribute to a rewarding brand experience. By creating a user experience that is appropriate to the audience and the business goals, the brand experience can be positively reinforced.
For example, Bang and Olufsen’s website (Fig. 1 below) conveys a smooth experience throughout, because of its visual representation, writing style, the balance between text, images and space, clean elements, great structural design and error-free delivery, spread across the whole website.
A brand is constructed from a small collection of micro brand interactions over months, years, and decades. These micro brand interactions often last only a few seconds before the customers move on to something more fulfilling. Without a consistent brand experience, companies will continue to swamp customers with irrelevant pieces of information, expectations and experiences, resulting in their brands getting lost in the noise of everyday life.
However, if we add some luxurious, exciting, mysterious, or social element to the brand journey then the consumption experience is enhanced. We say today people have lost their attention spans, but this is a challenge for brands to come up with innovative experiences. If there is one thing that will never change, it is that people will always respond to something that they connect and engage with. Hence it is imperative to create a holistic brand experience at every brand touchpoint. No matter how big a brand grows, it must always deliver an experience consistent over time and distance. It is only when a brand walks the talk, that it can transcend being a brand of the times and become a brand for the ages!