Strong experience is an important, often key factor to the success of an endeavour like a start-up or launching a new service or brand. People walk away from an interaction with a company that offers a weak experience — irrespective of whether the company has designed it or not. If it is a strong enough experience, they will talk about it — not just “Like” it online but tell their friends about it. Designing the experience will make it more likely that they say nice things rather than talk about frustration, false promises, or unsatisfying service.
This article is aimed at people who agree with this. If your company’s success is built on data, low prices, technical superiority or other factors which you believe make designing an experience unnecessary, you may not find much value here. However, I welcome you and invite you to comment just the same.
Brand Strategy and Marketing
Experience is the sum of emotions felt while interacting with a thing, a brand, an event, … life. The critical thought is “emotions”. Without our feelings, we have no experience. For a brand, it is important to understand that only a portion of the elements that influence our feelings regarding our brand is under our control. Much of what creates an experience for a person is external, and some elements are purely internal to the person. For instance, Jessica buys a new coat. She has wanted it for some time and now found what she thinks of as a good price. She has anticipated possessing the thing and wanted a good price to help justify the purchase to herself — two factors that may not be directly under our control. She is very happy. She shows off her coat to a friend who may:
1) Compliment her and congratulate her on a great deal she found. OR
2) Tell her it is “so last year” and says she saw the coat for less money.
We cannot control what her friend says, but it contributes to Jessica experience of the coat and the brand that made it and the brand that sold to her. Indeed, what her friend says can actually determine whether Jessica or her friend, ever buy from those brands again.
However, though we cannot control what the friend says, we can anticipate it, and we can influence how Jessica feels about negative responses. We can do this by giving Jessica relevant products, beliefs, or counter-arguments. In other words, we can influence external factors which are not strongly under our control. These would be elements of our experience design with which we work to create the actual experience.
Creating such an experience is an individual process for every brand. The descriptions in this article are all schematic and broad brush views of the subject. I can think of successful exceptions to every point I will make. In experience design, like anything else, there are methods and practices that tend to but do not guarantee to increase chances of success. There are successful efforts that have done things differently but doing so is usually extremely risky and can be even more expensive.
People will form an idea of what kind of company or brand you are whether you create that identity or not. In fact, your competition may create your identity if you leave a vacuum for them to fill. The one they form is not likely to be the one you would want in which case you will spend time and money fighting your own identity.
The identity of a company would be something like its personality if the company were a character in a story. What things, people, and values are essential to that character? What will the company-character do to succeed? What will it risk or sacrifice and for what or for whom? What “tribe” (the brand’s “in crowd”) is this brand part of and what role does it play in that tribe (leader, supporter, provider of stuff,etc…)? Would the brand ever cheat those outside the tribe? Would it cheat those inside it?
Again, none of this information ever need to be communicated outside the company or even outside the creative sessions when it is devised. Just as with our real selves, we have better and less wonderful aspects. Few of us choose to publicly reveal our innermost fears, weaknesses and bad habits but it may be a good idea to see them honestly within ourselves. What we do choose to communicate can be thought of as marketing — a true but intentionally incomplete image we project out.
This is what a company does or makes to finance itself. If identity is the “Why we exist”, Product is the “What we do to get there”.
We understand “Who” our brand is. We have looked at Why it exists. We developed the What. Now we can turn finally to saying and projecting what we think will help us get there. I never advocate lying. It is against my values for one thing, but more importantly, for everyone else, it is bad business. Sure, companies can get away with long-term lies, but it is expensive and vulnerable to attack by competitors. A weak position from which to build and defend our brand’s future.
Marketing is among other things, however, the art of selective and strategic truth-telling and myth creation.
Marketing sets the expectations. It makes a promise on behalf of the brand that a given experience will be had. To do that effectively we need to understand the people being marketed to. In nearly every case that means we need to target, to subdivide the mass of humanity into groups and decide which subset we are going to address.
We all feel individual and unique. In some ways, I suppose we are. It is also true that we have a strong tendency to behave and decide in ways that are very similar to how others do — usually lots of others. For instance, Apple sells iPhones to people who feel that having the latest iPhones is worth a price premium hundreds of per cent over the cheapest models. Price is not the deciding factor. Many people will sleep on sidewalks for days to be among the first to have one with each release. Are iPhones objectively so much better to merit such behaviour? Apple created most of what we think of as a mobile phone today, but they are far from the only or even the most prominent manufacturer of them now.
They gave that position up years ago. It has not held them back. Apple does not care about most phone buyers. They have identified a relatively small subset of all phone buyers who want to pay that high premium every year (and new model release) or two. They know how to communicate with them, what products to deliver to them and what experience will support and reinforce that decision. In the constellation of all companies around today.
The pillars that support experience are found in everything a company does. When we want to design that experience, we need to examine those activities and be willing to reshape them to support the experience we want. Experience Design is where a company or brand identity, product design & delivery, and marketing come together. Together they create the foundation of the experience the brand will provide.
They are the tools with which you will create and manipulate the feelings your target audiences will have while interacting with you. If you begin designing them right from the start, seeing them as an integrated unit called The Experience of My Brand you will be able to aim all the efforts of your company at the goal you choose. You will have a far higher likelihood of becoming a Love Brand or an Extreme Brand or a Lifetime Partner Brand or any brand type you decide to be.
This is easier when a project, startup company or within a large company, is just starting than it is when the identity has been established and the “character story” has been writing itself. Unfortunately, startups often feel it is a non-essential “extra” that would be cool if time and money existed.
a brand provides experience whether you design it or not. People, such as customers or employees do not usually care if you are a startup. They care about what you give them — what experience they have while dealing with you. If the experience is good, they will pay you more and forgive you more. If the experience is not good, they will forget you or even resist and oppose you. Creating the foundations for a good experience is much easier (and cheaper) and often only possible in the beginning. The very loyalty good experience can create is most necessary in the beginning when mistakes are more likely and have a greater potential for being if they are not forgiven, fatal.