If Brand is experience, then what makes a good one?

By Hector Pottie, Creative Director — Method London

Brands are defined by the experiences that they give. Brand adaption, loyalty, and advocacy are built on making people’s lives genuinely better, easier, simpler. A relationship with a brand is like any other relationship: to make it work you need ongoing understanding of what people need and what makes them happy. You build brand trust based on the continuous positive experiences.

Advertising and marketing may create awareness, which of course has some value, but genuine long-term engagement can only come from creating on-going rewarding experiences for your customers. You wouldn’t sign up to a lifetime of commitment based on someone’s tinder profile, would you? It’s about the reality of how something actually is, rather than what it is claimed it might be that defines our perception.

Great brands are a combination of promise and proof. Mostly proof. You can claim lots, paint a positive picture in your communications, suggest outcomes of how the public might feel when they experience your brand, but if what you are asked to buy into isn’t delivering value in some way or another then it’s a pretty quick see you later. Swipe left…

Brands and the experiences they give are time-based. The needle of perception is always moving as it tracks how we feel about brands based on an ever-changing context. It sounds obvious but it’s an interesting point. Our ‘liquid expectation’ is constantly adjusting as we move from one experience to the next, lots of good experiences over time equals fulfillment and engagement, a few bad ones equals apathy. Bearing this in mind, what actually defines a good experience? What can brands do to keep up with our every changing expectations? Below are my top 10 recommendations:

1 User needs drive everything — It will inform how a business should operate and is a compass for what needs to happen next. Deeply understanding customers needs now, and in a projected future, is the basis of any strong brand. Start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around. Brand relevance comes from constantly seeking insight and need. Test early and often and never presume in isolation you have the answer.

2 Helping is the new selling — Making brand experiences easier, faster, smoother, fewer clicks than anyone else is key. The more helpful a brand is the greater its chance of success. Society is lazy and demands ease! Once I’ve registered my details and credit card I want to feel like the most important person on the planet and get whatever I ask for with one fingerprint scanning click. The success of giants like Amazon and Uber can be boiled back down to the simple point of they make it easier than any other previous alternative.

3 Make it free (to start with) — Help people really understand the value before you ask for money and painless to return if not. Try before you buy isn’t a new concept but it works particularly well in the digital economy. Google has been doing it for years with its suite of products and services. Essentially it’s about building trust (or addiction) before you get your cash out. Casper and Warby Parker do it well also. Don’t ask the public to believe your hype, let them make their own minds up and then decide with their feet or wallets.

4 Make it real — Who said the high street is dead? I’d say the high street is liberated. With shops no longer needing to act as warehouses of stock they can become genuine experience centres for brands. We may actually shop a lot more online but we still want to feel / touch / try / meet / and even belong in a real physical environment. Rapha builds stores as cycling clubs and a place to hang out (the coffee is good and yes you can buy some expensive cycle kit there as well if you like), you don’t need to drive to a massive parking lot on the edge of town to buy a Tesla because they have a digitally configured showroom right in the centre, and Made shows us their key furniture pieces in data designed pop-up showrooms then helps us buy through the same e-commerce platform as you would use at home. These and others are shifting the role of brick and mortar locations from a place to house a whole inventory to a place to understand and emotionally connect with what is on offer.

5 Tell genuine stories — No one believes bullshit anymore, especially the millennial generation. Real people telling real stories about real value is the new currency for brands. Which is good all around because by default it makes it much harder to sell shoddy products. Every day people call it how it is. Through YouTube and Instagram, we now listen to individuals we actually believe in. Vice News has almost double the number of subscribers to the BBC because we relate to the ‘truth’ in its journalism. Allowing the public to talk for you is a no-brainer, enabling the public to tell their own stories through your products is even better. GoPro cracked this by selling their cameras not as cameras but as a way to make you a hero and then enabling you to ‘tell your story with one tap’. Let the public become part of your brand and they will become your biggest ambassadors. This isn’t celebrity endorsement this is trusting the man or woman on the street to become your brand voice. Spencer Owen (Spencer FC / Hashtag United / Spencer Owen / Spencer & Alex) started out as a YouTube gamer playing EA Sports’ FIFA four years ago. His current following through his combined channels has grown to now dwarf EA’s with 2.8 million subscribed fans compared to EA which only has 616k. Now that’s reach and influence.

6 Become the trusted editor — We live in a world where if you have money (or credit) and an address, you can get almost anything relatively instantly. Food, clothes, music, travel, products, an endless list of whatever your heart desires. The issue isn’t ‘can I get it’, the issue is ‘what should I get?’. Brands that help us navigate a relentless flow of information, products and services will become our go-to cultural curators. Add to that fake news and the algorithm powered filter bubble and it’s easy to see why some believable help is appreciated. Which brands can you say ‘I trust you to give me what I want / need’? Which brands help us feel satisfied, fulfilled, in-the-know, or even cool? Netflix developed a recommendation engine valued at $1B (per annum) to the business after calculating users leave the site after 90 seconds if they have not found a film to watch and Spotify is more about discovering and sharing than simply having access everything I’ve ever listened to.

7 Create seamless experiences — Multiple, consistent ways to engage that totally sync up, remember who you are, how you last engaged, and know why you’re back for more, all without having to explain yourself over again set the bar. OK, this sounds pretty obvious but it’s surprising how many brands still haven’t ironed this one out. As we said earlier if a brand is like a relationship, you wouldn’t want to re-tell your backstory every time you met your best friend and you shouldn’t have to for any brand either. Interactive, narrative, transaction, and fulfillment consistency of experience from the customer point of view. From the outside looking in, not the inside looking out. Building brand systems, such as Google’s Material Design, that make it easy to deploy a brand with strong coded ready to use assets and less rules to get wrong when implementing are the key.

8 Embrace the future and all it brings — Brands should be in perpetual beta. That is to say they should be constantly looking for ways to improve and adapt to the latest technology and social trends. In the near term striving to solve pain points for customers in a memorable way, but more importantly looking beyond today to identify and unlock future opportunities for innovation, not only for their customers but also for their entire organization. Brands that use strategic design thinking to find their own future rather than waiting for the world to change around them will stay ahead. No one wants to be Blockbuster, Kodak, or HMV right? Great brands of the future will course correct and adapt, working in a more agile way, and will see themselves in constant reinvention rather than a finite state.

9 Be emotional not just functional — This is about remembering that whatever a brand does it needs to tap into our basic human emotions and move us. Make us smile, excite us, evoke a sense of wonder, or even give us a feeling of f**k yeah. Boring is boring plain and simple and no one wants or needs that in their lives. Regardless if you are providing fin-tech, revolutionizing healthcare, changing the way we travel, or simply entertaining us, great brands must feel endearing. As humans, we are emotional beings and the endorphins that run around our bodies are what triggers feelings and memories. The definition of brand relevance for me is an emotional connection. What if a journey planner showed us not the fastest most efficient route from A to B but the most emotionally fulfilling route. The happy route? Forget for a minute shareholder value, growth, or market value, those of us who own, run, or create brands have a chance and a responsibility to create exquisite poetic amazing soul enriching and life affirming wondrous emotional experiences. It’s important. Really important. Otherwise, the world will quickly become a very dull place. Strive for beauty. Go beyond efficient and fight for stirring the soul.

And lastly…

10 Be good — To quote E.T. Steven Spielberg’s extraterrestrial, brands need to be good. I won’t bang on about this one as the message is simple and brands need to make a choice. The world needs more good things not more bad things, so make sure you are on the right side. Ethically, environmentally, socially, and morally. Being good can be good business. Give back. Brands that are optimistic and empowering will succeed. Consider Pepsi who spent millions on one of (in my opinion) the worst adverts of all time. Patronizing blinkered rubbish. If they had spent the money on globally changing their whole bottling process to biodegradable packaging rather than filling our oceans with more plastic instead then they might just have lived up to the claim of being ‘the choice of a new generation’. Actions, not words. Be good.

A short recap. Ten points.

1 User needs drive everything

2 Helping is the new selling

3 Make it free (to start with)

4 Make it real

5 Tell genuine stories

6 Become the trusted editor

7 Create seamless experiences

8 Embrace the future and all it brings

9 Be emotional not just functional

10 Be good

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