Chatting to a client of mine the other day, our conversation became quite heated. We were discussing what makes a brand experience. My client said ‘great brands are consistent brands, and great experiences are absolutely consistent, where everything is the same and you know where you are’. I do not agree. Great brand experiences are partly consistent and partly inconsistent - where experiences have enough consistency for customers to recognize the brand, but are also flexible enough to uniquely speak to individuals or communities they serve. The question brand owners should be asking is how to balance consistency and inconsistency and still remain relevant. In this article, I will explore what this could mean.
To start with, let’s take a look a the real world. We are surrounded by brands with whom we associate, some of these associations are based on perception and some are not - customers identify and associate with brands by their logo, their products, their colour, their images, their scent, their quality, their price, their style, their personality, their values, the experience they deliver… and many more factors…
Let me give you an example. Take the following question I asked my friend, ‘Which shoes would you choose, Jimmy Choo or Aldo’. Without hesitation, she said Jimmy Choo, without thinking about the style, the purpose or anything. Now, granted, this probably says something about my friend’s expensive taste, but it also says a lot about the perception the Jimmy Choo brand has built over the years (quality, comfort, style, high-end etc…), and the way my friend associates these attributes and the brand experience with either who she is, who she wants to be or how she wants to be perceived. There is nothing wrong with a pair of Aldo shoes, in fact, they may be (and I don’t know this), actually made by the same factory as the Jimmy Choo product, but in her mind, simply by association, and in an instant, she made her choice - Jimmy Choo and not Aldo. This is the power of a brand.
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Second, let’s think about Starbucks, one of the largest coffee shop networks in the world, and let’s ask what makes a Starbucks experience. The sound of coffee, the smell of coffee, the music, the people, the products they serve, the food, the brand mark, the colour palette, convenience etc. But… and this is important, Starbucks is not consistent in everything they do. Look closely the next time you visit one of their stores, there is enough consistency across their experience footprint, for you to know you are in Starbucks and for you to know what to expect, but enough inconsistency to make the experience relevant to the specific community they serve. The products they serve may vary, the buildings they occupy may have a completely different style and their spaces may also be quite different - ranging from high-end locations to ‘caravan’ style temporary locations.
Now, let’s think about what banks are doing with their experiences… Goodness knows most banks are busy pushing all kinds of nonsense at clients in the hope of creating ‘sticky experiences’, driving them away from face-to-face interactions towards impersonal digital self-service offers. Why, even now, when all around us there is wonderful diversity and flexibility, are banks copy and pasting their experiences from location to location, creating a copybook of formats that are replicated in different locations with little or no variation from place to place… then wondering why customers are ‘turned-off’ by what they find… how much of the actual experiences delivered are designed to serve the communities they serve or want to serve?
Why are banks not being brave and creating experiences that have enough of their brand in them so customers recognize the experience, but are flexible, personal and adaptive to suit the communities they serve? This is the future, not the boring copy-paste overly controlled, stylistic nonsense we see today. Retailers are being eaten alive by online, and unless and until they realize that the only way they will win is if they create personalized experiences, they will fail.
So what is the Brand Experience Swingometer? Think of your brand as a collection of experiences, break them down into small parts (ingredients), prioritize the experiences that define your brand and differentiate you from the competition. Speak to your customers about this and ask them what they think about when they think of your brand. Try to strip everything down to the things, or combination of things that really define your organization and set them at your core - these become your ‘experiential pillars’. Do not mess with them and make sure they are every present in whatever you do.
Think of your experiences as a canvas that is built around your experiential pillars. So your customers know it’s you. Then, with what is left, be creative, be appropriate to the market and communities you serve.
How to use the ‘Brand Experience Swing’o’meter' to create adaptive experiences:
Define the key components of your brand not just the logo, but everything. If you have a branded experience in a shop, or an app, see how much of that you can strip away before it is no longer recognizable as your brand experience - and I mean by your customers, not you.
Think about the people and communities you serve. If you have a store in the Bronx, make your experience feel like it belongs there, if you are in the Kuwait, give your experience a Kuwaiti flavour, if you are creating a Digital Experience, make it personal to the customer you are serving. Inject some of personal, local colour and style into your brand experience, be creative, stretch your imagination beyond the boring copy and paste experiences we have seen for the past 10 years.
Starbucks is doing it, as are countless other successful retail brands. It's time Banks took notice of what is working in other sectors and learnt from this to deliver diverse experiences that mean something to customers.
About the author
Nicholas Griffin is Managing Director | MEAI & APAC at Principle Global (www.principleglobal.com), who for over 30years have been helping some of the world's leading brands strategise, design and implement branded experiences anywhere in the world. Nicholas can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org