When people meet for the first time, they may not recall what the other person said or even what they looked like, but they do remember how the person made them feel. The same is true for brands. We experience brands as they edge their way into our worlds. We know how brands make us feel, whether we’re reacting to an ad, or towards a customer service person in a store.
According to a study published by the American Marketing Association:
Brand experience is conceptualized as sensations, feelings, cognitions, and behavioral responses evoked by brand-related stimuli. Such stimuli appear as part of a brand’s design and identity, packaging, communications, and environments.
To my mind, “environments” are where things get particularly complex from a brand management point-of-view. Environments include retail stores, trade show booths, corporate headquarters, factory floors and any other place where people experience the brand and its values. The tough part about managing brand experience is the fact that it rests in the hands of countless individuals employed by the company.
Typically, a brand team wants to provide customers with frictionless brand experiences online, on the phone, and in person. It’s a ton to ask, and it’s hard to achieve, but it’s the direct path to the top of Customer Satisfaction Mountain. It’s hard to achieve because brand standards and company values are ideals approved in board rooms; yet, they must be practiced at the street level, or its dissonance for the consumer.
Take a large company like Target or Comcast, with thousands of employees, each possible of creating poor or outstanding customer experiences for the people they interact with each day. How do you manage brand experience in a situation like this? Comcast, for one, has famously failed the customer service test. Bad customer service is one form of customer experience and a deal breaker for many shoppers, regardless of where they are in the buying cycle or how many times they’ve purchased before.
To Comcast’s credit, it’s evident that they’re fighting the “bad customer service” label with communications, and with operations (by adopting two-hour windows for service calls).
In summary, brand experience is pervasive—it touches everything and everyone in and around the company. Thus, any attempt to manage it requires a major meeting of many minds (and department heads). Enlightened leadership is also required. To consistently create positive customer experiences at every point of contact, the CEO/CMO/COO must do a lot more than send out a memo. The C-suite must seek counsel from the front lines of their own organization, from the people who intimately understand what the company’s customers are going through, and whether they’re satisfied or not.
It’s also important to understand the link between communications and the possible impacts on the rest of the company. We all expect communications to impact the sales team, but when big ideas drive massive forward momentum at a company, every department is impacted, and every employee is asked to be an ambassador for the company (at some level).