Brand experience is the new battlefield
The impression that people have about your brand isn’t formed in one instance and locked in time forever, it’s dynamic.
An ever-changing accumulation of all the experiences a person has while interacting with your brand, or any extension of it.
When someone visited your website did they feel frustrated and confused because of the poor design and lack of information? Or did they feel confident in your service because you knew exactly what they were looking for and curated a smooth process from search to checkout?
When someone interacted with you in person, on the phone, or via email, did you make people feel like you were a professional by putting in the effort to create clear, guided communication? Or did they feel like you were aloof and unorganized, not worth the high price you are charging?
These are examples of some of the earliest experiences a person will have with your brand, but what determines the quality of a brand experience?
Brand experiences have three outcomes
Every experience can be classified as having one of three outcomes on your brand. It can be a positive, negative, or neutral experience. You can picture these outcomes on a line with negative on one end, positive on the other, and neutral in the middle.
Each experience falls somewhere on the line, sometimes halfway between two points.
I’m sure you can already start to think of lots of examples of different kinds of brand experiences, and when you do there will be a general underlying theme that creates each outcome.
What creates a negative brand experience?
The actions in the experience were significantly lower than your expectations of what should have happened. These expectations could have been explicitly set by the brand, influenced by society at large, or be the result of other previous brand experiences.
While an outcome being lower than expected is not always grounds for a negative experience, what ensures a negative outcome is when the result feels so far below the expectation that it feels like it had to be intentionally created, generally with an ulterior motive behind it – typically something that benefits the brand, not you.
An example of a negative experience could be when a brand says you won a contest, but then requires you to make an exchange of value to claim your prize which was never mentioned in the rules. This could be asking you to give them a public five-star review, make an additional purchase, or give them referrals.
This breaks with the traditional expectation you’d have that a contest should not require you to do anything to win the prize (unless stated in the rules) and the company is being greedy.
What creates a neutral brand experience?
The actions in the experience were more-or-less equal to your expectations of what should have happened. It’s not so far off in the negative or positive that it falls into either of those categories.
Most of your brand’s experiences (unless you’ve put thought into them) will have this outcome because you are creating your experiences based on your own expectations. Your expectations will, on average, be equal to the expectations of society at a large, meaning your experiences are what other people expect.
These are not necessarily bad experiences to have, but they are also not memorable or overly positive. They are not going to make your brand stand out or change a person’s perception of it as you were doing what was already expected.
What creates a positive brand experience?
The actions in the experience were more than your expectations of what should have happened. In this case they were so far beyond you expectations that they caused a change in your mood.
A great example is if you had been going to Tim Hortons drive-thrus for your whole life, talking to a generic person who takes your order, gives you a coffee, and then you drive off without even thinking about it. Then one day you go to Starbucks and are greeted by a cheerful, talkative, early-twenties coffee slinger who makes you feel like in the hustle and bustle of your day you were able to slow down, connect, and have a meaningful, yet playful conversation with another human – even if it was just for 20 short seconds.
From that moment on your expectations have been changed.
These are the holy grail of brand experiences. They not only differentiate a brand, but they raise the standard of what a person expects from all brands that are offering the same product or service. What was previously a neutral brand experience at a competing brand can start to feel like a negative experience.
Experience is the new battlefield
Unless you are lucky enough to offer a product or service that no one can recreate, you’re going to have competition. This means that the bar is always being raised. The only way to out-do your competitors is to create experiences that are more positive than anything anyone else is doing.
Leading brands look for ways to differentiate and ways to wow. Other brands then copy the leaders and slowly the expectations are raised and positive experiences become neutral ones – then the cycle starts all over again.
This is where brands are battling now – trying to create the most unique positive experiences they can around all of their interactions. This is why if you bought a new Helly Hanson winter jacket last winter they gave you a free lift ticket at a big ski resort of your choosing. They saved you about a hundred bucks and when you pick up the Helly Hanson branded ticket at the window you’re reminded that you’re getting to enjoy that beautiful day because of Helly Hanson.
Sure the North Face creates great youtube videos that remind you of adventure, but nothing beats the brand that actually gives you the adventure.
Experiences are subjective
As you’re reading this you’re probably thinking that not everyone judges experiences the same. One persons positive is one person neutral – and you’re right. That’s why it’s so important to know who your target audience is.
If you try to create positive experiences for everyone, you’ll create them for no one. You have to look at who your business’s ideal clients are to determine what type of experiences they will want.
You also have to understand your business and your brand to determine how you can effectively create those experiences for your ideal clients. From there, you dive into the journey’s your clients go through, highlighting all of the interactions they will have with your brand. Then you find ways to make them amazing.
Thankfully, there is a process to figure all of this out – and if you do it with the right people you’ll have a great experience of your own.