The future is here prematurely. And, while it has come as a bit of a shock, it’s remarkable how both businesses and consumers pivoted. The sharp transition to a digital-only relationship has not stabilised to one that is now resolutely digital-first. In our opinion, that makes a unified brand experience more important than ever.
In 2019, 70% of companies had a digital transformation strategy or were working on one, but only 7% of them had fully implemented them. We all know what happened next.
Suffice to say, 2020 saw both businesses and consumers pivot to a digital-only existence out of necessity and timescales collapsed. Even before then, complementary megatrends such as urbanisation fuelled the acceleration of digital.
Our relationship to digital may now be more intense than ever, but it has also matured. We have, for the most part, become naturalised. It is perhaps this increased level of comfort, combined with the acceleration in the digital transition, that has encouraged consumers to experiment with new ways of accessing products and services.
Broadly, brands can be understood as having been ‘born digital’ or ‘become digital’. ‘Born digital’ brands can sometimes lack brand depth, remaining overly transactional and more prone to substitution. ‘Become digital’ brands have the benefits of legacy in terms of brand strength, but also the disadvantage of sometimes cumbersome and poorly integrated channels, systems and operations.
While each faces different challenges, transformation is levelling the playing field. In an age of digital dexterity, customer and user experience have become essential pillars of business strategy. Whoever you are, a focus on creating a unified customer experience that spans all touch points, channels, platforms and mediums should be mandatory.
In Deloitte’s words, customers want a “single source of truth”. However, their research found a profound disconnect between customer expectations and the reality of their customer experience. 75% of consumers said they expected consistency in their interactions with a company, but 58% said they “felt they were communicating with separate departments and not one company”.
Consumers now use multiple digital touchpoints throughout a non-linear buying journey. There are new points of sale, such as mobile and social commerce, during purchase. So, perhaps naturally, the conversation on bridging the gap between customer’s expectations and the reality of their experience has often revolved around digital technologies, data, and processes. After all, without strategies, intelligence and systems in place to align departments and create cohesive internal operations, how do you create transformation?
In our view, any conversation that isn’t firmly rooted in brand misses a vital part of the equation that could explain the disconnect. Brand is the ‘single source of truth’. And that is what will create value in both a unified and differentiated experience, one that is more brand than bland.
There’s a lot of talk about customer experiences (CX) and user experiences (UX), which have led digital transformation for many businesses. We find roughly 70% of businesses have a digital transformation strategy. But what about brand experience?
Brand Experience (BX) is the way your customers understand and interpret your brand across multiple channels. If you can provide people with an integrated, connected, and consistent experience, then you’re delivering great BX.
Customer Experience (CX) focuses on the experience people have when interacting with a company overall (i.e. customer service online and offline, ease of purchase, etc.)
User Experience (UX) focuses on the experience people have when interacting with your product/service (i.e. website design, signing into a platform, etc.)
Brand Experience (BX) focuses on how both employees and customers judge your company as a whole. Not technology, not data, not platform, not necessarily service on its own. Not siloed, but connected and integrated.
So why is it important to focus on brand experience? First, your customers are demanding brands to offer exceptional experiences across the board. Ultimately, customers expect you to be on the channels that they use, but they don’t exactly care about the channel – they care about the experience.
Either you or the customer has to make the effort to integrate experiences across different channels. We feel that the burden of that work is better done by the brand than being left to the consumer. So, whether we talk about customer, user or brand experience, we’re really just talking about experiences that are good, rather than hampered by the tools and devices we use to get things done.
CX and UX aren’t new and have become the norm (and expected by customers). This is why you’ll find most businesses now tying them into their digital strategy. To differentiate, you need to focus on brand experience to set you apart. With only 15% of companies prioritising digital transformation, you’re at an advantage to set your brand apart with your BX strategy.
Our work to re-energise personal cyber-security brand, Clario, exemplifies why brand experience matters. Recognising the fear-laden, technical conventions of the category, we worked together to challenge people’s perception of cyber-security.
From the brand name and design system, to total consistency throughout the brand’s image and communications, we worked to create a brand that is friendly, approachable and empowering. The brand blended with the experience design so there is no artificial separation. When the customer uses the app, the product echoes the communications and they experience the same reassuring language throughout. And to reinforce the company’s commitment to a more human, accessible experience, a deliberate choice was made to provide human, rather than automated, customer assistance.
To be clear Brewdog are not a brand Conran works with but we certainly admire the experiences they create for their customers. It’s not always the big experiences customers are looking for either. Sometimes it’s the little touches and the incremental activations that make the difference.
BrewDog’s reaction to lockdown also shows that companies with a clear understanding of their brand and its intersection with experience are those most able to maintain their agility, innovate and stand out.
After the pubs shut down they created a virtual pub experience called The Open Arms that encapsulated their consumer’s need for a little normality and connection and wrapped it in the brand’s famous tone of voice and sense of humour. They even took it a step further by introducing new fruity lagers with a light-hearted tagline “for people who hate lockdown but love lager.”
Perhaps the biggest disruption by digital is the impact on the physical. While nearly half of consumers are still shopping for non-food items as they did before the outbreak (PwC), the 42% of consumers who are shopping online more say they’re less likely to return to in-store shopping anytime soon. For retailers, there is value to be found in delivering value-creating experiences in which digital and physical reinforce each other. The physical channel has to play its part among all others in an omnichannel context. But for some types of customers, and for some types of brands, choosing not to work with retailers at all is fast becoming an option.
With the kinks in Direct to Consumer (DTC) as a channel having been worked out as e-commerce and logistics platforms have matured, there are now exciting opportunities for brands to emulate the successes of pure-play mattress manufacturers like Casper and Eve but across an omnichannel ecosystem that appeals to both online and offline consumers.
The brand challenge is to use the business building blocks that are now available, but to do so in a way that delivers distinctive brand experience. As a reasonably high-standard of generic solutions becomes increasingly achievable for businesses to implement, BX will help your brand rise above standardised CX and UX.
We work with ambitious global brands to deliver brand experiences that are relevant and meaningful to their audience.
The challenges of digital transformation and the move to omnichannel have experienced unprecedented acceleration. Huge focus has been given to areas such as technical and systems integration to join everything up, but this needs to go hand-in-hand with brand. As we’ve seen, sometimes a focus on the small things can make all the difference. Sometimes what is required is no less than a revolution. What is vital is that brand experience oversees the whole so that decisions are jointly informed.
We call thinking through and designing BX in every aspect of a customer’s user journey, ‘Designing Advantage’.
It’s harnessing the power of design for strategic advantage. You need a brand partner who has this holistic perspective and can champion the customer to deliver your brand in every channel, touchpoint and every interaction. This needs to work across every aspect of brand experience including communications, community engagement, product design, distribution and customer support.