In the two-plus decades of my career, I’ve had rich discussions about the power of brand on a daily basis. How to create one. How to maintain one. Grow one. Renew one.
But in recent months, I’ve noticed a marked shift in how we define and discuss “brand.” From my first day as a brand-builder, I was taught that the brand is something that exists in the heart and mind of the consumer. But now, consumers can have much richer, nuanced experiences with the brand—across myriad channels and contexts. At this point, the expectation for both a tangible benefit and an enriching experience is table stakes—making the case that the experience your consumer has is the brand.
If this is the case, why are brand-builders still approaching the two separately?
“Brands can’t afford to be anything but seamless.”
Brand, Meet CX
Consumers already see brand and experience as one and the same, but all too often, companies handle them as distinct and siloed practices. Whether treated as separate initiatives within the same department or managed by multiple teams in far corners of the same company, branding work and customer experience (CX) design is largely disconnected.
The result is two efforts that seemingly have shared objectives, but lack the cohesion needed to deliver a holistic, meaningfully branded experience. And in a dynamic digital world where consumer expectations are higher than ever, brands can’t afford to be anything but seamless. The ones winning are integrating CX processes and principles into brand initiatives to gain an edge, solve bigger problems and deliver greater business value.
So, why do we still see businesses treating brand and CX as independent initiatives? And if consumers think of the two as inextricably linked, why don’t marketers?
“ Treat brand development and CX design as a complementary pair, solving the same core problems.”
The Origins of Separation
The opportunity to sync up branding and CX efforts is typically missed at the very beginning of a project—and it’s a common mistake that leads to greater financial investment, lack of strategic cohesion and, at its worst, teams competing rather than collaborating.
My advice? To maintain relevance and drive deeper meaningful connections, manage your branding and CX initiatives in tandem. Create a culture and process that treats brand development and CX design as a complementary pair, solving the same core problems, mutually influencing and strengthening the other along the way.
Build Partnerships, Not Silos
At LPK, we say align early. By bringing your complete team together at the onset, you start with the right stakeholders in the same room, tackling the same challenges—leading to a much more powerful proposition in the end. Drive consensus early on and define the collective jobs to be done to build stronger connections, streamline the process and efficiently make decisions—beneficial to both brand and experience. This approach also allows you to capitalize on the collective intelligence in the room: gleaning audience insights, competitive analysis and category trends that can influence both brand and CX. It also creates spaces to flag issues and discuss non-negotiables early on, giving brand and CX teams a better sense of parameters.
I have had the pleasure of working with progressive teams embracing the idea of CX being a crucial input to their branding efforts. Take National General Insurance for instance. The partnership started when they asked us to help them create a new-to-the-world product offering, targeting an untapped audience wary of traditional insurance. To create a human voice and holistic experience, approaching brand and CX in tandem was critical. The outcomes were strong ties between brand and CX design, creating a more meaningful and immersive experience built around their desires and needs.
Creating the Perfect Partnership
1. Design with the End in Mind
When managing brand and CX in tandem, the key is sequencing. Start with the customer experience definition. By doing so, you’ll set the foundation for the right type of experience and in turn provide the needed context for the brand to shine and best amplify engagement with an appealing tone of voice, tailored user interface (UI) and category-differentiating expression.
2. Diverge & Converge at the Right Times
At the outset, construct a development plan that informs both brand development and experience creation. Our unique and flexible model is constructed with purposeful points of intersection and deviation to nurture specific aspects of both the brand and experience.
Plan for your discovery and research approach to be broader, accommodating both the functional benefits your consumer is seeking in a product or service experience, as well as the emotional and social desires that show up in the brand. Throughout development, intersections are designed to make the most of the cross-functional team, while diverging paths honor the expertise of individual practice experts.
3. Embrace the Power of Experience Principles
Experience Principles act as the strategic glue binding experience with brand. Crafted to be consumer-centric and encompassing all facets of the brand, these principles guide decision-making for both brand and CX—sharpening brand strategy, defining the user experience and influencing brand expression.
4. Use Your Initial Research as a Future Roadmap
Lastly, the outcomes from user research will cover the initiative needs (creating an app, website, etc.), but will likely reveal additional opportunities that can be acted upon later. That may look like a companion service that deepens engagement (think rewards program), or even an internal culture shift to strengthen customer service interactions. As you think about what is next, come back to your initial research as a guide.
As the nature of brand continues to evolve at a rapid pace, ask yourself if the opportunity at hand is a brand challenge or an experience need. Chances are, it’s both. Start embracing the notion that managing brand and CX together is a non-negotiable. It already is in the eyes of your consumer.