The role of branding & brand equity in customer experience design
An insight into brand design by Creative Principal Ewart Wade O’Connor and Senior Strategist Mike Tristram.
Great brands make you feel something. They not only create products and services that you actually want to buy, but they offer a sense of belonging and facilitate the ultimate human goal of self-actualisation. And amazing customer experiences make you feel something. A sense of wonder, surprise, calm or even emotional fulfilment. But the world’s best brands are the ones that manage to deliver both a compelling brand experience as well as a customer experience – in perfect harmony.
Unsurprisingly our brand communications team think a lot about branding. There's lots of of information floating about the web about how customer experience can impact your brand. But more and more, consumers are not only deciding if they want to buy your product, they’re also deciding if they want to buy into your brand. So here we shed light on the role of branding and brand equity in customer experience design.
Brand transformation, holistic not just cosmetic
Let’s start with a prediction we made earlier this year: Branding needs to get braver. This sentiment was echoed recently by Branding Mag: “An easy prediction for this year – we’ll see hundreds of organizations undertake a rebrand with the hopes of re-invigorating audiences. But while they will all reset the look of their branding, few will reset the way that people feel about them.” So before putting pen to paper, the core of any rebrand should be to take a holistic approach. Design with both your internal and external audiences in mind.
Here's how. Internally, intention over operations is key. Brands should focus on creating a compelling narrative or call-to-action that aligns with its brand purpose . It should instil a mindset that reflects your values, guides your employees' actions and emboldens their behaviours. And in some instances, inject some much needed energy. Once established this new brand direction is what gets internal teams on the same page and working towards the same goal..
Externally it’s all about communicating what you stand for, not just what you sell. We've been at the forefront of ‘brand storytelling’ since the 90s – we even coined the phrase. Nowadays, the truth is that brands are no longer the only ones creating content and telling stories. So creating emotional two-way dialogues - with actions as well as words - is now the key to success. Once you know what you stand for, and both your employees and your consumers feel passionate about this too – only then can you start to think about how you convey your brand within your customer experience.
Brand-building customer experiences
If branding sets out your intentions to the world - then customer experience is what drives business growth. A well-designed customer experience is what keeps consumers coming back for more and drives tangible business results. But the brand itself sets the expectations for customer experience in the first place. If you say you’re a ‘sustainable’ brand and your customer experience is all sell, sell, sell – you’re going to be sending out mixed messages. This is why a recent report highlighted that 0% of Gen Z trusted brands in 2022, proving this disconnect between brand experience and customer experience is a huge problem.
We think this is why we’re seeing more customer experience design projects being led by ( or at least including) core stakeholders from the brand team within our clients' organisations. But with so many channels to experience and more responsibilities falling under the umbrella of ‘brand’ – the very job of managing the brand experience has become more complicated than ever. This is why, having that clarity of vision and internal alignment at the outset is fundamental.
While the role of brand is all about providing clarity, consistency and attention - customer experience is all about malleability, fulfilment and retention. Servicing the specific needs of the consumer, based on their mission, motivations and channel. We find that the brands who create enviable growth are the ones that realise their customer experience is a key component of their brand experience, and can be a powerful marketing tool for the brand itself. Take the clothing brand Ganni, their customer experience revolves around responsible retail and ethical fashion, with stores made from recycled materials and services which facilitate seamless sustainability. This is a true physical manifestation of their brand’s mission #IRL, that serves both the brand experience and customer experience in equal measure. Not only making their customers look good but feel good too.
Set your brand equity free
Once you have the foundations of a great brand and customer experience, it’s easy to rest on your laurels. But these days the only constant is change, and today’s consumers go through trends like Starbucks goes through coffee. That’s why the continuity and instant recognition of brand equity is of crucial importance to brands.
While your brand strategy is a vision waiting to be realised, the equity of it can be cultivated in many shapes and forms. For jewellery brand Tiffany it’s a colour - iconic blue, whilst for luxury brand Louis Vuitton it’s the famous LV monogram. For Apple, temple-like stores have become their brand equity. For other brands it’s something less tangible. Supreme’s brand equity lies in its street cred while Patagonia’s can be found within its eco-activism.
Whatever it is, brand equity is your calling card. Something that starts off as a brand asset, that evolves into a powerful moment of memory recall that is synonymous with your brand experience. While everybody wants it, and wants it now - building brand equity takes time. There is no short-cut for start-ups or even a defined element guaranteed to become your brand equity. It’s a process of natural selection of consumer culture, one which requires original design, consistency and a little bit of luck.
Where many brands go wrong however, is that when they have it – they stifle it. They safeguard their brand equity to such a degree it becomes a barrier to innovation. Brands that experiment with their Distinctive Brand Assets, and breathe fresh life into them, are the ones that successfully continue to capture the hearts and minds of their consumers. Take Tiffany. They riffed off their brand equity, creating an all yellow pop-up in an almost parody of how iconic their brand blue is. This grabbed a whole load of headlines and delivered a unique customer experience at the same time. Burberry has taken a similar approach. It’s new TB monogram is in itself an evolution of their infamous overlapping check pattern – is released in new colourways each season. But they have taken this one step further and are using it as the basis for unique brand experiences – imprinting these patterns into desert dunes and even on sun loungers in Pharrell’s Good Times Hotel. So once you have brand equity, don’t be afraid to use it to its full effect. Your brand and your customers will thank you for it.
Lastly - make differentiation your trump card
So to round off, what is the role of branding in customer experience? Think of it like this - it’s the Ying to your Yang. Your brand provides a clarity of vision which helps define and inspire your customer experience. Then your customer experience in tandem helps build your brand.
As for brand equity, it shouldn’t only be considered in a brand or marketing context but an experiential one too. Every market is saturated. New entrants. Increasing competition. More noise. It’s harder to cut-through. Harder to retain. Harder to please. The list is endless. So whether its brand, brand vision, brand experience, brand equity or your customer experience – differentiation in all areas is the single biggest factor in setting you apart from the competition.