There is little question that we’ve entered a new era of branding, where the experience that the customer receives is of far more importance in building a customer’s perception of the brand than any amount of advertising.
And with more and more evidence suggesting that brands who deliver an excellent customer experience are more profitable than their less customer centric counterparts, it’s no surprise that businesses are looking to improve their customer experience.
Whilst this growing focus on customer experience is laudable, and certainly something that we advocate, the relentless focus on customer experience improvement and excellence raises a few alarm bells…
3 Concerns with Customer Experience Improvement
First, if every brand within a specific category focuses purely on customer experience excellence, then surely they end up with identical experiences?
Think about long-haul airlines – is there really any significant difference between the experiences we have with the likes of BA, Emirates and Etihad?
My second concern is about the absence of the customer from customer experience improvement.
The irony isn’t lost on me either!
So many businesses focus on what they can do to improve the products and services that they offer customers, yet forget to engage with their customers and uncover the things that really matter to them.
Take car brands for example - does the customer really want another voice command, McDonalds-finding, lane-adjusting, snow-sensing widget, or do they just want a car that gets from A to B without the computer and electronic system failing?
And finally, the big one. The concern that keeps all of us at Brand Vista awake at night, but sends us to work with a spring in our step when businesses understand it.
If brands are built through the experience that the customer receives, then you need to build your customer experience around your brand.
Amongst the wallpaper of articles and conferences around customer experience, the brand is very rarely mentioned. For us however, it should be at the heart of the customer experience.
Rather than looking for generic measures of improvement, we focus on identifying and creating brand basics and brand amplifiers for each our clients.
Brand basics are the things that customers expect any brand within each category to deliver, but in a uniquely on-brand way
Brand amplifiers are the moments in the customer experience that you can use to amplify your brand and delight your customers
Focus on Customer Experience Alignment, not Customer Experience Improvement
With these concerns in mind, we decided to review a set of customer experiences in the UK market that had been expertly aligned to the brand. We wanted to understand more about value, service, product and personality-led brands, and how they each bring their brand to life through the customer experience.
For example, consider brands like Primark, Topshop and Zara. Despite all three targeting fashion-conscious women, they are completely different in terms of the atmosphere, customer service, products and signage. All three deliver excellent customer experiences, yet each is significantly different.
In the coming weeks we’re going to cover each of our brand categories in detail, and reveal the essential strategies that brands who try to differentiate through value, service, product and personality should employ. And we’ll also hear from the brands themselves, discussing how they amplify their brand.
In the meantime, here’s a teaser of the key headlines.
...brands who differentiate themselves through their approach to customer service, such as Lush, TGI Fridays, ao.com and Nationwide.
We found that they create a unique service culture that is virtually impossible for competitors to replicate. They ensure their people are completely committed to their cause, which allows staff the freedom to tailor their service to each and every individual customer.
Whilst personalisation is a critical outcome of service brands, they still identify key moments in the customer experience which they can amplify.
Take ao.com - as a primarily digital retailer, they have limited opportunities to interact face to face with their customers. But rather than seeing delivery as an inconvenience, they see it as an essential opportunity for brand amplification.
They follow the mantra “treat each customer as if they were your Gran”, which ensures their delivery teams provide the warmest service in the market. Perhaps the reason why so many customers return to them?
...brands who differentiate through their unique product or service, such as Center Parcs, Netflix and North Face.
Every product brand attracts customers because of their unique product. But great product brands still find ways to amplify themselves and emphasise their point of difference.
A significant consistency across all the product brands we reviewed, was their delivery of amazing first and final impressions that left the customer in no doubt whatsoever as to their uniqueness.
For example, when entering Center Parcs the guest can be left in no doubt that they’re embarking on a special adventure. And this emphasis on their uniqueness starts long before the visit itself – the website emphasises the new experiences that Center Parcs have added; it’s an offering that never stands still – a consistent trait across all well aligned product brands.
…brands that differentiate themselves through the value they offer with their product or service, including Specsavers, Lidl, Ryanair and Premier Inn.
A key takeaway from our review of value brands, was that rather than having specific moments of brand amplification, they take one of the brand basics and do it brilliantly and better than anyone else in their sector.
For example, within the hotel sector sleep is the most basic of requirements. But Premier Inn, a brilliant value brand, commit to providing a ‘great night’s sleep guarantee.’ A promise that makes other hotels feel both uncaring and poor value for money.
If Premier Inn ‘own’ sleep, what’s left for the competition? Couple this with the fact that they have the best rates in the business, and Premier Inn have an extremely compelling offer.
…brands who differentiate through a distinctive and polarising personality, such as Innocent and Dove.
This form of differentiation works particularly well for brands with a relatively commoditised product or service offer, where the product can be made to feel unique and special through the relentless delivery of their personality.
Many of these brands create a customer experience where there may not conventionally be one.
Usually at the beck and call of a retailer, well aligned personality brands embrace social media. This allows them to amplify their personality and purpose, creating an engagement with customers that wasn’t previously possible.
So there you have it, an overview of how different brand categories should amplify their brand accordingly to how they differentiate themselves.
Whilst we touch upon each of the four categories here, over the coming weeks we aim to review whether our hypothesis was correct...
Brands within any category are not identical, so they’ll bring their brand to life at different stages of the customer experience, and in different ways.
We will also help prove that, whilst improvement is a great starting point, alignment is the key to delivering a truly irresistible customer experience.