A brand is a promise of a customer experience.
This definition should be fairly obvious when you look at immersive or experiential brands such as retailers (and many services). But it is also at play in a more subtle way in even the simplest product categories.
In these more subtle cases, you may have to shift your mindset from that of a consumer buying your product to that of a consumer experiencing your brand. In order to do this, try walking through a real shopping experience, from start to finish, with an assortment of your customers. Map the ‘experience trail’ for each. Where are the highs? The magic moments? How can you take advantage of them? Showcase them? Where are the lows? The dissatisfiers? How can you fix them?
A great example is when I once walked through a bunch of department stores with a group of women shopping for apparel. Stores like these still separate their apparel into departments with anachronistic titles from the 1950s, such as ‘misses,’ ‘petites,’ ‘juniors,’ and ‘women’s.’ The conversations you hear in these walk throughs are a complete downer, as women describe one section as meant for ‘older, bigger women,’ and wistfully recall the days they fit into anything from the colorful, ‘junior’s’ department. The worst thing about this scenario is that just down the mall corridor are specialty stores such as the Gap, where all women are treated exactly the same, regardless of their size.
Walk throughs like these almost always yield surprises, and often, it’s not those seemingly more critical parts of the process that please or piss off your customer, but the trivial stuff that you might have over-looked— and you can fix.
Okay, so you’ve mapped out the shopping experience step by step and you know where the issues and opportunities lie. Some questions you should now ask yourself:
-How does each step in the experience hook into the next?
-How do you maximize the efficiency of the transition from one step to the next and thereby minimize the odds of competitive intervention?
-How can you deliver each step in a way that ensures that the trail consistently delivers the desired brand experience?
The next step is to map out your competitor’s brand experience. Where are their customers most vulnerable? What are their competitive strengths? What are the weaknesses you can exploit?
Look at your brand as an experience rather than a product or service. See it through the eyes of your customer. Pull that experience apart, get it right- both step by step and as a whole- and then put it back together again.
Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Brands’ Strategy team