Branding is not marketing. It is much bigger and more important than simply a logo and some fonts. As I often say, “branding is the management of meaning”. It’s audacious. It’s big and it’s scary. Because suddenly it’s not about what you say, it’s about what they say. It’s not what you intend to mean but it’s the meaning perceived in the eye of the beholder. That is not always easy to appreciate. But that is what it is. And it is so important for the modern business to take seriously.
Ultimately managing a brand is all about managing the experience audiences have when they come across any aspect of our offer. It’s about influencing the lasting impression your audience has about you. It about “walking the walk” not simply just about “talking the talk”.
But how? How can we begin to manage meaning?
Well, this is how I tend to attack managing brand meaning - and its all about a holistic approach to brand experience.
Phase 1. Brand Strategy
Well the first step is to create your brand strategy - that is to say that you need to define the high level concepts which make up the desired meaning you would like for people to attach to your brand. Although the whole business (and it’s customers) might be consulted this is a question of business leadership. The leaders have to own this - get their heads to gather, align and engage.
Phase 2. Branding “within”
The defined meaning of the brand then needs to be launched into the business so that everyone understands it. We have to go to work “within”. It’s got to cut through the silos of business functions. It’s got to stick everyone and everything together. It’s got to be clear, simple and memorable. Inspirational and exciting. Every member of your team should be able to see how their work is contributing to the brand’s success.
But let’s say thats done. We’ve defined our brand and launched it into the business. We’ve also worked with HR to bring brand thinking into our people processes and culture. We recruit and measure performance based on it.
Phase 3. Branding “without”
Well one of the next steps is to break-down the silos which exist via business functions which focus “without”. The usual suspects are “Marketing”, “Sales” and “Customer Success” (or Account Management). It is so important that ALL of these functions, which take prospects through to being customers is aligned. That the brand experience is joined up. Meaningful.
To do this is no simple task. It does not happen by accident. It takes “design” - deliberate and considered thinking around the processes and motivations of each team.
But how does one design a brand experience?
Mapping the Brand Experience
As most folks who read this blog regularly will know, I’m all for simplicity. The simplest methods are often the best.
So, whats the simplest way of starting to manage brand experience from a customer experience? By swarming in a collaborative and agile way. By getting the right people in the room. Communicate. Work it out.
I suggest to my clients they get the heads of the functions which focus “without” (Sales, Marketing, Customer Success) as well as key people from their teams who are doing the work and get them in a room (or a Zoom 😆).
Hire a facilitator to keep the energy high. Explain the importance of getting brand thinking into the whole experience. Then, work with these people to map out the main steps in the customers experience (CX). Right from when they are a non-customer who has a problem right through to when they experience the services and products and after off into when the customer say’s goodbye.
What we are keen to identify is all the touchpoint and interactions the customer has with the brand. We also want to begin to think about opportunities to improve this.
This exercise can become quite complex so make sure you keep each session very focused depending on the context. Here’s a suggested approach to get you started:
Create a map - Maybe your first session is around agreeing the ‘Brand Experience’ steps and also principles of the way we want the customer to feel across the brand experience. This should be aligned with the brand strategy.
Identify current interactions - The next session might be about identifying current customer interactions and touch points with homework for different functions to supply examples of each interaction.
Identify where you can improve - The third session might be around identifying how the brand is performing in each interaction, identifying where the gaps lie and exploring potential new ideas to improve the experience. If we know there are specific problems, why are they happening? What can we do to stop them happening? Its also interesting to ask - do we have a “signature experience” - a unique experience that only our brand can deliver. Where you “Zag” and everyone else is “Zigging”. If you don’t have these, it might be worth getting to work ion that area.
Plan for the future - Finally a session might be needed to decide upon and then roadmap the improvements needed. Is there any low hanging fruit? What will we prioritise? This can become complex as we might need to consider how IT work with Operations, how Marketing books in work with the in-house Creative team or we might need to consider things like the Organisation Design required to create an improvement. When things get complex we might need separate sessions with other team members involved to explore what is feasible. We also might need to test assumptions before making a decision. The key thing is that we come out with a picture of our desired customer experience and a vision for improving things with key milestones and clear accountabilities.
You might want to fuse all of this activity with customer insights from qualitative and quantitive research. This can help to sense check opinions with fact.
Another thing to consider before pressing the green button on the road-map work is measurability - how can we measure customer satisfaction? How will we know when we’re winning? What metrics are there we could use to track out progress from a customers perspective?
Typical stages of the brand experience
Although every business, industry and brand will be different in how they approach the experiences they deliver, I find that typically customers will go through the following stages of brand experience These are shown in the following diagram:
Lets look at these in a little more detail - obviously the actual interactions and touch points will be very different depending on industry, brand and customer need:
Awareness - this is when someone in our audience becomes aware of a problem in their lives or a desire that they are cultivating, related to the solutions we offer.
Consideration - in this stage our audience is considering the potential solutions to this problem. In this stage we might need to provide information as to the different solutions and why what we’re offering would be a good fit.
Decision - this is when our audience are choosing a solution to their problem. They usually need reasons to believe that our brand specifically is the answer.
Onboarding - In step 4 the prospect becomes a customer and hands over their hard earned cash. We now need to set expectations and onboard them.
Servicing - this is where we deliver. We need to often go above and beyond expectations to ensure a customer is delighted - how can we add value at every interaction?
Off-boarding - there will come a time when a customer is ready to say goodbye. How can we make that experience as positive as possible?
Advocacy - ok, so they are no longer a customer. But do we keep in touch? How can we encourage them to be positive about us and share their experience with their friends? Maybe we can keep in touch somehow and offer them content or a community they can connect with so that if they ever have the problem we solve again, we are first in line to obtain their custom.
So there we are. A framework for you to consider for your brand experience along with an agile suggest process to get an improvement plan together.
I wish you all the best creating, building and constantly improving your brand experience. Design it carefully. Build your company around it. Revisit it and new stop improving it.