If you’ve ever spent a languid 10 minutes around the office watercooler in any given marketing department, you may have heard a colleague lament that customer experience mindset and brand experience are essentially the same thing.
But office watercoolers are notoriously poor vectors for good information, and I’m more than happy to set the record straight for any would-be aquatic pontificators.
First of all, I get it – brand experience (BX) and customer experience (CX) are two terms that are often flung around with reckless abandon and little thought or consideration.
But each has a role to play in the reputation and success of your enterprise. Like Batman and his trusty butler Alfred, they are fundamentally interconnected, with the success of one very much dependent on the other. But the one wears tights and fights crime while the other one dons a suit and serves crumpets. To wit, they are two very distinct functions and should be treated as such.
Brand experience is a long-term strategy that evolves over time. Consumers continuously engage with the brand experience, and as they do so it coaxes them ever so gently into seeing the business in a very particular way. Think of it as a marriage – you put in the work, day after day, year after year, and in the fullness of time you build up enough credibility to have a night out with the boys.
Contrast that with customer experience, which is more like a first date with someone you just met on Tinder. You have approximately five minutes to make an impression or it’s back to swiping for you. Customer experience is inherently more immediate. If a customer can’t navigate an e-commerce website because the customer journey is complicated and cumbersome, that creates an immediate adverse reaction. Best-case scenario – your customer is confused. Worst-case scenario? You lose them forever.
To summarise: brand experience (e.g. marketing) is all about delivering on-brand messaging and experiences that relate to the brand proposition and employing communication strategies to build consumer expectations around the brand. Customer experience focuses on delivering a superior interaction with your customer, primarily through service.
Alas, these two strategies are often employed in isolation and are frequently siloed, often leading to disastrous results. Of course, the easy fix here is to remove the silos, promote interdepartmental synergy and foster greater collaboration between your CX and BX teams, or even fuse them if you’re feeling particularly adventurous.
And if all that seems like far too much aggravation on your already overburdened calendar, consider this: Brands are at an inflection point. Today, consumers have more options and choices than ever before, and the cost of switching has never been lower.
As brands create new customer acquisition and retention strategies, they need to start tuning in to how their prospects are feeling. More importantly, they need to be well-equipped to act – not only on what their prospects want now, but on what they want next.
The data clearly shows that as choices and channels increase, brand trustworthiness is more important to consumers than ever. Powerful brands significantly outperform the market – a recent McKinsey study indicates that the top 40 brands portfolio has outperformed the MSCI benchmark in 13 of the last 20 years.
As companies brace for the long haul – what many refer to as the “next normal” – the path forward is muddy at best. Our respective realities are forever in flux, often varying dramatically by region, country or even neighbourhood. Perhaps one of the most vexing challenges is how to determine which customer behaviours and trends are here to stay and which ones will eventually go extinct.
This requires not only having your finger on the pulse of what’s happening today but also the foresight and data to guess what might be happening tomorrow. Established companies that invest in the wrong capabilities may well find themselves sidelined as upstart competitors that can better predict consumer behaviour steal bigger and bigger swathes of their business.
If you want to dominate the next normal, you first need to identify the current behaviours that will define customer experience in the near term and make sure that any opportunities are aligned with your business strategies and capabilities.
Brand experience should encourage a big-picture point of view that allows you to evaluate experiences in all contexts while also assessing the impact it has every customer, employee, supplier, vendor or stakeholder associated with your brand.
The future belongs to companies that go beyond branding, marketing and customer experience to create a paradigm where every interaction is meticulously designed in advance.
Build a strong foundation for excellent experiences. If you’ve already done so, take a second (or third or fourth) look and reinforce the foundation for excellence you have in place. It’s worth it – and there’s never been a better time to perfect it.
To paraphrase Marie Kondo, “Does your touchpoint spark joy?” Are your touchpoints inspiring the desired reactions and sentiments that consistently remind your audience why they love your brand?
As brand managers, it’s imperative that we stay connected to our customers and end-users, listen to what they’re telling us and be willing to make the changes we need to make to stay relevant.
So maybe spend a little less time around the watercooler. And a little more around your customers.