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Creating a Distinctive Brand Experience

Brand Experience (definition): “The cumulative brand impressions garnered from visual, verbal and experiential encounters with the brand. The brand experience encompasses a range of intellectual, sensory and emotional connections.”

brand experience

Last month there were several stories in the news about fake Apple stores in China. Not only did these stores carry counterfeit Apple products, they also mimicked the architectural details, staircases, genius bars, graphics, employee uniforms and ambience of an Apple store. Unlike the myriad of brand knockoffs in China, though, these were easily detected because Apple has so scrupulously choreographed the brand experience within its stores.

All retail, service and hospitality businesses have a brand identity – an image of the business that is inscribed in their customers’ or prospects’ minds. Each identity is shaped by all that it is, says and does. An identity is more than a logo and a name, it includes location, products, staffing, design, service, amenities, architecture, signage, menu, music and more.

All these elements can be allowed to evolve tactically, with no particular plan, resulting in an undistinguished, contradictory and confusing place. Or, all of these elements can be orchestrated to create a coherent brand experience that provides a distinctive, appealing and competitive offering to its audiences. The latter is called a strategic identity, and it’s crucial for creating a distinctive brand experience. When it’s done well, it is memorable and unique. When it’s done poorly, it can be easy to imitate, or worse, confusing to the customer.

For example, Starbucks invested heavily in décor, product and personnel to create a distinctive brand experience within its stores. Customers know that wherever they are, whether travelling or close to home, they will always get their satisfying venti latte, served by friendly people, in a comfortable and familiar environment. The locations aren’t cookie-cutter in their layout, but they have an ambiance that their customers recognize and appreciate. A recently renewed focus on brand experience has been a key to Starbucks’ success.

By positioning a service business appropriately and focusing on delivering a meaningful and unique brand experience, a business can successfully increase visits, encourage loyalty and command a premium.

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Google + Motorola

Google's acquisition

Google’s acquisition of Motorola’s Mobile business raises a number of fundamental brand questions and is sure to be a topic of much discussion this week. Some of the critical brand-oriented questions for Google, and for Motorola, are as follows:

What business is Google in?

Most people still think of Google as a Search company largely due to its consistent domination over Yahoo! and Microsoft. Others think of Google as a technology enabled advertising company, since something like 97% of the company’s revenues come through paid search and display ads, and also considering that most of its myriad of free services are advertising supported. But then there is Android, the smart phone OS that has been growing by leaps and bounds. Google now adds the handset vendor to its core competitive set of Microsoft, Apple and Facebook, making their business focus hard to pin down.

If you look at Google’s original mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, it seems like Android, and now Motorola are somehow tangential to that mission. Accessibility and usability, in terms of a presence on every mobile device available, seems to be taking priority over organization, or is it?

How do these brands interrelate?

A big question on everyone’s mind will be what happens to the Motorola brand on smart phones and tablets. Will they all get “Googled?” What about the heritage, history and midwestern work ethic of company based in Libertyville Ill, vs. the kinetic energy and opportunistic drive that emanates from Mountain View? How tightly or loosely will these companies be integrated?

And how about Android’s dramatic rise in customer adoption, based largely on its openness and hardware neutrality? One very good reason to keep the Motorola Brand separate would be to maintain that neutral position for Android. To indicate that this was a clear priority, Larry Page today posted a list of supportive messages from Android hardware partners on his Google+ page.

Was this a brand buy or a patent buy?

Much has been made about the patent wars being fought in the mobile space, and in fact Google has claimed that Apple and Microsoft have been cooperating to keep the Android OS on the defensive by aggressively pursuing patent lawsuits. Google today used that exact example this to explain the reasons behind its Motorola investment. Larry Page himself said the following:

“Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.”

There is no doubt Google will seek to combine their OS-oriented mindset to Motorola’s hardware expertise, much like Apple did with the iPhone. The big difference, of course is that Apple has always been a hardware and software specialist, an expert in integrating the yin and the yang to deliver the premium customer experience that drives the Apple Brand. Can Google do the same with its brand? With both brands? We foresee a number of interesting discussions and questions on this subject for many months to come.

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Be The Brand Experience

Brand Experience: Focus on Airline Brands

There is one word that captures the problem with most airlines’ brand experience, which also suggests a solution for improving brand experience. That word is anxiety.

Airlines today create anxiety for their passengers at every stage of the experience.
Airline Brand Experience

Anxiety is created:
– by not knowing which airlines fly to which places.
– by rapidly changing dynamic route and fare models.
– by suspecting you may have overpaid for the flight.
– by learning that your “reward” miles can’t be used.
– by learning you have to stay a weekend day to reduce your fare.
– by feeling business travelers are being taken advantage of unfairly.
– by not understanding the relative comfort of different planes.
– by not knowing the time that may be required to pass through security.
– by the uncertain types of meals, snacks or amenities offered.
– by anticipation of over-filled planes and crammed seating.
– by potential delays in departures and missing connections.
– by not knowing if your luggage is overweight.
– by knowing that your luggage might get lost.
– by not knowing if and where you need to check in for your flight.
– by long, slow check-in lines and the fear of missing your flight.
– by last-minute changes in departure gates.
– by changes in equipment that invalidate your reserved seat.
– by “cattle call” boarding procedures.
– by trying to find space for carry-on luggage.
– by wondering, once boarded, if the plane will actually take off.
– by uncertain timing of in-flight drink and meal service.
– by wondering if the plane will be diverted or circled before landing.
– by having to watch every single bag that is unloaded.
– by the possibility of theft, damage or misdirected luggage.
Brand Experience
Anxiety reduced:
If the airlines would hire creative brand strategists to evaluate the airline experience from a passenger’s point of view, with the sole intent of finding ways to reduce passenger anxiety, they could significantly improve the brand experience, and do so largely at minimal cost.

Airlines today fly the same planes to the same places, at the same speeds, with the same services, for the same prices. Most airlines have pretty much become commodities, competing based on price. Few have truly differentiated brands (or try to be the brand experience). Providing an actually improved brand experience will create a strong competitive advantage.

Philip Durbrow, CEO of Marshall Strategy was rewarded for being Pan Am’s Number One Passenger in miles traveled by being given an all-expense paid first-class, two-week African safari for two – back when air travel was pleasant and efforts were made to treat passengers like humans, not cargo.

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Strategic Identity and Your Corporate Image

Corporate Identity Branding and Strategy

Some people believe that “image is everything” when it comes to marketing their company. Others think “identity” begins and ends with a logo.

The reality is, both are important, and identity and image have a critical relationship in telling your unique story.

We believe that a strategic identity should help you clearly articulate who you are, what you do, and why you matter to your key audiences, in ways that are ownable, believable, beneficial, sustainable, and profitable.

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