Brand experience: leave the room with confidence

Brand experience: leave the room with confidence

I was running a Brand Bootcamp for the students of the University of Hertfordshire recently, and shared with them this thought from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

It sparked an interesting conversation with some of the students about defining the brand experience that you want your customers to have – and consequently, what they say about you. It is something that we work on with our clients, because regardless of whether they sell jewellery, garden rooms or accountancy services, if they don’t shape the brand experience intentionally, they are in danger of leaving that experience to chance. And unintentional brand experiences have a habit of backfiring.

Working with brands to define what that experience is can be a really exciting part of the growth project. For some of the university students, it was the first time they had ever really thought about a brand as anything other than the visual identity.

So what is the brand experience? For us, it is any customer interaction where you get the opportunity to demonstrate your brand promise, your personality (or values), your mission and your point of difference – all these elements create the brand experience for your customer. Your brand experience is the proof that the story you tell you about your brand lives and breathes in every aspect of your business and in every customer interaction.

We take our clients on a process to define these brand elements, then get down and dirty in the detail and look at how the brand experience will look, sound and feel at every touchpoint. Because if you don’t do this, what the customer could experience may lead them to say some not-so-nice things about you when you are not in the room.

Take this example, for instance. You phone a business because you need to query something, or to place an order…

“Thank you for your call. Your custom is very important to us.” Well there you go, that sounds like a brand promise right there – they want to treat their customers like they are VIPs. That’s nice, I feel quite special.

Cue some teeth-grindingly irritating music that sounds like it is being played on doorbells. Okay, so I feel a little less special now, and my left eye is starting to twitch involuntarily.

“You are now ninth in the queue. Your call is important to us.” Really? Because I am starting to feel the opposite of very important now.

“Please hold. We will be with you shortly.” Hmm. I’m calling that as a big fat lie.

“You are now eighth in the queue. Your call is important to us.” You know that just repeating it doesn’t make it true, don’t you?

“Did you know that our website has lots of frequently asked questions, so you may find what you are looking for there?” Does that include the frequently asked question ‘which competitor shall I use instead?

Now this might be a more typical scenario when interacting with large brands that deal with lots of customers (not that this is any sort of excuse for doorbell music or keeping customers waiting for fifteen minutes at their own expense).  But the brand experience is no less important for small businesses. I bought a set of exterior house lights from an independent retailer on our local High Street. The lights were modern and beautifully designed. I paid, and the assistant plonked the two product boxes in a black bin bag. Yes. A black bin bag. The brand experience I took from that? That I had – quite literally – just bought a bag of rubbish.  I could tell you what I said when I wasn’t in the same room as this lighting shop, but it may well get censored. (Funnily enough, the lights are no longer going. And nor is that business).

When you are creating a brand, or working on your brand, put the design of the brand experience at the very centre of your thinking. A useful process to start your brand experience planning is to do a bit of Bezos thinking.

Grab a bunch of Post-Its and ask yourself or your team: what do we want our customers to say about us when we are not in the room? Brain dump what you would want them to say. Think about current customers who love you. Think about amazing feedback that would make your week. Think about future customers and what you want them to say about you when your brand experience is even better. Fill a board, or even better, a wall, with what your customers say.

Now comes a bit of reverse-engineered strategy. Create a ‘power pool’ of the most potent and amazing phrases and words from your wall of what customers say. Then, from each of these, identify the parts of a brand experience you could offer that would provoke these customer responses – as well as the experience you DON’T want to offer to help define exactly what your brand experience should look and feel like.

Finally, create a framework for your brand experience – be this a customer charter, a brand experience statement of intent, a set of service behaviours or a combination of these – and share with every single member of your team. When it comes to the interaction points between your customer and your brand, and when you tell your brand story, use this framework to design and share the right experience and to make it consistent EVERYWHERE in your business.

Then, in or out of the room, you know your customers will be saying nice things about you.