Brand experience is the sum of all the sensations, thoughts, feelings, and reactions that individuals have in response to a brand. Brand experience is not specific to a channel or media type. Rather, it’s the result — or the lasting impression — that remains after someone encounters or engages with a brand in any environment.
With the shift to online shopping during the COVID pandemic, the digital world became the dominant customer environment. And in 2021, e-commerce continued to expand — compared with 2019, online sales increased 50.5%. To be competitive today, you need to create a consistent brand experience across every channel. And that means you’ll have to replace some of the in-person experiences that used to happen naturally with strategic digital interactions.
The warm smile is still effective (even if it’s over Zoom). And the business that finds a way to replace this kind of real-life experience in the customer journey with a helpful app, personalized shopping experience, or targeted content will give their brand experience a much-needed boost.
Brand experience vs. user experience
Speaking of marketing lingo, let’s also take a moment to discuss the similarities and differences between brand experience and user experience (UX). While both concepts speak to the sensory, cognitive, or behavioral response an individual has in response to an experience, there are some nuances.
Unlike brand experience, user experience speaks specifically to a person’s takeaway from their interaction with a brand’s products, services, people, software, or other offerings. For example, customers will have a positive user experience if they receive fast and effective customer service, a frictionless checkout process, or an easy-to-use product.
But here’s where things get confusing. Brands can’t really have one without the other. Positive user experiences also facilitate positive brand experiences. Think about it this way. If someone has a positive user experience every time they visit a brand’s website or app, isn’t that also impacting how they view the brand and their experience with it? And on the flip side, user experience should incorporate consistent brand voice and elements throughout. Otherwise, it’s pretty tough for people to recognize the brand within the experience.
Why is brand experience important?
Brand experience is important because positive experiences facilitate deeper connections, inspire audiences, and ultimately deliver results. A positive brand experience can often mean the difference between being chosen over another brand or losing the sale. Because of this, it’s easy to see why companies go out of their way to craft impressive and attention-grabbing brand experiences.
However, it’s extremely important to create a consistent brand experience as a foundation for flashy and exciting interactions. The most valuable brands in the world know that brand consistency helps to create lasting customer relationships and increases brand recognition.
Some companies make the mistake of focusing all their resources on a few big experiences and ignore the investment in consistency. Some live by consistency and never do anything exciting. Make sure you take the middle road and do both to create a great brand experience.
How to create a great brand experience
Creating a great brand experience takes preparation. Before anything can be done, brands need to ensure they have an understanding of their audiences’ wants and needs. Only then can brands create authentic, meaningful, and memorable experiences that will appeal to their audiences.
Engage the senses
While understanding key audiences is absolutely critical, it’s actually more scientific (or should we say sense-itific) than that. At least that’s what Dr. Aradhna Krishna, author and sensory expert, says. In her book, “Customer Sense: How the 5 Senses Influence Buying Behavior,” she talks about how appealing to two or more senses creates more memorable and compelling experiences.
And this is understandable. Brands have known about the power of sensory engagement for quite some time. After all, there’s a reason why the “scritch-scratch” of Sharpie markers is audible and why their smell is so potent. Or why Dunkin' Donuts launched a campaign that pumped coffee smells into buses each time their jingle played on the sound system.
Senses go hand in hand with experience. Sync the two up in a symbiotic relationship, and it’s bound to benefit the brand experience. Luckily for marketers, there are a lot of tactics they can use to do this — including the creation of a variety of effective product content. For example, you can give your customers the sense of picking up a product and spinning it around in your hands with 360° spin photography and increase conversion by as much as 47%.
Participate in events
Events are a great way for brands to win audience attention and loyalty through sensory appeal and extended exposure. By inserting their brand into an event their target market cares about — or creating one of their own — organizations are creating powerful brand experiences.
Take Instagram for example. During the popular music festival, Coachella, Instagram erected colorful, southwestern scenes on the festival grounds for their selfie-loving users. Since Coachella is an established event that many Instagram users attend every year, the social media brand took the opportunity to further enhance the experience for their users. This undercover marketing play delighted their loyal users while also reinforcing the values and voice of the Instagram brand.
Or look at Widen. We host a three-day Widen Summit for our customers each year. It’s packed with hands-on learning, inspiring speakers, networking, and other sensory-packed experiences that appeal to our digital asset management (DAM) community. By creating and hosting an event, we give customers a chance to learn, meet, and share ideas while also developing a stronger connection with the Widen brand.
Participate in popular culture
Although it’s focused on a moment in time, popular culture presents endless opportunities for companies looking to use brand experience to connect with their audiences. However, the execution requires careful timing and attention to detail. When done right, it can be pretty powerful.
For example, REI created a Zombie Survival Kit infographic during the peak of Walking Dead’s popularity. They even added an education layer that’s important to their overall brand experience and created “Zombie Preparedness” courses at different locations across the US. This gave people a chance to interact with the brand across digital channels and in real life. Notice that they didn’t say “Walking Dead” in any of their materials, but they didn’t have to. This is a great example of how to ride a pop culture wave without paying the impossible fees for licensing.
Personalize the message
While brands must find ways to tell their story, they also need to figure out how to be a part of their customer’s story. By prioritizing personalization in their brand experiences, marketers can achieve both of these goals and gain the trust of their customers.
To illustrate this point, think about the level of personalization that modern technologies facilitate for brands. Many consumer brands, like IKEA, are using technology like artificial reality (AR) apps to help online shoppers visualize how a product will look in their personal spaces. Or how location-based technologies help businesses deliver personalized notifications and information to event attendees based on their interests. This level of personalization helps brands communicate what they want to share, but in a way that fits into and enhances someone’s personal experience and life.
While this level of personalization can evolve and scale your customer journey, our 2021 Widen Connectivity Report found that being helpful is even more important than personalization. And your ability to help your customers at each step of their journey is dependent on accurate product information. Getting consistent and relevant product information in place is no easy task, but it’s crucial. If you use inaccurate product information to personalize customer experiences, you’re going to cause more harm than good.
Brand experience in the digital age
Brand experience isn’t limited to one channel. Think about Lego, for example. They create immersive, hands-on brand experiences in their stores and theme parks. Their Lego kits come with instructions that are both age-appropriate and fun to follow. They’ve created movies, books, games, and endless digital content for marketing and consumer consumption.
Brand experience has no walls. But, with that said, most brand experiences have some digital component. Think about nonprofit organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association or American Red Cross. They host tons of in-person donor events to help raise money for their causes. However, they also support their audiences with digital content like event information, research, e-newsletters, quizzes, and other online resources. They leverage colorful and interactive imagery and video content to tell their story online. But, most importantly, they do it with content that appeals to their audiences’ senses and personal narratives.
Digital asset management and brand experience
Organizations that want to fuel strong brand experiences for their audiences need to have the right elements in place. They need digital assets, like imagery, videos, and marketing collateral to support their efforts and ensure their brand images and values are upheld across all channels and environments.
That kind of omnichannel brand consistency takes the right digital asset management (DAM) software. With a DAM system to store, manage, and publish your brand assets you can create a seamless and positive brand experience at each and every touchpoint.
We designed the Widen Collective® to power DAM for everyone from Fortune 100 enterprises to world-famous universities. We help hundreds of organizations across 175 countries in virtually every industry manage their brands. to learn more about how the Widen Collective can help you create relevant and memorable brand experiences that build trust and drive sales.
Note: This article was originally published in January 2020 and has been updated to remain current.