Brand Experience to Customer Experience: creating lasting emotional connections

- in ARTICLES, The Drum
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Last week we discussed the idea of Experience Osmosis, the way that a customer experiences a brand through the different retail channels, as and when they need them and how each channel should seamlessly bleed into the next. This allows for very different experiences, championing the best parts of each channel and not simply ticking boxes to tell the customer that the brand exists in each channel… so, putting a screen with the brand’s website on it in-store is the worst use of the on-line channel and confuses the customer journey in-store. Brands need to work much harder to make true and meaningful connections throughout the customer journey.

This leads nicely to this week’s discussion that looks at the difference between Brand Experience and Customer Experience – how Brands speak to the customer after they’ve convinced them to visit store or at least, physically connect with the Brand; we know that in all likelihood they’ve seen the TV ad or witnessed the campaign, so how do Brands help customers to get the most out of their experience thus far?

Lets start with the Brand itself. Now, I’m not trying to teach anyone how to suck eggs, but if we look at branding, we start with a purpose-like statement about the Brand, or what some call the single organising principle, i.e. who they are, what they do and what they stand for/why the customer should care. Homebase’s ‘Make a House a Home’ is an ad slogan-like example. It’s my belief that the Brand Experience then helps explain what this Brand Statement means to the customer, through advertising and other communications… this usually happens outside the store experience to help raise awareness about the Brand – particularly to those who aren’t already familiar with it.

A good example is the current campaign, created by Tesco, delivering a Brand Experience around “Food Love Stories”, that engages with the customer and helps unpack the Brand Purpose of “Serving Britain’s Shoppers a Little Better Every Day”, putting food first in the mind of the customer and suggesting real meal solutions with the help of the supermarket, not just ingredients. This appears in various forms of media including Facebook, where the customer is encouraged to find the recipes for ‘Jini’s warming sausage jambalaya’ or ‘Lisa’s big Greek stew’ on the Tesco website. The campaign is ‘real’, it’s human, it’s helpful and it’s fun… with a call to action, so that while I’m browsing my social media, I can pop in to the Tesco website and download the recipe. So the on-line, on-digital Brand Experience of the campaign is convincing and strong.

If the Brand Experience has done its job, then it has helped drive me in to store, promising me a great experience around ‘Food Love Stories’, that I want to be able to taste, learn more about, be inspired by, or at the very least be able to shop all of the ingredients together that make up the different meals that I learned about at home.

The Customer Experience is where the Brand now has to deliver on its promises made at Brand Experience level, in-store, on-line or via any other touch-points. These experiences, and how they are shared, are increasingly becoming how the brand is actually defined regardless of anything the brand has to say about itself. If the Customer Experience is poor, then no matter how good the Brand Experience is, the customer will not fully connect with the Brand and all of the hard work the Brand has done so far may be wasted, or at least the customer fulfilment will be lessened. This issue is the same for all retailers and Brands who need to deliver a positive Customer Experience on campaign inspiration, there has to be a reason for visiting store and when the customer is in store, the reason has to be clearly communicated, on a different, more personal level than the Brand Experience, to make the physical and emotional connection expected by the customer. Otherwise why visit at all? I may as well order on-line and have my groceries delivered to my home, hassle free, having connected with the Brand Experience from my lounge…

This may all sound obvious, but there are brands who understand this better than others and are prepared to invest in Customer Experience in order to either win a new audience or make new advocates of an existing one. Ikea’s Experience Centres are an example. Ikea is a Brand who everyone understands as one of the largest, most successful furniture retailers in the world, but they can re-introduce themselves and ask to be considered in a new and original way by creating Customer Experiences like ‘The Dining Club’ – where willing participants are invited to “rediscover the joy of the kitchen” by hosting their own dinner party, free of charge, and learning to cook new Scandinavian dishes, with the help of their own personal chef. Don’t fancy this, then how about attending a free workshop with an ex-Bake-off champion? Either way, this experience isn’t about just selling stuff, it’s about engagement; physical and emotional connection between Brand and Customer.

This fun pop-up disrupts the hierarchy of Brand behaviour and experience, by creating a Customer Experience that redefines the Brand one. The creation of a Customer Experience helps breathe new life into Ikea’s core Brand idea by translating it into a real world experience, it changes the perception of Ikea from being all about flat pack furniture to suddenly owning the kitchen, food, family, conversation and all… This in turn builds ‘Conversational Capital’ and helps create further in-store marketing opportunities around the products demonstrated in the ‘Dining Club’ experience… Genius!

Continuing with the Tesco example, if the retailer was to introduce the customer to “Food Love Stories” through Experience Centres like this, they could change the way that the Brand has been previously perceived by many potential customers and re-introduce them to the Brand that they thought they knew and may be surprised to find has changed. Of course, they wouldn’t be the first to do this. Lidl managed this disruption of Brand understanding with their campaigns challenging how the customer perceives the Discounter Brand, setting the scene around a Farmers Market where the customers can’t believe that such apparently great quality produce can be so apparently inexpensive. They didn’t stop there either, in a similar way to Ikea’s ‘Dining Club’ they opened a restaurant in London’s hipster village of Shoreditch. The restaurant that was called ‘Deluxe’, set about changing how the Brand was perceived through this piece of ‘faction’ marketing, creating great Customer Experience and challenging brand perception.

…and while we’re at it, have a look at what Lidl did in Sweden with the gourmet restaurant ‘Dill’ (anag)…

What I’m not clear about and would like to know, if anyone fancies responding to this blog, is how was this great experience translated into store and did it influence a more inspiring Customer Experience at retail?

The interesting question for retail brands, especially at in-store level is, if this kind of fresh thinking is to be more than clever marketing activation intent on building brand awareness; do Brands need to have greater understanding that there is in fact a difference between Brand Experience and Customer Experience and that Brand Experience opens the door to Customer Experience? Shouldn’t Brands be considering new ways to communicate with their customers that don’t simply shout the Brand Experience at them, but actually help the customer to understand and get the most out of the Brand through Customer Experience? After all, the store is the place where the Customer Experience unpacks its Branded sister and delivers on her promises.

This is the second in series of articles by Creative Director Andy Barlow that looks at how creating ‘content’ experiences can bring brands can get closer to their customers both physically and emotionally.

About the author

Creative Director for high performing retail experience environments