This excerpt is co-authored by Kevin Farnham.
We believe that bringing a business’s brand to life through the products, services and experiences customers have with the business is an important component of experience design and actually differentiates it from other user-centered design methodologies. One of the biggest challenges that both business and design face, however, is that a brand is seldom defined with a real eye toward the actual experiences customers will have related to value. Brands have traditionally been developed with the goal of expression and have focused on developing a distinctive identity and communicating meaning through visuals and words. Another challenge is that a brand tends to be managed within a marketing function of a business with an emphasis on visual consistency applied to tactical messaging based on specific business goals (building awareness, driving lead generation and demand, fueling sales, etc.).
There are two very common circumstances that we have seen when business and design come together at a strategic level around the brand. The first is when a startup has an executive who tasks his or her design agency to help develop a world-class brand before there is any substantive product, service or customer base. We understand that executives want a high-quality brand identity system, but it begins to position the brand as just that — the visuals — and it does not address the experience component that makes the brand real.
A second common circumstance is when a new person is brought in to run the marketing function of an existing business, and that person has a strategic objective to breathe new life or meaning into the brand. Although it’s natural for such a person to want to show change, it’s important to understand what the current position of the brand is and what really can and should be done to reflect changes in value for the customer. The risk is that the only real change that gets made is a new visual identity for the brand, while the value (products, services and customer experience) hasn’t really changed.
We believe that too often the brand is equated with branding. The problem is that the efforts involved in defining a visual and verbal refresh of a brand don’t necessarily address the brand’s role in defining real value or experience. For the purpose of experience design, we would like to propose several frameworks to help unlock the brand for use across all areas of the interface between business and customer.
Brand Basics for Experience Design
For experience design, we are primarily interested in two things:
- Brand concept or essence: There are several different names used, but the basic premise is that there is some underlying idea that is important to the business and to the customer that relates to the kind of value the business creates and how it relates to customer needs and perceptions. Regardless of what it’s called, it’s an important aspect for any brand, but it’s also essential for taking an experience design–centric approach because this should function as a guide for developing value.
- Brand attributes: These are qualities that help characterize the brand as it’s expressed through touch points between the business and customers. They should also be applied to the qualities of interaction that anyone (including employees and partners) has with the brand.
There are different approaches to developing brand attributes, but the key point in relation to brand experience is that a brand relies on multiple attributes but not all attributes get equally used in bringing the brand to life through customer experiences around value. This is because of the nature of words and how words function when used in a descriptive or prescriptive way.
For our purposes, brand concept and brand attributes provide a firm foundation for building and differentiating experiences that engage customers around value. The why of value for a customer and the how of value delivery are questions that must always be answered when business and design are collaborating. To put it simply, the brand concept informs the why, and the brand attributes inform the how. Concept and attributes can also reinforce each other, but we suggest starting with the basic relationship first. Part of getting this right is to check the integrity of the brand concept and attributes to ensure they’re going to be useful and don’t need further development.
Brand Concept Frameworks
We use two frameworks to ensure that the brand concept and attributes have been thought through and can function as a solid foundation for use in experience design. These frameworks preexist our concept of experience design, but we frequently use them because they help us guide the brand conversation in useful and meaningful ways.
The first framework is the Ansoff Growth Matrix. This particular matrix is often used in developing corporate strategy because it helps develop different areas of focus that have specific tactical implications for a company. When used in strategy, the quadrants are usually labeled, starting in the upper left and moving clockwise as market penetration, product development, diversification, and market development.
We suggest also using this matrix to review the brand concept. (You can even apply and use the quadrant labels, if desired.) This will help you understand whether the brand concept remains relevant and can be used in all the quadrants, assuming that each quadrant represents a specific scenario of how a company and customer set would be interacting given specific business goals and market environments that the business is likely to encounter. For example, if you are developing a brand concept, assume that you will be starting out in the upper left quadrant. Now choose the next likely quadrant that you see your business plan leading you to and develop scenarios for what you plan to do to reach that goal, trying to describe what would be different from your current offering. You can then look at your brand concept and ask if it seems to comfortably include the new requirements, in addition to the existing focus.
It’s not important that you are planning to make the kind of moves your scenario implies immediately, but it is a good way to ensure that you have a brand concept that is extensible. If it is, then it can be consistently used as a touchstone for evaluating the value you produce for customers and why they should care. If, however, it seems as if some highly probable scenarios will push the brand concept to its breaking point, you should consider rethinking your brand architecture (a framework we are about to present) so that future evolution does not come at the expense of the initial success you are creating.
The second brand framework is a standard brand architecture and value-positioning matrix. Brand architecture refers to the relationship between brands that a company owns and uses. The vertical axis of the matrix is a spectrum between two common approaches that businesses take — branded house versus house of brands (we believe this spectrum was first coined by David Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler).
Each side of this spectrum has its own pros and cons depending on your business, industry, customer base and so on, but our main point is that for your brand concept to be an effective input for experience design, you need to determine how well it supports the kind of business and activities you intend to pursue. Failing to do this creates internal and external confusion and can become incredibly complex to manage and design for correctly. If you wind up with more than one brand, it will be difficult to have them mean the same thing, and if you simply create brands for different purposes, they won’t necessarily have different experiences unless you can provide guidance for what is different about them.
Think about it like this: Through how many brands will you represent your business activities and have the market (all potential consumers, not just customers) see and experience your actions? It is important to understand whether or not everything is going to be covered with one brand or with several brands. If it’s the latter, you should be defining how these brands are related, if at all, at a brand concept level.
The horizontal axis of this framework speaks a bit more to the qualities the market should perceive when customers are experiencing the value the brand delivers. In some ways this can be seen as either a roll-up of the brand attributes or an important criterion for developing and prioritizing attributes. If you find that it makes the most sense for your brand to be more of a branded house or a single brand concept dominant, then you should decide which side of the overall value perception works best for the brand concept. The more pragmatic and tangible the overall appeal of the brand, the more limited the kind of value it can provide, as it always needs to reinforce the pragmatic and tangible aspects of the value. The more idealist and aspirational the appeal of the brand, the more important it is to make sure that customers agree that the pragmatic and tangible value you provide leads to the idealistic and aspirational value they seek. It’s much easier to prove a tangible, but having someone agree and believe in intangibles can be more powerful at driving certain kinds of behavior.
If you are a house of brands, then each member brand should have a clear intended value perception. Whether or not members of the brands’ value perceptions relate to one another depends on whether or not a given customer is likely to buy more than one and how the value delivered from each relates to the others. It’s not imperative that they relate in any way.
You can start with either of these frameworks and check how your thinking plays out across the other, but the main thing to do is consider your brand through both of them to make sure that you have a clear understanding of the brand concept and how singular or componentized across brands it needs to be. Without a clear understanding, you will have difficulty talking about your brand and how you will use it to create and deliver value.
These ways of looking at brand concept are really just preparatory steps for using the brand to build value and engage customers. What’s even more important than thinking about how your brand concept maps to your business goals is making sure that you can connect the brand concept to value for customers. This is where many conventional approaches to the brand stop short. The brand concept needs to be brought to life through the experiences the products and services delivers, and through the processes and interactions customers have when they engage with the business. These are the key areas in which the brand concept needs to be considered. Why? Because this is what customers really care about, and if you do this right, we believe you can build a differentiated brand. The key is to connect the brand concept to real value, not just to messages about value.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Experience Design: A Framework for Integrating Brand, Experience, and Value by Patrick Newbery and Kevin Farnham. Copyright (c) 2013 by Patrick Newbery, Kevin Farnham, and Method, Inc. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.