How to Deliver a Brand-Building Experience

By Bill Chiaravalle, Barbara Findlay Schenck

Be the brand isn’t just talk; it’s the key to branding success. Brand strategy doesn’t move markets, but brand experience does. To build the brand you want, create an experience that reaffirms your promise during every encounter with your brand.

Test your brand experience

The first step in managing your brand experience is to experience your brand firsthand. How? Follow these suggestions:

  • Arrive like customers arrive. Forget your insider shortcuts. Imagine you’re a first timer trying to reach your front door or website; see if your business is findable and accessible and what first impression it makes.

  • Shop like they shop. Go through the buying experience exactly as a customer would. Ask to see samples, request cost estimates, and compare options both within your company and with competitors. Then go through the trial, customization, and purchase-decision process.

  • Pause where they pause. Notice where and how long you wait during the purchase process. How long does it take to receive a greeting? Is the greeting appropriate? What do you do while you wait? Are you comfortable? Do you receive positive brand messages and an experience that fits your brand image and promise?

  • Use your product just as customers use it. If they sign an estimate or a contract, notice how the information is presented, whether it’s perfectly clear or whether questions come to mind. If they have to unpackage or assemble your product, follow the instructions to see if they make sense. Then put the product to use to assess the user experience.

Use your findings and do the following to smooth the customer experience:

  • Create a map of how customers arrive at, buy from, and follow up with your business. This information helps as you conduct your more formal brand experience audit.

  • Recognize and make plans to eliminate customer barriers, whether they’re physical (lack of parking), emotional (undue waits), or product-oriented (packaging is hard to open).

  • Note and make plans to address opportunities for service or product enhancements. For example, if you find that customers are consistently tailoring your product to suit their particular needs, include customization as a free or low-cost option.

Audit your brand experience

Brand experiences are the result of brand encounters, and brand encounters are affected by

  • How easy it is to find and reach you in person, by phone, or online

  • Your business location and appearance, including signage, displays, staff, waiting areas, and even the look of other customers

  • The caliber and cleanliness of your business vehicles

  • The quality of your advertising and other communications

  • The nature of your publicity

  • The look and speed of your website

  • The speed of service, including the length of time phone calls are left on hold, how long messages go unanswered, and how long people wait in line or for product delivery

  • The friendliness and experience of customer-service staff

  • The flexibility of your policies

With so many encounter points, it’s no wonder that brands have trouble maintaining a consistent image. With each lapse, though, no matter how minor, consumers lose confidence in the brand’s ability to keep its promise and to maintain its distinction.

To develop the quality of your brand experience, take these steps:

  1. Determine every brand impression point that prospects and customers encounter when dealing with your business, from the pre-purchase stage through the purchase experience and post-purchase contact.

  2. Create an experience that conveys your brand promise without fail or hesitation through encounters that consistently advance your brand message, voice, look, and character.

  3. Audit your brand experience on a regular basis to insure against reputation-eroding communication or service lapses.

  4. Take action immediately if you discover impression points that compromise the consistency and value of your brand.

Pre-purchase impressions

Pre-purchase impressions take the form of web searches, website visits, social-media posts and interactions, advertising, direct mail, displays, publicity, presentations, reviews, word-of-mouth comments, and more. Some you control; others are outside of your control. All contribute to awareness of your brand and its distinctions, market perceptions, and relevance to customer wants and needs.

Pre-purchase communications reach prospective, new, or lapsed customers with messages that, if all goes well, prompt inquiries, product sampling or trial, and, ultimately, purchases.

Purchase experience impressions

During the purchase process, people form impressions based on the location of your business, the design of your physical or online setting, the style and attitude of your employees, the design of your packaging, the nature of your pricing, your service style and systems, and the way they’re treated by sales and service staff.

This is the point when you want to reinforce your brand promise. You also want to heighten consumer confidence, overcome doubts, underscore brand distinctions and competitive advantages, build trust, and convey your product value and positive price-value relationship.

Post-purchase impressions

The best post-purchase impression comes from delivery of a branded product that matches or exceeds the customer’s quality and performance expectations.

The post-purchase experience also includes follow-up service, customer communications and engagement, loyalty programs, and customer events.

At each post-purchase encounter point, be sure the experience deepens your brand promise while also demonstrating appreciation, exceeding customer expectations, addressing customer needs, and encouraging involvement and brand ownership. How you handle compliments and concerns and how you encourage customer involvement to tailor the brand experience to their unique wants and needs tips the balance between satisfied customers and raving fans.

Make use of your findings

Follow these steps:

  1. Identify all brand impression points.

  2. Evaluate the strength of each impression point based on how well your organization currently performs and whether your performance has improved or slipped in the recent past.

  3. Identify gaps between your brand promise and brand experience.

  4. Prioritize which gaps need immediate attention based on the seriousness of the experience lapse and the prominence of the impression point.

  5. Set improvement objectives, monitor progress, and reward your staff for performance advances.