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Buying products and services online during the isolation period of 2020 was an eye-opener when it came to modern customer experience.

Shop at one site, and you’d soon receive a nice logical stream of communications: order confirmation, shipping updates, payment summary and maybe a feedback form. Buy elsewhere and you might get silence for 10 days – then an apologetic message, explaining that the item you bought is unavailable.

Yet you could be subjected to a wild array of marketing messages from any of these firms. Their remarketing banner ads could pop up anywhere across the internet. Their emails could leap into your mailbox (but did you subscribe?). Their texts might ping into your phone throughout the day.

It’s all part of what we call customer experience. And if it’s not as purposeful and engaging as it is unobtrusive, customer experience is going to irritate the heck out of your customers. But when was the last time you as a business owner stepped into the role of your customer, and took a good hard look at how every customer touchpoint is really experienced? That includes your physical, digital, social and even outdoor settings. This is a vital part of the brand audit process – which we’ve given a full overview of already.

Let’s take a step back first, beyond mere tactics such as banners, pop-ups and texts, and think about what really constitutes a good customer experience. The thing is, we no longer live in a commodity-driven economy where people need stuff. Your customers already have stuff – more than they can handle, as documented in the epochal 1999 book The Experience Economy. So your task is to tap into the emotions that take place beyond the purchase, prolonging their engagement with it. Some defining experience principles we see built into the world’s top branding efforts are:

Customer experience beyond the basics

  • Thoughtfulness – this means shaping something your customers want, not something you have to sell them. Like content people actually watch or share – think Melbourne Metro’s Dumb Ways to Die, or Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches. Or marketing pieces so interesting people will turn them upside-down to learn more, rather than branded so heavily they’ll end up in the bin. 
  • Physicality – a brand is so much more than its logo and visual identity. It’s also the physical actions you can embed into the experience. If you’re a property developer who cares about sustainability, include generous plantings, solar power and natural finishes at your showrooms or stakeholder sessions. If you’re a sportswear brand, get people excited about heart-rates, motion and exertion – not just the glamour.
  • Variation – great modern brands fade in and out of their settings, change colour, and take on different shapes, whether they’re being encountered on YouTube or a trade fair. From Telstra and Nike to Alzheimer’s Australia and Coke, they use a surprisingly vast set of language cues, palettes and graphic elements to have unexpected new conversations with customers everywhere.
  • Memorability – we love working with clients to help draw out memorable brand attributes they can uniquely own. We don’t necessarily mean product niches – that’s not always possible in crowded markets, when you offer-near identical services as your competitors. We mean qualities that only they stand for – like a healthy peanut butter that’s fun and not pious. Or an infrastructure consultancy that’s about guiding growth, and not ‘optimising stakeholder drivers to sustainably leverage results-driven solutions’.
  • Participation – some would argue that the experience economy is evolving. Or broadening, to become more of a participation economy (even through Covid-19 restrictions). This means customers don’t just buy or partake in an experience – they become the central actors in it. Think of selfie walls, social media challenges (#icebucket #plank and #runningman to name a few) and Insta-worthy photo destinations.

A recent article in The Conversation suggests that Etsy (now a S&P 500 stock) is the ultimate example of a modern participatory brand, allowing users not just to buy crafts but also to become their own name in creating them.

Take a walk through your customer experience

Back to the idea of tactics you’ll want to consider to boost engagement with your brand. Your task is to take a physical or virtual walk-through of your services from start to end, regardless of where your sales take place. Involve staff who are fairly new to your company, and you’ll get even fresher insights.  

We usually plan a walk-through using a diagram to illustrate the touchpoints that we expect to encounter along the typical path to purchase, including the communications served at each stage. Some examples:

  • Social media feed that reflects the client’s brand values, not just their product offering with all its features, benefits and prices.
  • A clear menu of product or service choices, along with pricing and up-sell and cross-sell options.
  • Strong physical presence, whether it’s your corporate headquarters or the packaging and in-store displays of any products.
  • Point-of-sale or digital banners with a clear offer.
  • Booking information with correctly linked Google maps and contact details.
  • Follow-up marketing messages showing confirmations, special offers or other options.

Those are just a few to start with and you’ll find many more. As a group, we’ll mark off each touchpoint we encounter, and note any gaps or sub-standard functions in the process before going back to our desks.

We (and you) then have a plan of what to improve, create or remove from the process. Read more about other fundamental steps to take now, such as a rebrand vs a brand refresh, or more specific topics such as the brand voice and how to design a meaningful set of communications materials.

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