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Everything You Need to Know about Brand Experience

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Everything You Need to Know about Brand Experience

Online sales are reaching all-time highs as buyers become more comfortable with digital transactions — in 2021, for example, consumers spent a collective $14 billion online across Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

For businesses, the shift to online-first purchasing offers substantive potential, but also underpins prospective problems: As the number of digital product offerings ramps up, competition for customer conversions is also on the rise.

The result? A battlefield for brand experience. If companies can create a lasting positive impression among potential customers, they can drive sales and set the stage for long-term loyalty. But what exactly is brand experience? What does effective design require and what does it look like in practice? Most importantly, how do brands create experience strategies that deliver reliable results over time?

While brand experience is similar to user experience, it encompasses a broader perception of your brand at large. Where user experience speaks to the takeaways — positive or negative — of a user when they interact with your website or social media profiles, brand experience refers to the impression of your brand as a whole. Not surprisingly, positive user experiences inform better brand experiences (and vice versa) but the two are distinct concepts.

It’s also important to understand that brand experience is subjective. While it’s possible to create experiences that produce reactions along a generalized spectrum, individual users will have different reactions to your efforts. In practice, this means that no matter how carefully you curate brand experience efforts, there will always be customers who come away with a negative reaction. As a result, the goal isn’t to create a universal experience but rather to create one that resonates positively with the largest number of target customers.

Breaking Down Brand Experience Design

Just 39% of business decision-makers say their brand effectively resonates with prospective buyers. This is a problem: If customers don’t connect your brand with positive thoughts, feelings, and reactions, they’re less likely to remember your products and services when it comes time to make a purchase.

Worth noting? Neutrality isn’t enough. While negative impressions of your brand can drive customers away from your site, neutral impressions are just as problematic — even if consumers see your brand listed in search engine results or advertised online, the absence of a positive brand impression means they won’t seek you out over companies that offer better connective messaging.

So what does effective brand experience design look like? Four components are critical:

Brand Experience vs. Customer Experience

Perception

Perception forms a key part of the experience. This includes audio, visual, and tactical interactions that allow customers to connect a specific sense to advertising campaigns. In much the same way that particular smells can bring back memories of childhood experiences, brands that successfully merge senses with marketing can create connections that drive sales.

Participation

It’s also more likely that customers will walk away with a positive brand experience if they’re able to participate in some way rather than simply watch. This might include the ability to submit suggestions online or interact in real-time online question forums, or it could feature the use of physical installations that allow consumers to touch your product or provide direct feedback.

Personalization

Generic marketing campaigns can produce steady returns, but personalization can help encourage connection across different customer segments. By leveraging both user-provided data (with their consent) along with social media interactions and other engagement data, it’s possible to create more personalized efforts that help create connections between consumer needs and current product offerings.

Prioritization

Brand experience can’t be all things to all people. Attempts to capture every consumer in every circumstance actually undermine experience-driven efforts — as a result, it’s worth selecting specific brand metrics such as positive social mentions or repeat purchases to prioritize.

Creating a Brand Experience Strategy

So how do you build an effective brand experience strategy?

First up is identifying areas where your current experience isn’t meeting customer expectations. Social media interactions and customer service calls can help pinpoint potential problems — if consistent concerns around brand interaction or reaction arise, this can help frame the foundation of brand experience strategy.

Next is targeting an area for improvement. While there may be more than one aspect of brand experience that could use a refresh or redesign, attempting to do everything at once can spread strategy efforts too thin and deliver less-than-ideal results. For example, you might choose to increase positive social mentions across specific channels such as Facebook or Instagram. While the eventual goal could be a larger social impact from initial contact to eventual conversion, easily-accessible social platforms provide an ideal starting point.

Effective measurement follows to ensure efforts are bearing fruit. In the case of our social media example above, this means tracking user views, reactions, and responses to social media posts along with the sentiment — positive, negative, or neutral — that goes along with them. This is also the time to explore and innovate by testing multiple strategies to see which one sticks. From video campaigns to personalized storytelling to marketing efforts all designed to elicit specific emotions, it’s worth finding that resonates with your customer base and then fine-tuning your efforts to deliver ideal outcomes.

It’s one thing to talk about brand experience building, but it’s another to see it in action. Here’s a look at five brand experiences efforts that offer effective in-practice examples.

1. Red Bull

In 2012, the company went all-in on its tagline “Red Bull gives you wings by sending skydiver Alex Baumgartner 24 miles above the Earth’s surface to pull off the highest skydive ever recorded and become the first person to break the sound barrier during freefall.

While his record was broken two years later by an executive from Google, it doesn’t change the fact that Red Bull did something no one had ever done before and created a unique brand experience that aligned with its core marketing message.

2. Lean Cuisine

While healthy eating has taken off in recent years, messaging around this effort is often the opposite. With a focus on weight loss instead of overall health, many brands find themselves reinforcing harmful stereotypes that equate weight loss with personal worth.

Lean Cuisine’s #WeighThis campaign looked to change the narrative by placing “scales” around New York’s Grand Central Station that encouraged women to “weigh in”.

The catch? These scales were actually boards that let women write down how they would prefer to be measured — such as by their own persistence, accomplishments or efforts.

Even better? Lean Cuisine marketers were smart enough to stay out of the way. There were no samples on offer, no surveys to fill out; women simply saw the scales and interacted with them, in turn boosting Lean Cuisine’s overall brand experience.

3. Dove

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty took a similar approach to Lean Cuisine but opted for the use of viral video that highlighted beauty of all types — beauty that goes beyond photoshoots and photoshop. The campaign earned praise for both its authenticity and efforts to help boost self-esteem among young girls.

By choosing emotional experience over a simple sales effort, Dove was able to better connect with its target customer base and boost overall customer loyalty.

4. Cadbury India

Cadbury India opted for consumer suggestions in creating their new chocolate bar flavor. Customers were encouraged to visit the company’s dedicated chocolate bar platform that let them select ingredients and create a recipe. Cadbury then tried all suggested recipes and selected the best of those submitted.

By prioritizing interaction over simple reaction, Cadbury facilitated consumer connection and encouraged customers to view chocolate bar making as a collaborative effort rather than a corporate endeavor, in turn creating a community-based brand experience.

5. WestJet

Canadian commercial airline WestJet has been running its “Christmas Miracle” campaign since 2013. It’s 2021 version sees the company asking people what they miss the most during the holidays — not surprisingly, many mention absent family members. WestJet staff then provide plane tickets to help loved ones reconnect, and the end of the video features a tearful reunion in progress.

Overall, it’s a feel-good experience designed to bring out emotions already close to the surface for many customers and in turn, boost the overall brand experience.

Building a Better Brand Experience

The right brand experience makes all the difference when it comes to cultivating long-term customer relationships. By understanding where current efforts don’t deliver, prioritizing areas for improvement and tracking engagement metrics over time, it’s possible to build a brand experience that boosts customer connection and encourages long-term loyalty.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 



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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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