A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away) when people needed to buy something, they went to a store, got it, and moved on with their lives. Ah. Those were simple times.
Today, in a world where everyone’s used to instant gratification and being catered to, you have to provide an experience. Something that will turn customers into promoters of your brand, and keep them coming back for more.
But what, exactly, does that even mean? What is a brand experience? How do you provide it? And which companies keep hitting it out of the ballpark over and over again?
Sit back and read on. Go grab a cup of coffee first, ‘cause this is a long one.
Brand experience refers to how a person feels when interacting with a business. It includes the ease of completing the transaction, the emotions it evokes, whether their expectations are exceeded, and even how they relate to your messaging.
Think about when you go to any Disney property, or an Apple store, or how Nike commercials make you feel. These companies go beyond simply promoting a transaction. They are intentional with their campaigns. They know how to make their target audience immerse themselves in the little universe they’ve created.
One of Maya Angelou’s most famous quotes is that people will forget what you said and what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.
This doesn’t just sound pretty. It’s a universally accepted principle because it’s true. So let’s go down the list of reasons why making people feel good is good practice in business.
It Creates a Memorable First Impression.
No matter what you sell, you likely have competition. Even in niche markets, people usually have options. So it’s up to businesses to come up with ways to stand out.
And creating a memorable first impression has a direct influence on a person’s decision to make a purchase. It communicates that you’re good at what you do, that you’re reliable, and that you go out of your way to make customers feel comfortable.
It Connects with Customers.
Part of creating a good brand experience is to look for ways to be relatable; to find what you have in common with your customers. If you have the same values, you’ll both want to do business with each other.
It Builds Customer Loyalty.
When you make customers feel good, give them what they want, and exceed their expectations, they will keep coming back to you. Not only that, they will tell their friends, families, colleagues, and shout it from their social media rooftops.
It Creates Raving Fans.
Speaking of telling everyone, keep in mind that word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing. It’s free for you, it’s more trustworthy than anything else you could include in an ad, and it’s easy to keep it going — especially with the ubiquitous share button.
It Establishes Brand Awareness.
Brands that are good at what they do are known for that — and for so much more beyond just their products or services. They engage their target audience.
When you go on Netflix, you don’t just click play on the most recent blockbuster. You browse through films, TV shows, and documentaries. You can create queues to watch later.
And you only have to do so the first few times, since the platform makes recommendations based on what you like. It’s so easy, so convenient, and it caters so much to your tastes, practically everyone’s a convert. Do you know of anyone who hasn’t heard of it?
It Attracts New Customers.
Brands that are good with the experiences they offer are also innovative. They constantly seek new ways to delight their customers — which retains existing ones and attracts new ones.
Coupled with loyal customers who are already waxing poetic about these companies, a good brand experience is like a magnet.
It Makes You Stand Out From Your Competitors.
Let’s say you sell running shoes. So what? So do thousands of other retailers. But let’s say that when a person walks through your doors (or visits your website), you remember their favorite brand of shoes, their size, and the type of terrain they run on — trails, road races, or track.
You make suggestions based on their gait. You give them a discount on their birthday. Do you think they’re going to come back to you, or to Joe Blow down the street who treats everyone like fungible goods?
There are several ways to create an extraordinary brand experience. You don’t have to do all of them, but it would behoove you to look for the ones that resonate the most with your brand identity and ideate additional ways of elevating the customer experience.
1. Make Your Business Customer-Centric.
Always make everything about the customer. What are the ways they prefer to communicate with you? Email? Live chat? Social media? Phone call? Do extensive market research to find out what your buyer persona wants and deliver exactly that.
Also make everything as easy as possible for them: Ship items with return labels, or provide QR codes for doing so. Have a user friendly website. Optimize for mobile. Make content scannable. Give them what they want. They’re the reason you’re in business.
2. Engage as Many Senses as Possible.
You know how music takes you back in time? Or how certain smells make you hungry? Or how images can make you nostalgic?
Now think of how many times these feelings have resulted in you making a purchase. Maybe you downloaded an album you used to listen to in college all the time; or you bought a pie; or you started watching Stranger Things. Engaging the senses is a surefire way to make your business memorable.
3. Provide Stellar Customer Support.
Customer service is everything. You could sell the Holy Grail, but if your team has an attitude, your website is confusing, or it’s hard to get a hold of a representative to ask questions, people are going to turn around and look for a competitor who makes things easier for them.
4. Personalize Service.
When you personalize service, you’re letting people know you’re paying attention — to what they want, what they need, and what they like.
Whether it’s goods/services suggestions, sending them a birthday card with a discount code, and/or providing them with smart content every time they visit your website, you’re saying: I see you. I know what you need; and I’m going to try my best to deliver exactly that to you.
5. Integrate Pop Culture.
Here’s something that’s really cool: When you integrate pop culture into your brand experience, by default, half your editorial calendar is filled up: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Yom Kippur, the Chinese New Year…
Craft content around them. Launch themed campaigns. You also remain relevant if you incorporate current conversations into your branding.
Think about Dove’s True Beauty, Always’ #LikeAGirl, and Nike’s social justice campaigns. Granted, please only craft content like that if they truly align with your values and who you are as a brand. After all, you do want to ensure your authenticity.
6. Make Things as Easy as Possible for Customers.
Your website should be intuitive. Your marketing emails should have a clear unsubscribe button. Your recurring services should come with upcoming payment reminders before you withdraw any monies. Your contact us options should include more than just a telephone number that’s available during regular business hours in your time zone.
You get the drift. If there’s a way to make things easier, do it.
7. Prioritize Providing Experiences Over Sales.
Sometimes, people aren’t ready to buy yet. That doesn’t mean you should put them on the back burner until they are. This is where lead nurturing and catering to where they are in their buyer’s journey comes in.
Focus on providing value. Give them all the free content and assistance they need without expecting anything in return. This builds trust and shows consumers that you see them as more than just a dollar sign.
8. Engage With Customers.
Speaking of lead nurturing, engage with customers every time you get a chance. Use social media management tools so that you can be alerted to questions, comments, and mentions.
Answer everything. Thank them for sharing content. Ask existing and past customers for feedback — then implement it. Remember that whole engage as many senses as possible part? This makes people feel appreciated.
9. Be Consistent.
Be consistent with everything: your brand voice, the frequency with which you post content, the good customer service you provide, and your messaging.
If you’re an eco-friendly company who sells sustainable products, don’t turn around and donate money to a political campaign that’s in cahoots with the oil industry. Consistency creates trust.
10. Provide Interactive Media.
Interactive content is not only fun, it also gives you insights into what they like, want, and/or prefer. It provides you information that you can later use to personalize their experience.
You can also use this data as part of your market research to further develop your buyer persona. Any way you look at it, it provides value both for you and the user.
11. Offer Omni-Channel Communications.
Omni-channel strategies involve delivering content, communications, and services through a wide range of platforms.
For example, allowing customers to place an order online, then receiving status updates via email and/or text, or receiving notifications of recommendations or new messages via an app. The key is to provide a seamless experience across all mediums.
12. Create Instructional/What To Expect Videos.
Creating instructional or what to expect videos is part of making things as easy as possible to customers. It’s efficient, much faster than contacting your company, frees up time for your team, and lets customers learn the information at a time when it’s convenient for them.
13. Give Away Swag.
Everyone loves free stuff. So use it as an incentive to (a) make people happy, (b) expose them to samples and new products, and (c) promote your business with that cool canvas tote with your name across the front.
But make it useful. Nobody needs yet another koozie (by all means, give them koozies if you’d like, but try to get more creative than that).
You’re already familiar with all of the brands below. Yet it’s still always impressive to read stories about how they’ve crafted their identities around making their customers feel valued.
Disney does everything right. They remind you of your childhood. They make Main Street Magic Kingdom smell like popcorn and candy. They offer options (from hotel rooms, to restaurants, to merchandise) for a wide range of budgets.
And don’t go thinking it’s all just for the kids. You can go drinking around the world at Epcot, run 26.2 miles during Marathon Weekend, and have your proposal pictures magically appear in your My Disney Experience app by simply letting the photographer tap your magic band.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter isn’t just another theme park. You’ll live the Hogwarts experience.
You’ll wear those robes, ride that train, and eat Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Bean vomit flavored candy — which you will then promptly spit out as you and your loved ones laugh for the rest of the afternoon ‘cause that’s the surprise flavor you got. You can even use a magic wand to make things happen at the parks — like making trolls dance at store windows, lighting up street lights, or making it rain.
Do you enjoy spending $12 for a cup of coffee and a pastry? While it may not be the most practical or cost effective way to get some caffeine and something sweet, a lot of people still enjoy doing it. Why?
All of it! The warm environment when you walk in (whether it’s jazz, New Age, or Christmas music). It’s the holiday cups. It’s the barista who remembers your order, or the one who always actually remembers how to spell your name correctly.
It’s the fact that you can order from the app and pick up your order without waiting in line; or that you can pay through the app, even if you forgot your wallet. As you can see, this is not simply about coffee.
There are so many technologies to help you run your business. Some offer you customer relationship management (CRM). Others a content management system (CMS). Some let you create a website without requiring that you know how to code.
Others make it easy to have an online shop, or automate tasks, or keep track of your customer service tickets, or provide a client portal, or manage social media accounts, or track analytics, synchronize your tech stack… I could go on all day.
But HubSpot does all of it, and they provide extraordinary customer service to boot. And they also provide free education through HubSpot Academy. It’s all enough to make you giddy with excitement.
Zappos sells stuff. So do millions of online retailers. But Zappos goes above and beyond everyone else.
(Real life example: I told a customer service rep that I was disappointed my favorite running shoe brand “improved” their model, because what I got wasn’t what I expected, and now I would have to run a half marathon wearing my old shoes. I know. #FirstWorldProblems. Doesn’t matter. The lady overnighted me the shoes I exchanged them for — at no extra cost — so that I could wear them on race day.)
They will also refund you money if an item you bought goes on sale within the following 30 days. They send cute holidays messages in email confirmations. And if you do an online search, you’ll find a long list of heartwarming stories telling of how their customer service reps have gone above and beyond for customers.
Create an Awesome Brand Experience to Stand Out
As you can see, creating a good brand experience requires thinking about more than sales. It’s about courting your target audience. Providing value. Making them feel like you do care about them enjoying every single interaction with your business.
And once you get it done right, watch them fall in love with your brand. At that point, competitors will fall off their radar — and as long as you continue keeping the experience fresh, you’ll all live happily ever after.