Last year, shoppers dropped an impressive $5.7 trillion U.S. dollars worldwide, and U.S. eCommerce sales topped $1 trillion for the first time in history.
So, if you’re a small business owner, entrepreneur, or marketer, you’re probably asking: With such a crowded online space, how can my brand make an impact?
The answer: brand experience.
What is brand experience?
Brand experience is the feeling people get every time they engage with your business. It's the sum of all their interactions, from seeing an ad online to exploring your products and even that quick chat with customer support. It's the whole journey with your brand.
With a compelling brand experience, you lay the groundwork to mesmerize your audience and set yourself apart from the crowd.
Over the past fifteen years, we’ve collaborated with thousands of entrepreneurs, marketers, and agencies to elevate their brand experiences. The wisdom in this guide is drawn from that work and mentorship and thought-provoking conversations at major conferences, webinars, and deep explorations on our blog.
This guide shares actionable steps, insights, best practices, and advice to craft a brand experience that genuinely resonates with your target customers.
Brand Experience: The Ultimate Guide
Understanding brand experience
At its core, brand experience is the emotion and memories people associate with your brand.
Think of it like this: Remember the rush of exhilaration from riding your first roller coaster? The anticipation as the cart climbed, the thrill of the descent, and the triumphant feeling afterward? With all its ups and downs, that entire roller coaster ride is akin to someone’s experience with your brand.
Sure, you’ve probably heard about “user experience,” which revolves around how people feel when they use your website or app.
But brand experience? It’s so much more. Your logo, marketing campaigns, customer service, and every interaction combined.
And remember, every ride is unique to each person. While you might design the ultimate roller coaster experience, everyone will feel it differently.
Your goal? Making sure most of those rides are ones they’ll never forget.
Why great brand experience is essential
While many factors influence a brand’s success, brand experience stands head and shoulders above others. It’s peoples’ holistic feeling and perception from their first contact with a brand to every subsequent interaction.
But why is brand experience so pivotal? Here are fifteen compelling ways brand experience impacts online and offline businesses:
- Establishes brand identity. Brand experience helps differentiate a brand from its competitors by creating a unique identity. With personalized movie/show suggestions and its iconic “ta-dum” sound at startup, Netflix offers a distinct streaming experience. The minimalist store design and the Genius Bar highlight Apple’s innovative and customer-centric brand identity.
- Enhances customer loyalty. Positive brand experiences foster trust and create loyal customers. Known for exceptional customer service, Zappos creates loyalty by efficiently facilitating returns and exchanges. With consistently polite staff and efficient service, customers keep coming back to Chick-fil-A.
- Encourages word-of-mouth marketing. Memorable brand experiences often lead to customers recommending the brand to others. Unique stays and local experiences lead many travelers to recommend Airbnb to friends. Lush’s handcrafted, fragrant bath products and ethical standpoints influence many customers to praise it to others.
- Increases brand recall. Intense brand experiences ensure that customers remember the brand. Zoom’s straightforward interface and reliability during the pandemic have made it a go-to video conferencing tool. The Golden Arches and distinct taste of its fries make McDonald’s easily recognizable worldwide.
- Allows premium pricing. Superior brand experiences justify higher pricing due to perceived value. Offering classes from world-class experts, MasterClass commands a premium compared to other online courses. Beyond just cars, Tesla sells an experience of luxury and innovation, justifying its premium price tag.
- Enhances customer engagement. Engaging in brand experiences leads to deeper interactions with the brand. Duolingo’s gamified approach to language learning keeps users engaged daily. LEGO’s In-store building areas and interactive displays captivate children and adults.
- Reduces marketing costs. Satisfied customers from great brand experiences often become brand ambassadors, reducing the need for extensive marketing. Dropbox initially grew massively via referral programs where users recommended the service to others. Trader Joe’s primarily relies on word-of-mouth due to its unique product offerings and customer service.
- Allows for easier product introductions. Established brand experiences make it easier to introduce new products. Amazon introduced Amazon Prime and other services seamlessly to its massive user base. With a strong brand experience, Nike’s new product lines are eagerly anticipated and rapidly adopted.
- Mitigates negative feedback. Brands with solid experiences can more easily navigate negative feedback. Despite occasional hiccups, Buffer’s transparency and constant communication soften customer criticisms. Even if individual products sometimes disappoint, the overall positive shopping experience and return policy help Costco maintain customer trust.
- Drives brand consistency. A defined brand experience ensures consistency across all touchpoints. Slack delivers a consistently playful and efficient experience from its app to customer support. Whether in Tokyo or New York, customers know what to expect from the ambiance, service, and products at Starbucks.
- Facilitates emotional connections. Incredible brand experiences resonate emotionally with consumers. Spotify’s personalized playlists like “Discover Weekly” make users feel understood and connected. Harley-Davidson owners share a bond, not just with the brand, but with each other, forming a community.
- Supports higher perceived value. Brands with impressive experiences are perceived as more valuable. Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of tools, constantly updated, is seen as indispensable by many creatives. Beyond timekeeping, owning a Rolex has a prestige factor due to the brand’s experience.
- Enhances differentiation in the market. In crowded markets, brand experience helps brands stand out. Robinhood’s user-friendly interface offers a distinct experience for stock trading beginners: the try-before-you-buy experience and a vast product range set Sephora apart from other beauty retailers.
- Strengthens brand community. Shared brand experiences foster a sense of community among users. Reddit’s subreddits offer communities for virtually every interest or topic imaginable. CrossFit members bond over shared workout experiences, creating a global community.
- Builds brand trust over time. Consistent positive brand experiences build consumer trust. Everlane cultivated trust with customers by being transparent about pricing and sourcing. Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability and quality products has earned long-term trust from customers.
Brand experience design
If your audience doesn’t link your brand with positive sentiments and memories, they will unlikely recall your offerings when it’s time to shop.
And don’t rest on neutrality. While negative brand impressions can actively repel customers, ambivalence is equally bad. If consumers notice your brand in search results or ads but have no affirmative emotions attached, they will likely favor brands that speak more personally to them.
Here are five vital components of a stellar brand experience design:
Perception lays the foundation. This involves the visual but also audio and tactile elements that forge connections between senses and campaigns.
Have you ever heard a song that instantly transported you to a specific time and place? Similarly, brands that weave senses into their marketing can form lasting impressions that amplify sales.
People identify Spotify through its distinct green logo, custom playlists, and personalized music recommendations. The audio cues in its app, as well as the visual design, make it an easily recognizable and user-friendly platform.
Coca-Cola’s iconic bottle shape and distinct taste provide tactile and taste sensations. The sound of opening a Coca-Cola bottle or can, combined with its specific red color, immediately reminds people of the brand, reinforcing the overall brand perception.
Interactive brands tend to stick. Beyond merely observing, allowing customers to engage amplifies the chances of a favorable brand experience.
Whether contributing ideas online, joining live Q&A sessions, or having hands-on experiences like sampling your product – participation breeds connection.
Duolingo, a language learning app, actively encourages users to participate by setting daily goals, streaks, and interactive lessons. Users can also join clubs and compete, adding a social dimension to learning.
IKEA offers a unique shopping experience with its maze-like store setup. Customers can touch, test, and visualize products in real-life settings. Additionally, children can participate in play areas while adults build the purchased furniture, deepening the brand interaction.
While generic campaigns have their merits, tailored approaches can spark deeper connections. By harnessing user data (ethically and transparently) and analyzing social interactions, brands can devise personalized strategies aligning with the consumer’s desires and the brand’s offerings.
Amazon offers product recommendations based on browsing and purchase history. They also provide personalized deals and wish lists, tailoring the shopping experience to individual user preferences.
Starbucks baristas will write your name on your drink, and regular customers might be greeted personally over time. Moreover, they allow drink customization to give consumers their unique favorite concoction.
Here’s the golden rule: You can’t be everything to everyone. Overreaching to please every potential customer can dilute the brand experience. Pinpoint key brand metrics, such as positive mentions or customer retention, and build around those.
X (formerly known as Twitter) highlights “Trending” topics and hashtags specific to a user’s location or interests. Doing this, they prioritize showing users relevant and timely content, enhancing user engagement.
Instead of trying to stock every possible product, Trader Joe’s prioritizes a curated selection of unique and high-quality items, often spotlighting seasonal or specialty items, ensuring customers always find something special.
This often gets overlooked, but it’s imperative.
Modern consumers, especially millennials and Gen Z, often align with brands that stand for something bigger than their products. Whether sustainability, social responsibility, or inclusivity, a brand’s purpose can significantly shape its overall experience.
For every product purchased online, TOMS promises to help someone in need. This “One for One” purpose has attracted consumers who value philanthropy and wish to make a positive impact with their purchases.
Patagonia, an outdoor apparel store, is dedicated to environmental causes. They’ve run campaigns to donate 100% of Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental organizations, drawing in consumers who share these values and want to support such causes with their buying choices.
Creating a brand experience strategy
Crafting a compelling brand experience is like orchestrating a memorable concert — every element must be harmonious, from the visuals to the emotions. Here’s a detailed strategy to get you started:
1. Assess whether or not you’re meeting customer expectations
Begin by gathering comprehensive insights into how customers perceive their interactions with your brand. This will highlight both strengths and areas needing attention.
For example, a restaurant frequently receives feedback that the ambiance doesn’t match its brand identity. Guests mention mismatched table settings and inappropriate music, revealing an inconsistent brand experience. This is an opportunity to match the ambiance to the identity.
Or, an e-commerce website discovers that many customers abandon their carts. After examining reviews, they found complaints about the multi-step checkout process. This is an opportunity to simplify and improve the checkout process experience.
Apple is well-known for consistently evaluating its customer’s in-store experience, ensuring that the experience aligns perfectly with its brand’s promise of simplicity, innovation, and design aesthetics.
2. Identify areas for improvement
Prioritize the challenges that have the most significant impact on customer perception and interaction. This way, you can create targeted solutions that yield the best results.
For example, a department store realizes its customer service team lacks adequate training, leading to unsatisfactory interactions. Additional training could improve the customer experience.
An online subscription service finds its sign-up page has a high bounce rate due to its confusing layout. Redesigning the sign-up page leads to a better user experience.
Starbucks regularly revisits its store design, services, and offerings based on customer feedback and trends, ensuring it maintains its position as a premium coffeehouse experience.
3. Engage in continuous dialogue with customers
The brand experience is shaped by continuous feedback from your customers. Open channels for feedback and actively solicit it to understand your customers’ evolving needs.
For example, a boutique hotel can initiate monthly feedback sessions with guests to understand their stay experience and gather suggestions for improvement. A digital design tool can offer feedback pop-ups after user sessions, asking users to rate new features and provide comments.
Coca-Cola introduced New Coke in 1985, but after negative feedback, they quickly returned to the original formula as “Coca-Cola Classic.” This demonstrated their commitment to listening and responding to their customer base.
4. Cultivate brand ambassadors
Encourage and nurture customers who are passionate about your brand. They can be invaluable in spreading positive word-of-mouth and offer genuine insights into improving the brand experience.
A local bakery can reward loyal customers with a “Baker’s Club” membership, offering exclusive perks and inviting them to tasting events. A streaming service can launch a referral program where users can invite friends and earn benefits for every successful referral.
Lululemon’s ambassador program engages local fitness coaches and yoga instructors, leveraging their community influence to promote their products.
5. Measure your results
Deploy analytical tools and methods to quantify the effectiveness of your changes. This gives you a clear indication of what’s working and what needs further refinement.
After revamping its classes based on feedback, a fitness center can survey members to determine the popularity and effectiveness of the new offerings. After introducing a live chat feature to assist shoppers, an online fashion retailer can analyze chat logs to measure customer satisfaction and the feature’s impact on sales.
Amazon constantly measures user behavior on its platform. It’s how they’ve perfected their recommendation system, ensuring customers find products tailored to their tastes and needs.
6. Refine and innovate
Market trends, technologies, and consumer behaviors evolve. Ensure your brand experience strategy is future-focused by investing in research, development, and trend analysis.
Experiment with fresh approaches, embrace innovations and stay agile in the changing dynamics of the market.
A bookshop can introduce cozy reading nooks and host monthly author sessions, enhancing the shopping experience. A car dealership can introduce virtual reality (VR) test drives, allowing customers to experience a car’s interiors and features before it’s available in the showroom. A travel booking site can offer virtual tours of destinations, giving travelers a sneak peek into their potential vacation spots. An e-learning platform can integrate AI-driven personalized learning paths, predicting and presenting the most relevant courses to users.
Nike’s innovation isn’t just limited to its products. Their Nike Town stores, with interactive areas and thematic zones, have set a benchmark in experiential retailing, offering customers more than just a shopping trip.
Disney’s MagicBand system at their theme parks blends technology and experience. Guests use the wristband for everything from park entry to purchasing food, streamlining their visit and enhancing their overall experience.
Consistently refining your brand experience strategy will improve customer satisfaction and elevate your brand’s position in the market. Remember, the ultimate goal is to make every customer interaction with your brand memorable, authentic, and positively impactful.
Success stories from top brands
We’ve curated a list of stellar brand experiences to guide you, highlighting key insights and their relevance to smaller online and offline businesses.
Apple’s brand experience is a harmonious interplay of innovation, style, and functionality, visible from its design to highly anticipated product launches.
- Consistency across all touchpoints enhances brand recall.
- Event-based marketing can create anticipation and community.
- Differentiation in naming reinforces brand identity.
Like Apple’s strategy, a local electronics shop can offer consistent packaging, in-store presentations, and memorable product names. A tech startup’s website and user interface can reflect the same design aesthetics, with each product launch turned into an event, similar to Apple’s product releases.
Dove has reshaped the narrative around beauty, emphasizing authenticity and diverse representations, which has resonated with audiences.
- Authenticity creates trust and brand loyalty.
- Emotional storytelling fosters deeper connections.
- Societal impact can set a brand apart.
A local beauty salon can promote natural beauty and offer sessions on self-love and body positivity, mirroring Dove’s ethos. An online skincare brand can share user testimonials and stories on their journey to self-acceptance, reminiscent of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.
- Aligning marketing with the brand’s core message strengthens identity.
- Daring endeavors can capture global attention.
- Spectacle marketing generates massive engagement.
A local energy drink shop can sponsor a community athletic event, echoing Red Bull’s adventurous spirit. A fitness app can host a virtual extreme sports challenge, similar to Red Bull’s thrilling ventures.
Warby Parker transformed the eyewear industry with its direct-to-consumer model, offering stylish frames at a fraction of the price. Their try-at-home program redefined online eyewear shopping.
- Simplifying the buying process enhances user experience.
- A direct-to-consumer model can disrupt traditional markets.
- Offering trials or samples can reduce purchase hesitations.
An independent eyewear store can offer a unique in-store experience with personal fittings and style consultations, while an online startup might consider virtual try-ons using AR technology.
Birthed from a beauty blog, Glossier champions the mantra “skin first, makeup second,” focusing on user-generated content and feedback to create its products.
- Community-driven product creation fosters loyalty.
- Leveraging user-generated content amplifies authenticity.
- Digital roots can lead to tangible offline experiences, like pop-up stores.
A local beauty salon can leverage feedback to introduce products or treatments, while a budding online skincare brand might curate community forums or webinars.
Bonobos turned the men’s fashion scene upside down with their innovative e-commerce strategy and offline “guideshops” where customers can try on clothes without purchasing on the spot.
- Blending online and offline experiences caters to varied customer preferences.
- Inventory-free offline stores can save costs and offer personalized experiences.
- Customer-centric return policies can encourage online sales.
A men’s boutique can introduce an appointment-only personalized shopping experience, while an online store might use virtual fittings or showcase real-user video reviews.
HelloFresh revolutionized meal planning with its subscription-based model, delivering pre-measured ingredients and recipes and making cooking hassle-free.
- Subscription models create consistent customer touchpoints.
- Simplifying everyday tasks can fulfill significant consumer needs.
- Transparency, like detailing ingredient sourcing, builds trust.
A local grocer might offer weekly recipe baskets with fresh produce, while an online startup could focus on niche dietary needs, providing curated meal plans and delivery.
Cadbury India fostered a sense of community by involving consumers directly in the product creation process, turning the art of chocolate-making into a collaborative endeavor.
- Co-creation can foster a sense of ownership among consumers.
- Engagement-driven campaigns boost community feeling.
- Product innovation through consumer insights can be game-changing.
A local bakery can invite customers to suggest new pastries, mirroring Cadbury’s community-focused initiative. Like Cadbury’s flavor creation campaign, an e-commerce snack platform can let users vote on the next flavor to be stocked.
Nike’s commitment to personalization, both online and in physical stores, has enabled it to offer a brand experience beyond just buying a product.
- Personalization enhances product value.
- Offering control to consumers builds trust.
- In-store experiences can augment brand loyalty.
A local shoe store can introduce customization stations akin to Nike’s personalization strategy. An online apparel brand can introduce a design-your-own-t-shirt feature reminiscent of Nike By You.
Lean Cuisine challenged traditional health narratives by promoting holistic wellness and encouraging women to define their worth beyond physical attributes.
- Redefining narratives can position a brand as progressive.
- Interactive public installations can spur organic engagement.
- Subverting industry norms can create a strong brand identity.
Like Lean Cuisine’s campaign, a local health food café can introduce boards where customers share their health journeys. A digital health platform can highlight user stories on mental wellness, paralleling Lean Cuisine’s emphasis on holistic health.
Zillow empathetically tapped into the challenges and transitions many faced during the pandemic, offering a brand experience that was both relatable and comforting.
- Timely campaigns can resonate deeply with consumers.
- Emotional storytelling can augment brand empathy.
- Relatability ensures a brand remains in consumers’ conversations.
Like Zillow’s approach, a local real estate agency can share stories of families finding their dream homes during challenging times. A virtual home decor platform can showcase the transformations of spaces into personal havens reminiscent of Zillow’s campaigns.
WestJet’s heartwarming gestures during the festive season, like the “Christmas Miracle” campaign, exemplify the power of emotional connection in enhancing brand experience.
- Emotional connection enhances brand loyalty.
- Giving back to consumers creates a positive brand image.
- Seasonal campaigns can create perennial brand recall.
A local travel agency can surprise loyal customers with free holiday packages during Christmas, mirroring WestJet’s gesture; an online travel booking platform can offer surprise upgrades to long-time users during the festive season, reminiscent of WestJet’s Christmas Miracle campaign.
Drawing inspiration from these brand giants, smaller online and offline businesses can craft memorable brand experiences that resonate with their audience and foster loyalty. The key is authenticity, engagement, and consistency.
The future of brand experience: Emerging trends and technologies
As the brand experience evolves, keeping abreast of the latest trends and technologies that can reshape how customers perceive and interact with brands is crucial. Here are a few future-forward elements to consider:
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
AR and VR technologies offer immersive experiences that can provide a unique touchpoint for brands. They offer customers a chance to “step inside” a brand’s world, view products in their space, or even participate in brand stories.
Online furniture stores use AR to allow customers to visualize how a piece of furniture would look in their living space before purchasing. Car showrooms employing VR to offer potential buyers a virtual test drive experience.
Key insight for small businesses: Invest in simple AR applications or partner with platforms offering AR tools. For brick-and-mortar stores, consider VR experiences during special promotions or events.
Personal AI assistants
As AI becomes more sophisticated, personalized AI assistants can offer customers bespoke shopping or service experiences based on their preferences and history.
E-commerce platforms suggest products using AI-driven personal shoppers. In-store AI-driven kiosks provide product suggestions based on past purchases.
Key insight for small businesses: Leverage AI-driven plugins or tools on digital platforms or consider AI-powered CRM systems to personalize customer experiences.
Sustainability and ethical branding
Modern consumers are increasingly concerned about the planet and societal values. Brands that highlight sustainability and ethical practices in their operations and messaging stand to create deeper, more meaningful connections.
Fashion brands showcase eco-friendly collections and detail their supply chain transparency on their websites. Local cafes promote the use of locally sourced ingredients and sustainable packaging.
Key insight for small businesses: Emphasize any sustainable practices, local partnerships, or ethical sourcing in your brand’s story and marketing. Even small efforts, when genuine, can resonate powerfully.
Neuro-marketing and emotional engagement
Tapping into consumers’ subconscious desires and emotional drivers can enhance the brand experience. Using techniques from neuroscience, brands can design experiences that deeply resonate.
Websites can be designed with colors and layouts that evoke trust and calm based on neuroscientific research. Store layouts and sensory experiences (like scent or music) can be crafted based on emotional engagement principles.
Key insight for small businesses: Understand the basics of emotional drivers related to your industry and incorporate them into your customer touchpoints.
By staying ahead of these emerging trends and understanding their potential, brands can continue to innovate and offer experiences that meet and exceed customer expectations, ensuring lasting loyalty in a rapidly changing marketplace.
Holistic brand experience: Beyond the touchpoints
While technology and innovation play an essential role in brand experience, it’s imperative not to forget the human factor. A holistic approach ensures brands cater to the heart, not just the mind and wallet. Here are some strategies that often get overlooked by small businesses (and big brands):
Emotional intelligence in branding
Understanding and resonating with consumer emotions is paramount. This means genuinely empathizing with their needs, pain points, and aspirations.
Mental health apps can offer personalized, uplifting messages during challenging times. Airlines can train their staff to recognize and attend to passengers who might have flight anxiety.
Key insight for small businesses: Engage in active listening, whether it’s through social media feedback or face-to-face interactions. Understand your customers’ emotions and tailor your services accordingly.
More than just consumers, people seek communities where they feel a sense of belonging. Brands can facilitate these connections.
Brands can create dedicated forums or social media groups where enthusiasts can share, connect, and collaborate. Local bookstores can host monthly book club meetings or workshops.
Key insight for small businesses: Foster digital and physical spaces where your customers can connect over shared interests related to your brand.
Consistent brand education and training
As brands grow and evolve, it’s crucial that all staff, from the C-suite to customer service reps, understand the brand’s essence and values.
Software companies can offer consistent training webinars and materials to all employees, regardless of their role. Coffee shops can conduct regular tastings and educational sessions to ensure every barista understands the nuances of the brews they serve.
Key insight for small businesses: Regularly refresh your team’s knowledge about your brand’s core values, products, and ethos. This ensures consistent customer experiences at every touchpoint.
Transparency and authenticity
Authenticity is a currency in the digital age. Consumers can spot pretense, and they value brands that are transparent about their practices, successes, and even their failures.
Brands can share behind-the-scenes content and production processes or address public concerns directly on their platforms. Restaurants can detail their ingredients’ source and journey from farm to table.
Key insight for small businesses: Embrace transparency in your operations and communication. Authenticity can often lead to trust, which is invaluable.
While technology and strategies are pivotal, the heart of brand experience lies in genuine connections, shared values, and human stories. Recognizing and addressing these facets can be the differentiating factor in a brand’s long-term success.
Crafting an impeccable brand experience is pivotal for nurturing enduring customer ties. Recognizing gaps, honing improvement areas, and diligently monitoring engagement metrics can elevate brand affinity and cement lasting loyalty.
Design Done Better
The easiest way to get affordable, high-quality custom logos, print design, web design and naming for your business.Learn How to Grow Your Business With Beautiful Design