Archive for November, 2007

Brands and usability

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Earlier this year, in a post called Interaction design: the new key to brands, I laid out a method of brand building predicated on carefully structured customer interfaces and interactions, across a broad arc of customer experience. A new site, the Usability Body of Knowledge, promises to be a useful resource to brand builders creating value through customer interfaces and interactions.

The four key brand interfaces:

As I noted in my earlier post, the key interfaces for brands are:

  1. Between company and customer
  2. Between product and customer
  3. Between customer and customer
  4. Between the customer today, and what he or she wishes to become tomorrow.

And as I then added:

Interaction designers will be asked to help companies craft effective digital platforms to build their brands across the four brand interfaces noted above. This is no small challenge. These digital platforms will be expected to drive the interactions that grow the customer, grow the brand, and grow the business.

The task is complex, too. Not only are different types of interfaces involved at the digital level, there are also different customer contexts at each interface, multiple technologies at play, and many forms of brand interaction. Brand vision, roadmaps and deliverables are central to the mix.

How does “usability” apply to brands?

We don’t usually think of “usability” as an element of brands, but think it has an important brand context. I see brands as platforms and programs that make culture (or “life”) more usable for customers. Brands that cling to the box or consist of shallow symbols and slogans rate low on the usability scale. Brands that raise customers to new levels rate much higher. In other words, brand usability takes root when brands are trans-product forces that open doors and empower customers to try new things and to plumb new shapes of self. Great brands flourish as usability tools.

Conventional brands often fail miserably at this task, which is why a fresh approach to brands holds such market-changing potential.

Hat tip to the invaluable Sensorytumble.

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Retail success and the internal brand

Thursday, November 8th, 2007


A current Fast Company article examines how different approaches to employee training can lead to very different retail brand experiences at the customer level. Apple comes out a winner; Gap and Starbucks less so.

Companies treat their employees like they treat their customers

These results are not surprising. Most companies treat their employees the same way that they treat their customers. Companies with strong, proactive brands (that lead by example) will usually foster employees with like qualities. Employees that can’t pass muster will be culled. Such companies will also tend to create strong, proactive customers with whom they can partner to advance the brand. This is all part of the brand chain that extends from the classic value chain forward.

Cursory employee development leads to cursory brands

Conversely, retail firms that treat their employees as “costs” are usually the same brand-challenged companies that treat customers as passive “targets” to be sold to. Their approach to employee development is cursory, and not surprisingly, so is their brand. In many cases, their “brand” is part of the sales pitch, and effectively terminates at the register. Such firms stand to reap little or no brand benefit from their employees—who should be one of their primary brand-building engines.

Building the Internal Brand

In our New Brand Glossary, here’s how we define Internal Brand Building:

Successful brands are built from the inside out, as an organic expression of company leadership, culture and capabilities. Employees are conditioned to “live the brand” when company leaders exemplify brand values through their actions. Internally and externally, brands are built by example.

Brands are culture first, then commerce.

Creating a brand means creating a culture

The key point to remember is that when you’re creating a brand you’re also creating a culture. This is a texture of personal interactions far richer than “messaging,” symbols and attempts to drill brand doctrine into anyone within earshot. In many respects, a company’s culture is its core brand platform. From strong cultures come strong brands.

Photo: openeye — Flickr
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Can the Crocs brand survive a stock plunge?

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Yesterday the Crocs stock price plunged more than 30% on indicators of slowing growth. This precipitous drop has raised questions about the future of the Crocs brand beyond its fun shoe origins.

We wrote about the Crocs brand and its long-term prospects a month ago, noting then that short-sellers controlled 20% of the stock and were primed to profit at any sudden downturn.

From vibrant to visceral

As we noted in our analysis, the challenge for the Crocs brand is to advance from a vibrant fun shoe to a more visceral brand proposition, one involving the whole customer in more than “footwear” mode. This type of brand solution is still entirely viable. An unsettled stock price may make it even more imperative.

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