Archive for the 'Brand Experience' Category

Coming soon: Hotspot Airlines

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Brands change the context of things, and airlines are finding a new context for flying: offering a winged hotspot at 35,000 feet. The LA Times reports that airlines may earn $1.5 billion from onboard Wi-Fi by 2015.

About 45% of the nation’s commercial air fleet is equipped with in-flight wireless Internet, with several airlines, including Virgin America and AirTran, offering the service fleetwide, according to In-Stat.

The nation’s airlines collected about $155 million in 2011 from charges to use onboard Internet and are expected to collect $225 million this year, said Amy Cravens, a senior analyst for In-Stat.

Coming soon: Hotspot Airlines

Brands that help us be more productive and proactive have signal advantages over brands fashioned as stylized sales stimulants. In planning a trip we’ll be searching Kayak and the rest for Wi-Fi flights. We’re looking for Hotspot Airlines, no matter what the name and livery say on the side of the plane. And not just any Wi-Fi mind you, but high-speed Wi-Fi at reasonable cost with the least amount of airline baggage dumped into the connection.

Fly a lot of miles and earn a free Wi-Fi upgrade. That would be nice.

A new kind of airline brand experience

The prevalence of onboard Wi-Fi changes the nature of the airline brand experience. With affordable Wi-Fi a flight becomes an online experience more than an “airline” experience. We arrive at our destination totally refreshed, having engaged ourselves for hours on end aloft, rather oblivious to the sardine can that got us from point A to point B.




Brands are vertically integrated value

Friday, November 18th, 2011

It’s always been apparent to me that brands are best understood—and best developed–as vertically integrated value. At their heart brands are methods to create value, and by making that value “vertically integrated” from company to customer we greatly enhance the potential contribution that the brand can make.

Definition of “vertically integrated value”

A brand developed as vertically integrated value is one where company, products, services and brand all operate in a singular, clear and coherent context to make the customer better off. It’s the brand that integrates the “company context” with the “customer context.” And it’s the value delivered that gives the brand real traction.

Creating vertically integrated value

How does a company go about creating vertically integrated value through its brand? We can identity four basic steps.

First, it helps to understand that “the brand goes in before the brand goes on.” We produce brand value from the vision, talents and dedication of company employees. We don’t tack on a “brand”  just before the product is ready to ship. The brand is a method to create value from the very core of the business. (In the big picture, the brand is company potential X customer potential.)

Second, and most critically, we structure the brand as a customer-facing application. This helps cultivate and focus the company’s creative energies into deliverables with the desired strategic impact. (We want to create customers beyond the reach of competitors—in ways where our customers can become our most powerful competitive weapon. Furthermore, we want to create customers who can add value back to the brand. These are customers as strategic allies and partners, not mere marketing “targets.”)

Third, we employ a value-based brand model. See here and here.

Fourth, we integrate the brand mission with the company’s principles of operation.

Vertically integrated value at Amazon

Amazon provides us with a current example of the brand as vertically integrated value. In this  interview of Jeff Bezos by Steven Levy we can observe how Amazon is structuring its products and services to work closely together within a singular customer context, in a tightly focused brand operation. The charts in the article are especially revealing.

Amazon’s vertically integrated brand experience

Amazon’s brand challenge is to deliver its vertically integrated value as a seamless and satisfying brand experience while constantly reinventing itself. Amazon has grown from “online bookseller” to become an online seller of everything, a hardware manufacturer of digital readers and tablets, a publisher, a digital streaming service for music and movies, a movie studio, and a digital cloud storage and infrastructure service for startups and corporations. That’s a vast territory for a brand to cover. It could have been disjointed, inefficient and clunky, but Amazon seems to have made it click.

See also:


Brand strategy: Develop your brand as a joint venture with customers

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

In my view the best way to develop a brand is to create it as a joint venture between the company and its customers. In this strategy we shape the brand as a working relationship of equals in a shared context rather than a marketing relationship between separate “buyer” and “seller.” The result is a dramatic change in brand context, and greater opportunities for brands and customers alike.

Brand and customer on the same page, writing it together

In a joint venture the brand and the customer are on the same page, writing it together. Customers are not a passive “audience” for brand theater. The two are allies. They’re co-explorers. Sidekicks. They’re a team, solving mutual problems in a context of collaboration. The joint venture enables trust, feedback, idea flow, cooperation and co-creation. This stands to be a far more productive approach than the brand modeled as a “communication” between separate parties. In the latter case, brands are often reduced to a persuasion tool, a product wrapper, a pie-in-the-sky promise or campaigns to manipulate emotions.

The brand as a joint venture to create value

“OK,” you might say, “I can see where the brand might be structured as a joint venture, but what is it a joint venture of?  What’s the purpose?”

Good question. Simply stated, it’s a joint venture to create value, for both the customer and the company. As I’ve written previously, brands are a method to create value above and beyond the product proper, with the entire brand working as a customer-facing application, with all the focus, power and outcomes that applications can deliver. We shape the joint venture so that customers can add value back to the brand as they themselves advance to richer realms of living, and to new ways of being and doing. The customer is an active part of the application, too. The joint venture structure fits hand-in-glove with the brand-as-application strategy.

A context of getting things done

As a joint venture we place the brand in a context of getting things done. The brand is action-oriented, not persuasion-oriented. It’s not about “aligning” customers to the brand as if they were medieval serfs to be pumped with doctrine and kept in a static universe of perpetual dependence. (That’s what your competitors try to do, and that’s what makes their brands vulnerable.) As a joint venture, the brand can envision and create new market spaces where company and customer are both significantly better off. In a joint venture the brand agenda is one of creating new customer freedoms, not imposing another set of customer controls. The brand steps up with the vision, the path and the tools to get there, as set forth in the brand journey.

Strategic objectives of the brand as joint venture

What’s the strategic objective of this joint venture?  It is to use customer insight, initiative and innovation to advance customers beyond the reach of competitors. In essence, the brand and its customers get together to gang up on competitors, especially those who aim to capture, corral and control customers using the brand as a mental and emotional silo. There’s no future for customers in that kind of brand desert. As a joint venture the brand enables customers to transcend the limitations imposed by competitors, reshaping the market, or creating entirely new market spaces where customers are better off. A classic example is how the iPod teamed with music lovers to route around the expense and restrictions of the CD format, reinventing the music industry in the process.

The joint venture and brand experience

Customers today value brands by the totality of experience they provide: before, during and after the sale, and including the behavior of the brand itself as a responsible world citizen. When we construct the brand as a joint venture we “socialize” the nature of brand experience itself, making it participative and interactive. Brand experience becomes not what the brand “does” for customers, but what customers and the brand create jointly in pursuit of common goals. In short, we co-create brand experience, giving it two potent drivers instead of one.

Strategic advantages from the brand as a joint venture

As a joint venture the brand delivers the following strategic advantages to company and customers alike:

  1. It unites them—creatively and pragmatically—in a common context, with a common goal. Each gains a market ally.
  2. It replaces “buyer-seller” (and brand as persuasion) with team effort—and brand as mutual enabler.
  3. It creates new avenues and opportunities to circumvent (or disrupt) incumbent brands.
  4. It’s a team of equals where the end product (a customer who’s strategically better off) helps advance the brand to market spaces where competitors can’t follow.
  5. It’s a full-blooded, and full-bodied, collaboration in context, content and in value. It facilitates brand innovation, especially non-linear brand breakthroughs.
  6. The joint venture is not confined to today’s products. It’s geared to an arc (or narrative) of customer development. The brand isn’t selling a product. It’s developing a customer. (Personally I’d say it’s “creating a customer,” but let’s give Steve Blank proper credit.)
  7. The joint venture not fence customers in. It’s a platform (or innovation engine) to develop new brand frontiers.

Further reading

As further reading on developing the brand as a joint venture with customers:





How name brands can get a bad name

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Name brands can get a bad name when they treat their customers as targets for ads rather than partners in a brand relationship. A relentless, overpowering sales pitch can drive out brand qualities and just might drive away customers.

Here’s how that might happen:

TV ads that hound you in the aisles

These days many people resolutely skip ads on TV using the remote or the DVR, or simply find their content on the Web or via social media, where ads are less intrusive. Imagine how these people might feel when they zip off to the supermarket and find nonstop ads beamed at them from little TV screens up and down the aisles, everywhere they turn. What they so thoroughly avoided at home now has them trapped in the store. It’s like a scene from The Twilight Zone.

Perhaps this is a preview:


What kind of brand experience is this?

If I’m at a grocery store being assaulted by sales pitches from rows of tiny TV screens, some at shelf edge, I have to ask myself, “What kind of brand experience is this? Why are these products doing this to me? Why is the store doing this to me? These are name brands, and this is a name brand store. Why is it now a creep show pumping ads? Don’t these brands know any better? Where’s their respect for me?”

The alternative is easy

Maybe this is why a lot of people head on over to Trader Joe’s. At Trader Joe’s there’s basically one brand for the whole store and its products. That brand conveys respect, and in so doing earns respect. It’s a much smaller store than a supermarket, but one’s personal space is honored as infinite.

For brands, that idea is obvious.


Customer context drives the brand experience at Trader Joe’s

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

How is it that the Trader Joe’s brand can exert such a fresh, strong pull compared to traditional grocery brands like Safeway? As I’ve noted before here and here, a signal strength of the Trader Joe’s brand is that it’s developed and delivered in the context of the customer. Trader Joe’s is a friendly place, small and intimate, on a human scale with lots of human touches, as close to “home” as retail gets.

In other words, Trader Joe’s is super because it isn’t a supermarket.

How Trader Joe’s implements its brand

You can find a richly detailed account of how Trader Joe’s implements its brand in “Inside the Secret World of Trader Joe’s” in CNN Money/Fortune. The article explains why Trader Joe’s thrives even though it lacks many “features” of the modern supermarket. Yes, those “features” may be  illusions of conventional marketing practice. They’re often designed as platforms of advertising and promotion rather than an intimate stage of quality goods and produce.

Products that don’t shout from the shelves

If you’ve ever been to a Trader Joe’s you’ll notice that you aren’t assaulted by packaging pyrotechnics from the shelves, as is often the case in traditional supermarkets (which function as brand aggregators.) Packaging at Trader Joe’s is typically low key and informal, even whimsical. Most products are Trader Joe’s own brand. Since they don’t have to compete for attention they can be more laid back and conversational, witty or wry (try Trader Giotto’s meatballs), all of which produces a more engaging customer experience.

An invitation to discover new goods

At Trader Joe’s you feel like you’ve been invited in to discover new goods from artisans around the globe. The products engage you directly, on their own merits, scripted in humble magic marker. They represent Trader Joe’s. They’re not elements of the media campaigns that interrupt your TV viewing. In this regard the Trader Joe’s customer experience exists in sharp contrast to that of major supermarket chains, where the pitch is more profound than the product, and where customers are mostly confronted with shelves of advertising.

A brand goal: simplify choice, enhance trust

One shops at Trader Joe’s because one trusts Trader Joe’s for the unique selection, and the quality. The Trader Joe’s brand reigns supreme. It’s as if Trader Joe’s were a merchant-curator, hand picking everything from hummus to ham. You may have fewer choices, but that actually makes things better, not worse. Trader Joe’s has done the work for you. A trusted brand can greatly simplify the process of buying. And it tones down the advertising blare.

In brands, less is more

All this is no accident, of course. In brands, less is more. Own the context, and customers will follow. A brand (context) approach can make a decisive difference. For some recent research, check out “A Better Choosing Experience,” an enlightening article from strategy + business.

Photo credit: slgckgc — Flickr


Read Jon Kolko on brands and user experience

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

If you haven’t already read Jon Kolko’s “Our misguided focus on brand and user experience” in Johnny Holland, go and read it now. It will challenge at least some of your beliefs about brands. Others it will politely throw out the window.

I’ll have more to say about Jon’s essay in a future post. At first glance Jon may seem a bit harsh toward brands, but his critique is directed toward brands of contol and manipulation. I see his essay as aiming for the same positive/creative/liberating brand outcomes that I set forth in in this blog.


Burberry to launch social networking site

Monday, September 21st, 2009


The Financial Times reports that Burberry will soon launch its own social networking site, to be called Art of the Trench. This is a major step that all brands will be watching, because the future of brands will be written with personal platforms and social media. A Burberry social network could be a pioneering and potent force in advancing the Burberry brand, and its customers.

Brand strategy and social media

In this post I’ll take a quick look at the brand strategy and social media options available to Burberry in its new initiative. In large part, at least as I see it, the challenge for Burberry goes far beyond social media proper. It’s a challenge of brand innovation. Does Burberry intend to pour old marketing wine into this new social media bottle, or will it use social media to reinvent its brand to create new customer value? That’s the big question.

Pre-launch site and Burberry context

Here is Burberry’s pre-launch site, to give you a flavor. From reports, the new network is intended to make Burberry more attractive to customers by providing a Burberry-themed platform for social communication and interaction. Burberry already has 660,000 “friends” on Facebook to draw from.

For some Burberry context, watch the 9/16/09 “Customer of the future” Financial Times video interview with Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts here. (Actually, watch the entire set; it’s illuminating.)

Burberry customers and the site

Burberry intends the site to be a form of online brand experience for customers.

“These might not even be customers yet. Or they may be a customer for a bottle of fragrance or for eyewear. But these are the customers who need the brand experience, who need to feel the brand. That word-of-mouth spreads through their social networks and continues to be a positive conversation [about Burberry] . . . that is so powerful.”

Source:  the FT article above.

Post pictures of yourself in your Burberry trench

At this point we don’t know the full extent of Burberry’s “social networking site.” Will it operate like a slimmed-down, brand-focused Facebook, or will it be more of a (conventional) fan site. Initial reports say the Burberry network will enable Burberry customers to post photographs of themselves in their Burberry trench coats. That seems more like fan site territory, the low end of social media. (The high end is collaboration and value co-creation.)

Potential downsides of a fan site approach

To the extent that Art of the Trench becomes a fan site, (not that it would) what are the brand downsides? The biggest downside is the opportunity cost for missing the possible brand advances through a real social network, especially one focused on value creation. Beyond that, fan sites can be brand limiting unless customers themselves are allowed to show their creative modifications to brands, or brand uses. Is Burberry open to customer mods?

The brand is more than the clothing

If Art of the Trench focuses on pictures of customers in Burberry coats, one might then ask, “What’s the sustaining attraction?” The clothes are the same. And how will all those blurry amateur pics represent Burberry’s chic fashion sense, not to mention its exacting quality? Loopy pics might damage the brand. Finally, how deep is the customer “brand experience” in seeing photos of others in Burberry outfits? Might this undercut the Burberry identity so ably set forth in exquisite photos and videos of Burberry-adorned models?



Service design: a robust way to build brands

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

It appears that brand builders have a powerful new process to help them build strong brand relationships. The design methodology called service design gives every indication of being a robust methodology for delivering high levels of brand value. In fact, as a method of value delivery it may be more effective than traditional brand practices based on communications and persuasion.

Service design and the evolution of brands

The service design approach meshes nicely with the process of how a brand creates customers. It also fits rather neatly into the final stage of the three-phase evolution of brands. In that model we see brands begin as marks, proprietary symbols originally branded on shipping casks. The second phase is an age of brands as media, where mass media advertising and messaging drove brand development. In the present era brands are emerging as a means, as strategic enablers that help customers (and companies) move to the next level in their planned growth.

Service design and “brands as a service”

As a design discipline, service design focuses on maximizing positive user experiences through high-value touchpoints. Brands use much the same methodology. In fact, we could design a brand as a service of value innovation, aimed to unlock more value than a product alone could provide. To be sure, every brand also needs a well-constructed identity and a command of relevant metaphors, but beyond that it’s largely a mutual value creation effort between company and customer. As a service the brand rolls up its sleeves to do meaningful work, delivering results customers can use.

The creative context of service design

At its most rudimentary levels, service design is about helping companies and organizations deliver better services. That’s valuable in itself, but conventional services are often conceived too narrowly, as little more than interactive tasks. They’re prosaic by intent, often because companies lack the vision to leverage them creatively (and strategically).

There’s no reason we can’t design services in a more creative context, in which new realms of expression and proactive behaviors open up to customers and to companies alike. We could define the service as a means of discovery. (It’s part of a shared brand journey.) A service (like a brand) is a collaboration in context. Reinvent the context. Shape it to enable the customer to be more, and to do more. Free it to deliver new layers of meaning in addition to those of its elementary functions.

Service design is more strategic than traditional brand myths and symbols

Because service design is customer-focused and results-oriented, it contains more strategic potential than traditional brand myths and symbols. Brands built on symbols, myths and stories are not strategic. They’re customer dead ends. Their usual goal is to end innovation and lock customers in place. In so doing, however, they often lock the company in the same corral, creating innovation advantages for competitors. In contrast, service design can easily incorporate strategic brand goals into its processes, advancing customers into new market spaces that competitors can’t reach.

A brand is how you experience a company

There is significant overlap between brands as enablers and the goals of service design. For instance, check out this interview with Peter Fossick, who teaches service design at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Everything is moving toward service design. Design is becoming more intangible, less about product and more about the experience of the product. Look at Vélib’, the bicycle rental program in Paris. The technology is ancient–it’s a bicycle, after all–but the program is so brilliant thanks to the service architecture. I’m not saying we’ll stop inventing new products. I’m just saying that designing the experience of the product is becoming just as fundamental as the product itself.

Include the experience of trust in a product offering and you are well on the way toward building a brand.

Service design: creating the customer platform

Professor Fossick also makes this interesting observation about Apple:

You know, Apple really had an enormously difficult time with hardware in the nineties and earlier this decade. They seemed to be focusing too much on product, without considering the product experience. Then–whop!–iTunes, really even more so than the iPod, changes all that. That’s not a music player. It’s a design of the user’s interaction with sound.

One might even argue that in spite of the vaunted product design ethos at Apple, the core of the Apple brand is the (software) service to customers that Apple delivers–first in the Mac OS, then  iTunes and now with the iPhone and its wondrous apps. This enabling service creates a platform of customer experience that makes everything else possible.

Also see: Interaction design: the new key to brands

Hat tip: John Schneider (Twitter @johnfschneider)