Branding encompasses much more than advertising, but advertisements and other marketing communications are often the first exposure target audiences will have to your brand. Those potential customers will form opinions about what they expect from your brand based on the verbal and sensory cues in marketing communications. However, these brand communications only represent the tip of the iceberg – what’s easily visible on the surface.
When customers engage with a company, they get more than a product or service. What they actually get is a brand experience: “sensations, feelings, cognitions, and behavioral responses evoked by brand-related stimuli that are part of a brand’s design and identity, packaging, communications, and environments.” That brand experience is shaped by the entire organization and will ideally deliver on the expectations set by advertising and other marketing communications. That sounds like a simple and intuitive concept, but we’ve probably all engaged with brands and had experiences that do not align with our expectations.
Below are just a few areas where a company’s iceberg can enhance or detract from the expected brand experience.
- Product form and quality. Advertisements for Tiffany & Co. conjure simple elegance and high quality. When a customer shops at Tiffany & Co., he or she does not expect to see overly ornate and/or cheaply made products.
- Purchase/experience environment. MAC cosmetics and Aveda are both premium personal care brands. While MAC is known for dramatic and even edgy cosmetics, Aveda is all about natural beauty, sustainability and social conscience. These brands often coexist in the same department stores but have very different experience environments that are each in alignment with the expectations set by their marketing communications.
- Product availability. A company may have brand alignment in many areas but still run into trouble. A recent example is Tesla with its Model 3. Tesla’s branding, plus the strong performance of the Model S and Model X, led to high demand for the highly anticipated “entry-level” Model 3. Hundreds of thousands of people have put down deposits, but Tesla has been unable to deliver on its production targets. Sometimes, scarce availability can be a positive for a brand as it can increase demand. The true test here will be if the Model 3’s performance meets expectations. At the time of this writing, some troubling flaws have come to light. Time will tell if Tesla can deliver on the quantity and quality its customers expect.
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There are a lot of ways a product’s brand promise may be a mismatch with the actual experience. Below are a few strategies companies can follow to minimize the risk of a disappointing brand experience.
- Understand core competencies. When we work on brand strategy with clients, we encourage them to be somewhat aspirational with their strategy as it gives them something to work toward. However, it’s important to understand your company’s limitations, what you do well and what you can deliver on. Setting unrealistic expectations often does more harm than good.
- Develop a solid brand platform. Define your brand strategy in the form of a brand position, promise and pillars. As part of this process, be sure to identify your target market and evaluate the brand strategy on the criteria below.
Meaningful. Is your product/service offering something your target market wants?
Credible. Can you deliver on the brand promise? Does your target market believe you can deliver?
Different. Is your offering different from established competitors in the market?
- Ensure internal brand adoption. Too often, companies engage in brand strategy development but don’t adequately train the entire organization on the brand strategy and what it means. An effective way of cascading the brand throughout the organization is to hold training sessions with all functional departments. In these sessions, an overview of the brand strategy is shared, followed by interactive sessions in which the functional areas brainstorm ways they can bring the brand to life in their respective departments. This process provides a deeper understanding of the brand and engenders ownership of the brand strategy at all levels.
The elements that make up your company’s iceberg can be assets or liabilities. Keep the entire organization in mind when branding and creating marketing communications to ensure alignment between brand expectations and experiences.