Let’s start here, I love branding. I always have, it’s a practice that has been about getting people to know you, and the better they know you, the more likely they are to empathize and react positively to your goals. This means, in a business sense, the more likely they are to purchase your product, or service.
I also have no problem saying that of brands, Apple is my favorite, in fact they are the reason I got into branding and design. There was something about the feeling I got when I used my Mac that just felt different, in-fact it almost felt like, as crazy as it may sound, my Mac was made with care and consideration toward me. The “Think Different.” campaign also resonated, I was always a kid who many would describe (politely) as “a bit left-of-center”—I later learned that the concise, albeit less polite, term for that was “weird”—so seeing an ad campaign that represented the weird people caught my attention.
When I was 18, I got a chance to work for Apple, it was my first job, and I learned a lot about what it was that made me a fan of the brand in the first place; this time from a customer service standpoint. One of the key things I learned is that good service is about maintaining a positive experience for the customer at every step of their journey and interaction with the brand. In my years since working for Apple, I’ve kept that mentality of building positive experiences, and applied that thinking as part of the holistic design, development, and branding process, as a result I got great joy out of learning about my client’s customers, finding their pain points, and working with them to create solutions that would help them reach their goals.
I’m a steadfast believer that the above is also the key to great design as well, if it doesn’t do what the user needs of it, then it’s not good design, no matter how nice it looks … because design isn’t solely about the visuals. In-fact, my favorite “trump card” in debates with designers, or clients even, who lose sight of the goals of a project is; “I’m not designing this for you, I’m not designing this for me, I’m designing this for the person that you’re trying to reach”. It took a few years for me to realize that this perspective is the basis for UX as a practice; simply put, positive experiences make people happy, and create positive outcomes. This is why, in my mind, user experience is the customer service of the design world, and to that end, the most important element of branding. Because while branding has traditionally been about the brand teaching the user who they are, experience strategy & design strives to learn about the user first, so that impactful outcomes are built, not only, with that person in mind, but also at the table working in unison.
UX is Branding is UX, ad infinitum
This is why a merged branding and UX mentality is more imperative than ever to developing an effective digital presence, and crucial to universally establishing a cohesive brand. However, for far too (frustratingly) long companies have often perceived UX and branding as two mutually exclusive focuses—in-fact, many still view branding as a solely visual component, when the truth is, branding is the experience, not the logo, typefaces, or colors used … but that’s a rant for a different day. Yes, these aspects are part of the identity system of your brand, however, to segment the consideration of people’s experience with your organization from its core ideals is to destabilize the foundation of the brand in the first place.
Now, to be fair, there was a time where brands could segregate the experience from their brand message and get away with it; this is because brands could control the how people perceived them because the only way customers experienced the brand was through the prism of the company itself. Simply put, consumers had to trust that brands were who they said they were, and by the time the consumer found out for themselves, they had already bought in to the brand, and if the experience didn’t match the message it still took a while before the public caught wind, if at all. This power dynamic has now shifted as consumers have, and expect, more access to information than they ever have—not to mention, they are able to share their personal perceptions faster than the blink of an eye, thanks largely to social media—meaning the person in the driving seat of your brand’s voice has shifted from your marketing team, to your customer base. Which means, it no longer matters what you say about yourself, but what others say about you that will ultimately drive brand equity and acceptance.
This in, and of, itself should prove the urgency and importance on why user experience matters, but if you need more convincing combine: a Walker study that suggests “By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator” (i.e. UX makes you money), with the growing mountain of evidence that finds User Experience/Human Centered Design/Design Thinking improves user focused outcomes while also positively impacting business-centric concerns by: speeding up deployment times, reducing fail rates, and boosting productivity through improved team cohesiveness (i.e. UX saves you money), as well as reports that show that every dollar you invest into UX brings a return of 9,900% (i.e. UX makes you more money), and the case for making UX a core part of your brand strategy should be crystal clear.
Quite frankly, when considering all of the above there’s no other way around it, if you’re treating UX as a “feature” that can be plopped in modularly, or as an à la carte option that can be added in phase 2, you’re doing it wrong. The focus on experience must be embraced at the highest levels of a company, immediately integrated into the early portion of planning processes, and maintained throughout; otherwise you’re doing a disservice to your brand’s equity, and ultimately your brand’s legitimacy in the marketplace. After all, as companies learn that in this modern era of branding the most impactful touchpoints are no longer dominated by psychical interactions, but digital as well, if not primarily, it only makes sense that modern brand strategies follow suit … will you?
“Walker study” | “By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator”
“speeding up deployment times, reducing fail rates, and boosting productivity through improved team cohesiveness”
“UX brings a return of 9,900%”