• Saurabh Sharma

User experience is the new brand

Updated: Oct 13, 2018

Brands tell stories. Stories will always be important, and people will continue to love them. Like one of my friends recently pointed out – binge watching is a testimony to the fact that attention spans are not shortening, they are just more selective. Bottom line is this: if one has a good story, people will listen. The question is who do people want to listen to these stories from? From brands with the (ultimate) motive to sell or from storytellers who simply have a great story to tell?

And even among all the brands trying to tell stories, will people listen to stories from Apple, Tesla, Under Armour or would they want to listen to these stories from a brand of toothpaste, detergent powder, or even a car company that’s doing the same things it was doing 10, 20 or 50 years ago?

More importantly, even if they listen to or like a story from toothpaste, detergent powder or a traditional car company, does it really change behavior and make people buy?

Watch this ad for LG's 2016 gaming smartphone. It had everything - action, adventure, likable + famous celebrity, humor, and the film length that ad creatives always wish for.

Did people like it? Sure.

Did they share it? Probably.

Did they buy? I’m not so sure.

(Here’s a data point: In 2015-16, Samsung’s had the most popular content for any brand on YouTube, globally! And yet, Samsung kept losing market share all through the year. People liked the content, but they simply didn’t buy.)

A good story (aka content, be it paid, owned or earned) is and always will be very important. And at the same time good content by itself is not good enough.

Having said that, can good content create consideration or awareness for the brand? Yes, it absolutely can.

But more importantly, marketing's excessive focus on content assumes that product is unchangeable in the short/medium term. In most big consumer goods companies, the product is usually tweaked (not changed) very 12 (if lucky) or 36 months. But content is easier to change. It can be changed every hour/day/ week/month/once in a few months. It made sense that marketers and brand owners focused on content.

It doesn’t have to be this way anymore. At least not in the more developed markets like the US, South Korea, Japan, China, UK and other developed markets which have high penetration of computing and mobile Internet. Fortunately, in these markets everyday life is increasingly mediated by connectivity and computing. People are accomplishing more and more everyday tasks, digitally. As a result, the "interface" to their digital world has become more important. The best part about the interface is that it can change much faster, and it can be personalized. Smart integration of product development and manufacturing can finally lead to personalized products. (More on this a little later). Companies like Accenture Interactive refer to the Internet of Things (IoT) and interface revolution as the dawn of "living services," wherein products or services evolve as users interact with them (look at app update cycles on our smartphones). These changes mark the evolution of branding - from the Product stage, through the Image stage, and now to the User Experience stage. (See image: “We are in the third age of branding”).


Evolution of branding

This evolution is mapped across two variables:

1. Time

2. Information with the customer


Instead of talking about the product and telling a story about it, brands can now start investing in making the product better. This can be achieved through smart applications of technologies such as sensors that are becoming increasingly affordable. Data from sensors that track usage behavior can help in making the product better and more personal than ever before. Here’s a visualization of one such scenario that applies Internet of Things (IoT) to skin creams: Manufacturers of a skincare product, like lotion, could partner with an air conditioning company to bundle solutions that recommend the use of lotion based on the type of air conditioning used, overall weather conditions and the climate of the region that the user is in. Skin care marketers could turn a profit by not only selling lotion, but also personalized recommendations. On top of this, they could help the user track the state of their skin. Not to mention that this would lead to the creation of personalized skincare products (= better value for people and higher margin for business). This could well be an example of 'IoT for skincare'.

I personally look at this as a big opportunity for marketers to do things instead of just saying stuff. By focusing on customer experience, marketers finally have a chance to play a bigger role in business and have a voice in the boardroom. They no longer need to stand there asking for budgets to push products, they can now shape new revenue streams.

New brands and Internet-first companies already think like this, and thus invest more resources in developing a better product, rather than advertising or promoting it. They know that if the product is outstanding, people will talk about it and more people will learn about it. In short, an outstanding product sells itself much better than a mediocre product that’s heavily marketed.

Traditional marketers need a new way of looking at marketing. This marketing organization needs to be structured and staffed differently too. Consumer/user insights need to be at the center with UX researchers, UX Designers, Developers and Strategists working in tandem to develop better products in shorter development cycles. To make this happen, they need to think across disciplines (the product team needs to work closely with the marketing team) and all departments need to understand the full range of capabilities and applications available for innovation. This will allow them to visualize new ways of enhancing user experience. Such user experience and people’s account of it in their social circle is more valuable (and cost effective), than any commercial message. This is also a way to help users own the brand – something that marketers have only talked about in the past.

User experience is the new brand, let it guide your brand home.

Disclaimer:

Views are personal.

Title photo from Tim Buesing (Twitter: @tbuesing)

Rights to all brands names and photos remain with the owners. No ownership is claimed.

I am not personally or commercially associated with any of the brands or businesses mentioned above.

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