There is no denying that the innovation and integration of digital technologies has had an immense effect on branding concepts and practices. The rapid growth of the Internet, information systems and mobile-based technologies has completely changed the way brand experiences are delivered through all customer touch points. Current consumers no longer passively experience goods, they are now participating in the experience, adopting the products to new uses, and combining and modifying the products in order to create individually new experiences (Molesworth & Denegri, 2013). With a touch of a screen consumers can access the largest source of knowledge known to man: the World Wide Web. They are able to learn detailed information about brands and their products through company websites, social networking platforms, RSS feeds, blogs, videos, web applications and so on. These digital channels have amplified the number of potential brand touch points and created a digital element for every brand (Weber & Henderson, 2014). In today’s digital landscape, consumers are looking for brands that they can connect with and provide them with meaningful experiences that will enrich their lives.
Concept of Brand Experience
An accurate definition of the concept is given in the Journal of Marketing by Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009): “brand experience is conceptualised as the sensations, feelings, cognitions, and behavioural responses evoked by brand-related stimuli that are part of a brand’s design and identity, packaging, communications, and environments” (p. 52). The majority of brands are experienced through direct touchpoints, such as when consumers are shopping, buying, and consuming products, and they can also be experienced through indirect touchpoints, such as exposure to marketing communications online and offline (Brakus, Schmitt. & Zarantonello, 2009). Consumers are now able to connect with brands via multiple touchpoints such as websites, mobile apps, ads, social networks, and so on. A touch-point is described as a form of engagement or experience with a marketing channel created by the brand, which can include everything from packaging design to telephone calls (Rowles, 2014). A touch-point also goes beyond brand-controlled experiences to things such as word of mouth and social media engagement. The number of platforms and touchpoints has grown immensely for current and potential customers due to the evolution and integration of online and offline access points (Kim, Khoo, & Chang, 2009).
The brand experience is an ongoing process that begins before consumption (promotions, website, word of mouth, etc.) and continues through to the point of purchase (either online or offline) and post purchase (aftersales service). The brand experience in the most prominent factor in a potential customer’s decision to purchase a product, and “people between the ages of 25 and 34 are most likely to consider, recommend, or pay a premium price based on a better brand experience” (Weber & Henderson, 2014, p.19). It is evident that designing a strong brand experience is essential in acquiring and maintaining customers.
According to Wheeler (2012) there are five prominent principles a brand must keep in mind in order to design a strong brand experience in today’s digital landscape, these include:
- Ubiquitous: the brand should be available around the clock, through the right channels, and at the right time.
- Social: the brand should help current and potential customers build connections with others.
- Semantic: the brand should cut through the clutter and provide relevant information to customers.
- Sentient: the brand should create connections to the real world by sensing the context of customers.
- Human: the brand should simplify complexity and create natural ways for current and potential customers to interact with the brand.
Brand Experience in a Digital Landscape
Digital technologies such as e-commerce, Omni-channel retailing and digital marketing have altered the way brand experiences are delivered. A study conducted by Motorola Solutions (2012) found that “61% of shoppers believe they have access to more information about products than store associates and 73% of those shoppers would prefer to use their smartphone rather than engage a store associate” (p.2). Furthermore, 67% of shoppers indicated that they had a better in-store experience with associates and managers who used the latest mobile technologies (Motorola Solutions, 2012). To understand how and where exactly brand experiences are changing due to digital technologies, we need to focus on the brand related stimuli such as brand design and identity, packaging, communications and environments.
Brand Design and Identity
Central to the survival of brands in this digital environment is the need to provide a positive online brand experience that stimulates positive sensations connected to the five human senses. Current customers want (and even expect) brands to understand and meet their needs, offer relevant interactions, invite participation, engage before, during and after purchase, provide simplicity, be real and be meaningful. “A traditional view of branding says that a brand is: name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers” (Rowles, 2014, p.7). In the past, consumers could only purchase items by either buying them in the store and carrying them home or by purchasing them from a catalogue or phone and having it shipped to them. Nowadays, consumers are spoiled with choice as they can combine “online, mobile, catalogue and in-store purchase options with multiple shipping points and receiving areas” (Motorola Solutions, 2012, p.13). The identity and design of a brand can be enhanced through new technologies, as companies are able to share global and unified messages to all its current and potential consumers. The brand identity has the potential to be global as the ability to reach vast amounts of people can be done effortlessly. “Consumers are focusing on those brands that engage them or turn the mundane into something more memorable” (Roodhof, 2015) and this can be done through shared messages and creating a community around the brand.
Today’s consumers have immediate needs and are looking for immediate solutions. This means that in order for brands to be successful in the digital landscape, they need to have high flexibility to enable them to adjust to the frequently changing demands of customers. This requires both a flexible production line and an easily adjustable inventory. “Online music and movie purchases reinforce the point that when you ‘click’ you can have your product instantly” (Karstedt, 2014). “Scientific advances in the ability to sense, measure and record brain waves from the frontal lobes have made it possible for us to take a look inside the brain” (Karstedt, 2014). Furthermore, digital technologies have enabled brands to provide the consumers with personalised experiences. For example, the retail brand Trunk Club ensures that each of their customers are matched with one of their brand associates so that they can create and maintain a relationship, which allows the brand to package the customer’s purchases in a way that suits their personality (Trunk Club, 2015).
Welcome to Trunk Club
It is no surprise that there has been a major shift if the way businesses communicate with their consumers, as they have moved away from traditional one-way communication to two-way communication channels. According to Wheeler (2012), social media categories include communication (blogs, micro-blogs, Internet forums, social networks, and listserv), collaboration (Wikis, social bookmarks, social news, and reviews), and entertainment (photo sharing, video sharing, live-casting, audio and music sharing, virtual worlds, and games). “Social media has multiplied the potential points of connection with our prospects and customers and its interactive nature has turned static test into cross-channel dialogue” (Weber & Henderson, 2014, p.2). Molesworth and Denegri (2013) concur that technologies and design techniques “have permitted users to emerge from uninformed shoppers into discerning connoisseurs, and from passive consumers to active producers consumers” (p.17).
At first brands responded to these new technologies by delivering their marketing via multiple channels that said the same thing. This idea failed as brands realised that “different channels are used differently and we don’t want exactly the same from each” (Rowles, 2014, p.165). In order to truly engage consumers, brand need to utilise Omni-channel marketing, which “recognises that each channel plays a different role in the user journey, and this role may change and adapt according to what the person engaging with it wants” (Rowles, 2014, p.165). Customers want relevance and this is better achieved through Omni-channel solutions. According to research conducted by American psychologist Barry Schwartz, he “found that for most people, having too many options is anxiety producing rather than freeing. Highly targeted experiences that zero in our customer’s needs and desires simplify their lives; for many that is considered a gift” (Weber & Henderson, 2014, p.24).
Furthermore, mobile, big data and advanced analytics has significantly changed and enriched the customer experience. Mobiles engaging properties such as cameras, voice recognition, touch screen and GPS technology (Weber & Henderson, 2014). Smartphone users are utilizing their devices in store for a range of uses including creating shopping lists, reading product reviews, comparing prices and sending a picture to a friend about items on sale (Motorola Solutions, 2012). Big data and advanced analytics enables brands to provide their target audience with relevant information. Weber and Henderson (2014) state, “relevance increasingly requires contextualised experience that reflect that individual customer’s behaviour, preferences, current situation, and are often predictive. This type of personalised marketing experience has long been a dream for marketers, and big data and advanced analytics are now making this dream a reality” (p.24).
In the mid-1990s, retailers began building facilities for online shopping as a result of the Internet boom (Molesworth & Denegri, 2013). However, physical stores remain dominant in the food, clothing and home improvement industries, and “the number of people who buy online exclusively is very limited” (Interone, 2013). With the continuous growth in technology, society has created what are called hybrid buyers, which are consumers who shop both in physical store and online (Interone, 2013). The integration of these digital technologies does not mean that the brick and mortar stores become obsolete. The majority of purchases still occur in them but it is vital that the store “leverage the right technology to give customers the same kind of information and experience they get online, but with the added familiarity and immediacy of an in-person visit” (Motorola Solutions, 2012, p.2). Surveyed retailers estimate that “by 2017, 23% fewer purchases will be completed at associated-staffed fixed POS terminals and instead, roughly half of all transactions will be completed via mobile point of sale (mPOS), or self checkout at a terminal or on a shopper’s mobile device” (Motorola Solutions, 2012, p.12)
It is evident that brands that utilise digital technologies are more likely to deliver a complete and meaningful brand experience. These brands will be better able to:
- Provide convenience and relevant information to their customers,
- Create lasting experiences through customising products to suit the customer,
- Build and maintain effective relationships through two-way communication channels,
- Improve their products and services from customer feedback, and
- Establish an online presence through social media platforms.