At every company, the marketing department works with the sales, product and support teams to create a compelling and unified customer journey.
Customers continue to evaluate your brand with every action, link, person, story and user interface they interact with. Every diverse touch point either reinforces or erodes your brand.
As a UX researcher, I’ve quickly learned the power that brands can hold in your audience’s mind. As a product designer, I’ve also learned how often marketing teams miss out on opportunities to reinforce and strengthen their brand.
These are some of the most important things I’ve noticed on my journey, so you don’t miss out on any opportunities to grow your brand.
1. Think holistically, and appoint a brand manager
While marketing is a single function within an organization, your brand can be strengthened at every customer touch point. Appoint a brand champion to investigate and improve how your brand is used at every level of the company. Your brand champion should be responsible for asking the kinds of questions that ensure your brand values are understood and implemented by everyone consistently.
Brand champions should explain and educate every employee how to speak about your brand to your audience. This is especially true for employees who may not be familiar with marketing best practices.
Every organization has channels through which its brand is communicated to the world. This is why the brand manager should be empowered to identify and reinforce brand values across all customer touch points to build and reinforce the quality of your message.
I’ve come across a few examples over the years of times there was brand confusion in an organization.
Make sure that your support team has been trained in the tone of voice your company uses. If your customer was sold through your marketing and sales communications, they expect a certain tone and brand. If they encounter a problem while using your product they should receive that same tone.
All documents from the finance team, from sending invoices with the right logo and typography, to ensure that your customer communications are shared using branded links to increase trust and consistency. One of the biggest fall off points in the sales funnel happens when a new user lands on your plans page. This is where you need to make sure that everything is clear and simple.
3. Internal communications
If you can provide simple and valuable emails, which are essential to the onboarding process, you can keep the user engaged for longer and in turn develop a level of trust. It is much easier to keep a customer engaged than it is to attract a new one. Ensure that your emails are aimed at your existing user base rather than constantly trying to attract new ones. Customers are more and more sophisticated and will be able to tell the difference between a sales email and an email that is providing them with added value.
2. Show consistency to reduce cognitive load
Brands that exhibit consistency across all their touch points are easier to remember, create a stickier product, and in return, more passionate followers. A predictable brand experience across all your customer touch points reduces the cognitive load experienced by your customers, which reduces the time it takes for a new user to become comfortable with your brand and engage with it. Simple things like whether a user has to single click or double-click to open menus, or whether you use sliders or checkboxes should be consistent across a brand to reduce cognitive dissonance and result in an improved perception of the quality of the product or brand. It’s not that a customer thinks about it, but it does impact the overall brand experience is the idea.
Here are some questions to consider to reinforce brand consistency:
- Does your entire digital presence use a standard set of graphic design components that are reused everywhere work nicely together? Is this documented and does the entire production team use these reusable components?
- When someone creates a presentation that represents your organization, do they incorporate the correct branding into the slides?
- If I email your organization how long will it take to get a reply? If I then choose to complain on Facebook or Twitter, will I get a response from the marketing team faster?
- As an existing, paying customer will I have to wait for half an hour on a support line, while if I press “sales inquiry” will I magically get instant attention?
- Are the frontline people in your organization all trained to answer the most common customer questions in the same, optimal fashion?
3. Reuse existing mental models
Mental models are shortcuts our brains use to process the world around us more efficiently. We use them every day often without even realizing it. By reusing a customer’s existing mental model, you can quickly help new users feel more confident about what your brand stands for.
Some of the most common examples of mental models include the use of color, visuals, and typography in your brand. For example, if you want to create a brand that appeared classy, you might pick a handwritten or serif font in a gold color on a dark background.
If you don’t want someone to click on something, try a big red button:
If you sell yourself as an Italian restaurant, you probably want to have pizza and pasta on the menu or you’ll risk disappointing customers.
It’s possible to confuse brand expectations with poorly chosen mental models. For example, Volvo tried to freshen up their brand image in order to reach a younger audience but their use of Instagram model Chriselle Lim only backfired. Other examples that are harder to spot. The American symbol for “ok” (thumb and index finger) means “evil eye” in Arabic and has other negative connotations in South America and parts of Europe. Giving someone the middle finger in Japanese sign language actually means “brother”. You will not develop a brand image that will talk to every one of your user base and markets. The best advice is to test early and test often and make sure that your core values are translated accurately to different cultures and languages.
Some brands choose to avoid customer expectations to differentiate themselves radically in a crowded marketplace. But be warned. Shock and awe might get you a passing glance but if the graphics or logo or presentation do not reflect your core values and speak to your core audience you could be wasting your time and will only end up paying for users who have no interest in your product. For example, customers may associate a red blocky logo with “cheap” or “sale” – a damaging mental model to rely on if you want to sell high-end technology with few if any discounts.
Mental models are a valuable tool to consider when building your brand. Your customers will feel a natural familiarity and will subliminally associate positive emotions from other experiences they have had with your brand, making your job a whole lot easier.
4. Brands should focus on emotional stories – not facts
“Because your worth it” (L’oreal), “Just do it“ (Nike) and “I’m lovin’ it” (McDonald’s) are all taglines associated with famous global brands. What do they have in common? They all incorporate an emotion or a feeling, not a value proposition. But why do these companies choose to brand themselves in this way?
We may think of ourselves as rational beings, but sadly most of our decision-making process is driven by emotions and only a fraction is made by the rational part of our mind. This has a profound impact on how we approach our interactions with brands, proven over and over in tests and studies. For example, in an 11 week trial in a supermarket, donations to a charity increased by 48% by adding a picture of a set of eyes over a donation box. The subliminal impact of being watched, even by an image, completely altered the shopper’s behavior. Similarly, using the right trust words and symbols helped this online business increase conversion rates by 60%. Targeting the fears and aspirations of your users is a surefire way to improve your bottom line.
So the question for this section is – what message does your brand communicate to your audience?
Do you create a factual connection with the rational mind, like “Sports Direct” which just sells sports gear directly to the consumer? “Rebrandly” is another great example as you can rebrand your links to make them more familiar to your core audience while introducing new users to your brand. All with the same message.
Do you trigger an emotional response to their own state of mind, like Nike with their ‘Just Do It’ campaign which has now become synonymous with the brand? Another example is meditation app, Headspace which talks to its audience in a calming and smooth way. If you are part of an organization that wants to help people declutter their minds, you want the messaging to mirror that. Fluid UI is another example of a brand that speaks to an audience that is searching for prototyping tools and wants to build a fluid user interface. The customer then draws their own conclusion about what the brand offers, making it personal and memorable. The right choice for you will depend on your customers and their purchasing habits.
Finally, it’s important to think about the story your brand tells. What do your customers say about your product to their friends and family? Is it a story you have told them?
Does your story increase the likelihood of your users repurchasing your product or becoming a brand advocate? Are you speaking in a tone that is useful to your audience?
All of these questions are things you can take ownership of, ensuring that when your customers come to consider your product, they know what they are getting. When you’re on brand, it makes selling your product a whole lot easier.
5. Early customer touch points are the most sticky
Customer perceptions about your brand start to form during the first few touch points and are extremely hard to change over time. The messaging they receive early on will later inform their expectations about how the product works, and whether they stick with it or not. User tests have shown that products that are billed as “easy to use” (particularly when described as such by a friend) cause users to show reduced frustration and increased patience when being learned.
Remember to influence your users from the start by instilling certain words and stories that you want to be associated with your brand – just like “branded links” for Rebrandly or “in minutes” for Fluid UI.
Guest author: Dave Kearney, Founder, and CEO of FluidUI.com
FluidUI is a prototyping tool that lets you create and share ideas for web and mobile apps in minutes. While Dave’s passion is for beautiful product experiences, he strongly believes that it is impossible to build a successful product without an even more successful brand to drive it forward.