Bridging the Gap between Branding and Experience Design

I attended so many great sessions at Inbound 2018, but the one I can't stop thinking about is this: Bridging the gap between branding and experience design.

Adrian Ho was the presenter—an awesome and incredibly creative presenter at that. And he's also a founding member of a branding agency called Zeus Jones.

Below, I'm going to deconstruct the essentials from this session and talk about how we marketers can use and apply them.

What Is Branding?

Branding is the process of giving meaning to your company's products or services by creating and shaping a brand in consumers' minds. Think logo, color palette, imagery, and so forth. Picture things like the Nike swoosh, golden arches, and NBC peacock.

What Is Experience Design?

Experience design is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience.

Have you ever used a website or app and said, "This is so easy"? The interaction made you feel good; it made your day better. It not only gave you the information you were seeking, but it did it in a way that put your needs first by making it easy, and, thus, leaving you with a positive feeling about the company in general. That's an example of a good user experience.

The Intersection of Branding and Experience Design

In today's world, brand no longer stays still. In other words, it's no longer simply your logo or color palette. Your brand continually evolves.


Because of technology.

Technology is changing how we interact with brands. As a result, we have to think about branding in terms of experiences.

Sales Funnel Evolution: Don't Think in Terms of Discrete Steps

Thirty years ago, consumers followed a predictable path. There were only so many ways people could first learn about a brand (e.g., print, radio, TV, direct mail), but now there are dozens and dozens of ways for consumers to learn about your brand.

And the starting point is no longer one fixed point. The consumer journey is collapsing in on itself. So instead of a "sequential" customer journey—i.e., this first, then this, and then this—multiple steps are happening at the same time.

Here's an example of what I mean...

Imagine someone wants to make a gluten-free treat for her new boyfriend who has a sensitivity to gluten. She's not much of a baker, and doesn't really know where to begin. Now, consider the following interaction with Alexa.

  • "Hey, Alexa. What are some easy gluten-free desserts that I can make?"
  • Alexa responds with a recommendation for a gluten-free sour cream coffee cake using a specialty gluten-free flour that's won awards two years in a row. And the woman thinks, I've never heard of this stuff, but if it's won awards, it's probably really good."
  • "Hey, Alexa. How do I buy this flour?"
  • Alexa responds that it's available in one-pound or three-pound bags.
  • The woman, suddenly feeling extremely confident in her baking abilities, says, "Can you add a three-pound bag to my cart and print the recipe for the sour cream coffee cake?"
  • Alexa does, and the woman can't wait to get baking.

Notice how all of the steps of the consumer journey have collapsed into one moment—a moment that spans a minute or two, tops. (And consider other scenarios, too, like the woman looking up the company on her phone and reading reviews, as she's asking Alexa to add the flour to her cart.)

Obviously, this process might represent only a small percentage of the market right now, but it might quickly become the new normal where every interaction with a brand is self-contained, meaning the interaction has to assume it stands completely alone without anything preceding or following it.

This demands that every interaction does far more work in far less time and that every interaction is functional, emotionally relevant, meaningful, and memorable.

A tall order, right?

So how do we accomplish this?

Building Modern Brand Experiences: Think "Marker Moments"

Marker moments are key emotional experiences, and the most memorable experiences we have with a brand. They are the moments that come to mind when you think of a product or brand, and they dictate how you feel about the brand and whether you would recommend it—or direct people away from it.

Marker moments have four core elements:

  • Brand: Make sure everything feels like the brand—not just in terms of design, but content and interactions, too.
  • Awareness: Know what the user needs before they ask.
  • Management: Address the user's needs and go beyond expectations.
  • Empathy: Leave the user feeling heard, understood, and like their day has just gotten better.

The awareness, management, and empathy parts make up the experience "center," which is encircled by your brand. So your brand doesn't change. Everything still needs to feel like your brand—colors, palette, voice. But it's no longer just those things—it's the content and interactions as well.

Whereas brand used to be one thing and customer journey used to something else, now both are blended into one experience.

A Marker Moment in Action

For our client, Puritan Medical Products (a manufacturer of medical swabs), they wanted to provide a positive experience for their flu swab distributors and customers—an experience that takes into account feedback received after last year's flu season and that provides users with helpful info delivered in a way that makes it easy for users to access whenever they want.

We created a flu resource page that does all of this. It's designed neatly, all while keeping the overarching brand in mind. It gives users a choice regarding how they receive the content—piece by piece, according to what they click on, or all at once in one handy zipped email.

Why was this marker moment such a success? Because Puritan considered the customer's experience—last year's feedback combined with an easy-to-use portal that delivers what the customer needs, when they need it—and all while accurately reflecting the brand customers had come to know.

Branding and Experience Design: The Future Is Now

I know this is a very different way to think about your brand, but in reality, it's how you and I experience other people's brands every day, right? So think like a consumer with your own brand, and you'll be off to a good start.

Of course, if you need help bridging the gap between branding and experience design, give us a shout!

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Annette Sparks | Creative Director & Senior Graphic Designer
About the Author
Annette Sparks, Creative Director & Senior Graphic Designer