The vital role of branding in the customer journey - industry experts share their views on identity, packaging, brand values and experiential marketing

By Gillian West | Social media manager

The One Off


Branding article

February 11, 2014 | 10 min read

With brands such as Mulberry and Apple praised for their flawless marketing across every touchpoint, The Drum spoke with a number of branding industry experts to collect their views on how brands can successfully influence their consumers and encourage sales.

In the latest issue of The Drum we explore the importance of branding to the customer journey and what impact branding in all its forms - identity, packaging, design and experience - have on the customers purchasing decisions.

A few of their thoughts are showcased below, with the full feature is available in the 5 February issue of The Drum which is available now in The Drum store.

How important is brand identity to the branding process?

Pearlfisher created the brand identity for Cowshed sister brand Cheeky at the tail-end of last yearAdam Devey Smith, The One OffBrand identity is an important factor, but all the brand identity does is act as a signature for a brand that communicates a promise, if promises are broken early on in a relationship with its customers then it falls away. If you can get the brand promise and the signature - that icon - to mean something early on in the customer journey then you start to build believability. The key with the brand identity is to make sure that all the other brand assets work in harmony. Four or five years ago, when online and digital media was less prevalent, brands could set up a tone of voice or a set of values and as long as you could keep up the pace then people would understand and believe it. Now it’s like music - it’s not just the beat that’s important you need to have these ups and downs, you’ve got to be quiet sometimes, you have to have a bit of this and that, you have to let customers have their say on social media and other media channels that aren’t controlled by you. You have to understand your role, building brand relationships used to be a one way thing, then it became a two way thing between you and the customer, now it’s a multi-comms dialogue where everyone can join in and have a conversation about your brand and your personality. You have to make sure you have enough understanding of who you are for it to be believable. There is nowhere to hide any more, if you do something that isn’t true and you try to pull the wool over people’s eyes then you’ll be found out really quickly. Get a really strong brand identity and stick to your guns. Rory Feagn, PearlfisherBrand identity is hugely important. The identity has the job of communicating everything the brand stands for in one small moment. In many cases, it is the first and only thing consumers get to see, and ultimately, judge. It is the culmination of all the hard work that the development, marketing, brand and design teams have put in. The growing diversity of brand behaviour creates an even stronger argument for identity-centric brand design. Design is the common denominator when it comes to brand innovation, consumer engagement and success. As even more channels appear and vie for our attention, the need to address design becomes increasingly prescient as consumer recognition and connection with a brand will become even more important.

What role does packaging play and is good pack design vital?

BrandOpus created the packaging for Twinings in 2013Paul Taylor, BrandOpusThe packaging is key; we often talk about the pack being the atom unit of the brand. In our experience consumers don’t break the pack down into its component elements they can’t possibly do that, they see it as a whole and quite often the decision making process is made in an instant. Consumers are on auto-pilot so packaging is important but its key with the packaging to create a simple expression of the brand, I think sometimes people confuse that with an opportunity to communicate a load more messages to a consumer. Our experience shows us consumers find it hard to engage at that level. Velda Croot, JDOPackaging on a supermarket shelf typically has less than three seconds to grab a consumer's attention. Additionally, more than 70 per cent of purchasing decisions are made at the shelf. Your pack therefore has to work really hard to stand out from the clutter. In many cases the pack is the sole form of brand communication (i.e. it may not have any marketing or advertising support) so it's crucial to the customer experience of the brand.Simon Preece, ElmwoodPackaging is absolutely fundamental and I would say the most important element in the customer purchasing journey, and that’s whether you’re a leading brand or a challenger brand. There are 25,000 products in your average supermarket and a customer only buys from a repertoire of about 100. Every brand is shouting to be that product guaranteed a place in that basket, or to kick someone else out to get a place in that basket as a challenger. If you don’t get packaging right you can have the most amazing above-the-line communications or support or whatever you have to go with the brand, if it doesn’t do its job on shelf then you’re wasting your time. Simon Forster, Robot FoodPackaging is often the first point of contact with a brand especially if it’s a challenger brand that doesn’t have a budget for above-the-line advertising, so packaging is the most important thing they’ve got to communicate with the consumer. There’s a mistake with brand’s thinking they need to do everything, when in fact all they need is to do what they do do well. Packaging is very much a big part of a brand’s story.

How challenging is it to help a brand sum up its brand values in one project?

Apple's brand identity is summed up through its 'Think Different positioningSteve Anderson, Smith & MiltonBranding isn’t this fluffy idea of logo or colour palette and pictures or even website, it’s much deeper than that. You have to have one thought that permeates every part of the business as for customers whether they’re buying beer, insurance products or bread it doesn’t matter how many different departments you have.We’re trying to get to a point with branding where everything makes sense, whether you’re contacted through a piece of direct mail that leads you to a website, or you see an ad on TV and then ring the call centre, all of those things need to be singing from the same hymn sheet for customers to really understand a brand’s values. Brand’s that get it right are the successful ones. We’re all familiar with the cliché of Apple but it works. The product is as innovative as the shop is. Someone within Apple isn’t just thinking about how cool the iPad should be they’re thinking about the experience of buying an iPad, is it as seamless as it could be? Apple’s organising thought ‘Think Different’ sees them thinking different about every single thing they do whether it’s the button on the side of your phone or the desk when you go into a shop - that’s what branding is really about.Nick Ramshaw, Thompson Brand Partners Branding has to be much more than just the visual, it has to be about the way a brand behaves and within that, how it speaks as well. Tone of voice is really important and then it comes down to visually, it needs to look like it’s come from the same place. Brands can sometimes not put as much emphasis on that behavioural point as they really should; the really good ones are very, very good at it. For example, I received a new Sky router box at home the other day and it had lovely packaging with some nice messages on it and that made me feel wonderfully warm towards the Sky brand and it has made me much more loyal to Sky going forward. When I received it I wasn’t surprised it was light-hearted, funny and it was quite ingenious because that’s what you’d expect from the Sky brand.

How important are branded experiences becoming to consumers?

Love designed the Johnnie Walker House experiences in China and South KoreaNigel Owens, B-StreetIt’s all about blending the in-store with digital and experience and having all three disciplines come together to help clients meet their consumers. We try to build experience into programmes as much as possible as it allows us to engage with people and tell the brand story, sometimes it’s in visual way and sometimes through interaction with staff…It’s a different way of spending the budget but it can be used to generate word-of-mouth. Creating those moments that people remember around a brand is quite difficult on this day and age you need to find something that will cut-through and engage and is appropriate to the target audience. All clients are looking for that ‘what’s different’ moment that will make them stand out and get them talked about. Dave Palmer, LoveMost people’s interaction with brands now is a swipe of a touchscreen or a click of a mouse or it’s physically in-store, there’s not much really in between. Experiential is that full experience and a lot of brands are now trying to project that authenticity and substance you don’t get online through branded experiences. It lets brands flex who they are in a physical space and allows the consumer to experience them fully, not only can you look and hear, you can touch and smell. It will become increasingly important, we already see a lot of brands who want more and want to deliver experiences as it’s no longer just a transactional relationship. Consumers want to be entertained, they want experiences. Brands like Johnnie Walker have over 200 years’ of experience to play with and their consumers want that substance and storytelling and want to immerse themselves in that history.

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JDO Brand Design & Innovation

Brand & Packaging Design Agency | Specialising in Packaging Design, Innovation, 3D & Product Design, Brand & Corporate Identity.

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Elmwood is the world’s most effective brand design consultancy. A bold statement, but true. We’ve won more Design Effectiveness Awards than anyone else in the history of the scheme, recognition of our work’s commercial success.Elmwood began as a small, local agency in 1977, and whilst we now have studios in Leeds, London, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Melbourne, we’re still very much independent.

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Smith & Milton

Smith & Milton is a branding, design and communications group.

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Thompson Brand Partners

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LOVE is a design-led agency with storytelling at the heart of our approach - we believe that design sits at the very core of true brand success. LOVE develop visionary solutions that drive conversation and engagement for leading global brands across multiple consumer touch points.

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