When it comes to comparing user experience (UX) and branding, it seems like everyone has an opinion.
UX’s goal is to make sure that the user’s experience is as pleasant as possible whereas branding is there to ensure consistency throughout. At some point, design is going to get to where we must make decision between making a more agreeable experience for the user or maintaining brand identity. However, UX and brand identity overlap more than you might think. I always end up asking myself; are they really two sides of a coin?
Let us start by revisiting what branding means. When we think about branding, our minds probably go more quickly to logos, slogans, colours, fonts and writing styles. But these are only the beginning of what branding means today. Branding has transformed into more than an identifying mark; it has begun to communicate a message – a promise about a particular product or company compared to another. Branding has adapted to the digital world and evolved to represent a broader set of experiences across all channels.
In the past few years, we have seen the term user experience bulldozing its way into the heart of digital and, more broadly, the business world. The ideal is to have hard data working hand-in-hand with UX to drive design decisions. However, meaningful interactions are not born out of hard data alone. Hard data and UX can quantify the success of a project but a data-driven approach alone will have little to no effect on brand advocacy.
A scenario which highlights the problem with a purely data-led approach is when two companies sell similar products and target similar consumers. If they both applied a typical user-centered design process, it’s more than likely that they would both uncover the same user data, which would lead to them producing very similar websites.
“This is a very complicated world. This is a noisy world. And we are not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us – no company is. And so we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us,” said Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs knew how important it was to communicate a single, consistent brand experience to Apple’s customers. We have to keep in mind that customers do not compartmentalise brands in the same manner as most typical corporate structures – a brand is a single concept in the customer’s mind. The most important thing is to ensure consistency across all touchpoints. Consistency is key in building familiarity with your customers, which leads to understanding and trust. Customers will not trust a brand that offers a fragmented brand experience. They simply do not have the time to care about your brand as much as you wish they would.
To ensure that your customers perceive your brand as you wish them to, we must first be clear on what your company’s brand promises are. You need to define your real brand promise based on your corporate culture, organisational behavior, service policies, marketing collaterals – in other words, the total user experience (UX).
Communicating brand promise in the context of UX may be abstract. However, think about using the brand promise as a metric – is your brand fulfilling its promise to your users?
A brand promise is the unique, enduring essence behind your brand’s purpose. It is the foundational value that your brand commits to delivering to your customers. A brand promise does not manifest in just one place, but rather throughout the entire user experience. The brand promise drives both internally and externally – from mission, vision to brand personalities, positioning, audience and marketing. What your company looks like, sounds like and how you behave are all equal components of a brand in the eyes of your consumer. In the digital world, your consumers interact with the representation of your brand in the form of websites, apps and other interactive services. The granularity of visual, tone and behavior as a brand promise can be expressed holistically at the level of entire processes and interactions on your digital properties. These properties all need to play a part in contributing to the total brand experience.
Branding can inform UX and UX can define branding. Doing so will make sure that the UX stays true to the brand promise. In order to bridge the gap between the intent of a brand promise and the reality of the user experience, we need to explicitly state what the brand experience objectives are before the commencement of the UX process. We can then consciously aim to convey the desired brand perception to the audience when defining and designing the characteristics of the website, app or any interactive service. On the other hand, the user experience you design will contribute towards forming part of the desired brand perception.
Always remember that your brand is constructed from a small collection of micro brand interactions over months, years, and decades. These micro brand interactions often last only a few seconds before your customers move on to more pressing matters in their lives. Without a consistent brand experience, companies will continue to inundate customers with disparate servings of information, expectations and experiences, resulting in their brands getting lost in the noise of everyday life.
Francis Choo is creative director at APD Singapore.