Here’s how your brand is being defined right this second

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Jenna Isken, group director of experience at Siegel+Gale, on how to create unforgettable experiences.

Every year, brands spend millions of dollars trying to create unforgettable experiences. They compete for the rare and indelible imprint on the minds and hearts of their consumers. Instead of spending all that time talking a big game about making meaningful connections, why not put in the work to uncover what really matters to your audience? You may be surprised with what you find. The things that resonate and transform your customers’ feelings are more tangible than a well-worded press statement.

Your brand is the sum of every interaction and touchpoint a person has with your company. That means everything from your Twitter feed to your customer service, and each point in between, is continually crafting a 360°-brand experience.

Like most chief marketers, you probably believe you know your brand and your consumers inside and out. It’s your job, after all. But what if there was more to it? Everyone wants to deliver an exceptional experience, but few do.

So, what’s the disconnect? The ROI of great customer experiences is measurable and proven, yet brands haven’t figured out how or why to deliver on those experiences.

To begin, many chief marketers and brand leaders conflate ‘brand experiences’ and ‘experiential marketing.’ It makes sense when you take a step back and realize that for many chief marketers, experiential marketing was their, and perhaps your, first foray into the concept of branded experiences. Remember the headlines and PR Volkswagon garnered when they turned a subway staircase into an interactive piano to illustrate their commitment to public health?

Yes, experiential campaigns are memorable, but often they focus primarily on communicating a message and miss the power of experiences to drive lasting and authentic communication. If award-winning creative work isn’t the solution, what is?

  • Simplicity: Before developing and designing brand-defining experiences, take a step back. Ask yourself if you have a clear understanding of why you’re building that experience. What’s driving your deliverables, and is everyone at your company on the same page? It’s this upfront focus and user research that tends to get cut or skipped. When timelines contract it can feel smarter to concentrate on the end goal rather than pausing to strategize. Other times, research gets shelved because, frankly, it’s more fun to focus on creating something tangible like a design or an installation.

  • Empathy: With everything taken into consideration, the bottom line is this – if your experience isn’t being crafted from a position of empathy and understanding, it’s less likely it will connect with your customers in a meaningful way. The more deeply you know your users, as humans, the better the brand experience you’ll create and the more likely you’ll establish trust.

  • Comprehensive: The deeper the understanding, the better the experience. For your business, the stakes couldn’t be higher. While great experiences can build relationships, bad experiences quickly destroy them and break trust.

There are myriad ways to get to know your audience – perhaps too many.

To begin, start from a place of knowing, not guessing

It’s crucial to take the time to learn about your audience versus validating assumptions and instincts you have about them. Uncover what they want, what they expect and where they’re currently feeling friction or pain with your brand. Spending time in the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ is always worth it.

Take an analytical approach to listening, watching and learning about their needs. Then go deeper. Get a comprehensive understanding of their emotional and behavioral preferences. Getting a truly well-rounded view of your consumers may mean breaking organizational silos.

So bring it in. Think across all your departments and how you can bring them together to deliver a singular experience. Getting your stakeholders involved is key to creating a cross-company bond. When everyone is working toward a united purpose of delivering empathy and understanding, your consumers will feel it.

Customer experience mapping is a great tool to identify what matters and how it’s related to what’s around you. It’s an outside-in approach that’s designed to cut across departments, functions and organizational silos. It allows you to identify rough spots, act and ultimately execute better as an organization. Experience mapping can also help outline and determine a plan to understand how different pieces and people will work with one another into the future.

This is not a one-trick pony approach. To be successful, you must keep it up. Being user-centric requires thinking about user needs, impact and understanding as an ongoing part of any experience. While analytics provide great insights, they won’t tell you everything you need to know. A KPI is a good flag to understanding success or unearthing a problem, but it’s not a Magic 8-Ball.

Commit to curiosity. The best brand experiences are driven by brands that perpetually work to understand the ‘whys,’ ‘hows’ and ‘what’s nexts.’ By treating your audience like an important person in your life and taking the time to get to know them, you will create an invaluable bond.