13 July 2022

The relationship between Brand and User Experience (UX) in a Digital Age

Branding - did it all start with the ancient Egyptians branding their cattle? Or was it the pottery makers from China, India, Greece, Rome, and Mesopotamia marking their ceramics? Regardless of where it all started, branding was always about making your mark, both literally and figuratively.

Today, majority of people typically associate “branding” with things like the company logo, a distinct colors scheme, a specific typeface, or a slogan. In reality, branding is the holistic sum of customers’ experiences, composed of visual, tonal, and behavioral brand components, many of which are shaped by interaction design.

The easiest way to visualise this is an iceberg. At the very top sits the logo, color scheme, typeface and all the things typically associated with the brand. Below the surface lies the true weight and support structure, the less tangible elements such as culture, positioning, competencies, and strategies. The tip is only as strong as the foundation it’s built upon.

Another element that is often confused and overlooked. When it comes to brand, the lines between “representation of a product” and “brand as the product’s reputation” is often blurred and they’re sometimes thought to be one in the same. Brand as representation is largely what makes it recognizable such as logo, colors, typeface, imagery, and slogans – it’s what comes to mind when thinking of branding, the tip of the iceberg. While brand as reputation is more concerned with client expectations. Once the brand’s representation has been acknowledged and recognized by clients, then their preconceived expectations will be projected onto the product, and ultimately shape reputation. The aim is to keep the perception and foundational elements aligned as closely as possible.  
In reality, brand creates, communicates, and sustains value for all its stakeholders through its products and/or services. However, a brand is so much more than the representation that we think of, it is a living entity. It is also a journey, an evolutionary relationship based on the perceptions and experiences that someone has every time they connect with the brand. Because branding is part of the larger business strategy, it is imperative that UX aligns to the brand and its promise. 
The Digital Age has helped to shift branding from the one-sided approach that we came to know during the early 20th-century, into a two-way communication powered by the internet and easily accessible information. This shift in communication flow has given consumers a voice and ultimately the power to influence the brand’s reputation. It is important to understand that “branded” does not simply mean something has the company logo on, it means that it carries the brand’s promise and with that promise comes expectation and responsibility. This promise is what we spend time painstakingly crafting and building to grow trust and reputation in the hearts and minds of consumers. To create genuine alignment and market viability we need to ensure that the brand’s promise and values are carried through all points on interaction, from our choice of colors, typeface, and imagery, right through to our choice of words, and our approach to handling errors and unavoidable interruptions. 
It is important to ensure that the brand’s product experience aligns with the brand’s personality and tone of voice. Disney has become the epitome of perfectly crafted brand experiences. Their Disneyland app carries the brand experience and consistently and beautifully. Instead of simply having regular map navigation in the parks, they’ve ensured that users have a true Disney experience by mimicking the park and attractions in an interactive animation style map, giving it that magic touch.  
As a living entity it is only natural for both brand and product to grow and evolve, and therefore they will naturally inform one another. Apple used to be mainly associated with simplicity because of their “easy-to-use” products during the 90’s. However, since then the brand has evolved further with the launch of new innovative products which have helped redefine the Apple brand, while maintaining their reputation for simplicity. Apple is now also associated with innovation and premium quality. 
People often tend to limit user experience to the product or service itself. User experience is made up of a multitude of touch points. In today’s digital age we might refer to it as Customer Experience (CX). The experience starts from the first point of contact, it might be a company website, word of mouth, a brochure, or an advert. The experience extends from an in-store visit, the system used by the store representative, all the way to the paper that your invoice gets printed on. The tangible product is merely another point in the overall journey and experience. Should you encounter any issues along the way, the person, be it client or an employee, users will likely contact support where they might be met by an Interactive Voice Response or a call center operator. This engagement is another user experience, think about all the lousy call center music you’ve experienced, wouldn’t you like to improve that experience as well? All these small experiences build up to the overall brand experience.  
Ultimately this brings me back to a quote by Michael Eisner, Former CEO of Disney, “A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.” 

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