UX and service design mainly focuses on user needs and responds to issues from an outside in perspective (what are the customers’ needs and how can businesses fulfil these in the best possible way). Within UX design in particular the focus has been on creating as friction-free solutions as possible.
The brand is a differentiation factor for digital interfaces
Brand building, however, is largely about conveying a brand strategy message from the sender to the end user, i.e. an inside out perspective (who are we as a business and why are we relevant to you as a customer). A brand experience should not be frictionless; it should make you feel something.
In order to establish a strong, lasting link between a business and a customer, both perspectives are equally important. As a company, you need to identify which functional and emotional benefits are also relevant to customers and differentiate you from the competition. These benefits must be communicated to customers in an accurate way.
“A brand experience should not be frictionless; it should make you feel something.”
A brand can express itself visually and verbally. With a digital solution, the brand’s visual identity and voice should meld together with the user-friendly design because an exclusive focus on the latter is not necessarily differentiating in itself. In the future, good user experience may move towards becoming a hygiene factor, while a strong brand will be essential to stand out in the myriad of products and services that are just one click away.
Vipps from Norway is a somewhat well-worn but still excellent example of a service that has been able to work consistently on both its brand and usability. If Vipps had the same user-friendly solution, but a weaker brand name, they would not be where they are today.
New technology provides new opportunities for functionality and therefore for brand extraction. Companies that are able to make use of these opportunities will get a head start on the others.
Brand as a differentiation factor in the customer journey
A key tool within service design is the mapping of customer journeys. Based on insight, you can create an overview of all the points at which a customer contacts the company – before, during and after a transaction.
These points can be both within and outside the control of the company. In addition to actually getting an overview of these contact points, you are also looking to assess the customer’s experience of each individual point and then be able to insert targeted measures to improve or maintain the customer experience.
“In the future, good user experience may move towards becoming a hygiene factor, while a strong brand will be essential to stand out.”
When working on customer journeys, you often focus on improved functionality and user experience, but it is also important to ensure that the brand permeates the entire journey. The brand value will be strengthened by enabling customers to have a complete and positive brand experience across all contact points. The higher the brand value, the stronger the competitive advantage. By being conscious of the nature of the various contact points, you will also be able to convey the right message at the right time and thereby avoid boring, or at worst, bothering, your customers. The brand will emerge as more clear and therefore easier to choose – time after time.
The brand as a clear signal of change
It is not necessary to clarify how important the ability to handle change is, and will be in the future. It is often important for companies to send out clear signals to customers and the market that they have changed, especially if the change is a result of external forces. Repositioning the brand or changes to the brand’s visual and verbal identity are one such signal. McKinsey & Company underwent a comprehensive profile shift in spring 2019 as part of a change process. They describe the profile shift as “not just a design exercise but a new commitment to customers.” Here in Norway we are also familiar with the change from Statoil to Equinor as a clear signal that the company is moving into the future. If you are involved in a change process, it may be useful to ask yourself if the existing brand positively contributes to moving the company forward or if it is holding you back. Sometimes only minor adjustments to the brand strategy and extraction are needed to send the correct signals.
To summarise, there are several reasons why the brand is at least as significant today as ever. The brand is an important differentiator in interaction with customers via both digital and more traditional channels, and it is an important signal of where you are heading. A focus on brand strategy is not an obstacle to a customer-centric approach, but rather helps to inspire and simplify choices. At Knowit, our professionals work with a holistic approach to brand and usability. By combining friction-free functionality with a friction-filled brand experience, we help our customers to stand out from the competition and create loyalty among their customers.