I‘ve always talked about brand as being about the entire customer experience. Far more than just a name attached to a logo, brand is an organisation’s promise to its customers, a pledge to deliver whatever it is the business purports to stand for. Brand is felt in the quality of a product or service and in customer touch points like websites, apps, social media and marketing. It’s communicated through tone of voice, customer support processes, internal morale and market perceptions. It permeates every detail of a business, right down to the way you answer the phone.
Long before the digital revolution and CX, or customer experience, became the default subject for a million and one blog posts, I’d already lost count of the times I’d put forward this description for clients and designers. It just seemed the clearest way to articulate the difference between brand and branding and, by extension, to explain the importance of brand strategy as a business concept.
These days, CX has emerged as one of those terms most people profess to understand, but often they confuse familiarity with comprehension. Just because someone’s heard it, doesn’t mean they get it. Like most industry concepts these days, there’s no single, definitive or commonly held meaning of CX. However, what’s evident is that most people view CX as something bigger than brand—more than emotions or visual perceptions, they see it as the holistic customer experience over the entire lifecycle of interaction with a business. They think of CX as the umbrella concept encompassing all manner of brand representations and exchanges with products, people, systems and marketing channels. CX involves designing a customer’s interactions in order to either meet or exceed their expectations1.
Hmmm, sounds kind of familiar. So what, exactly, sets brand and CX apart? Are they even different?
For my money, CX is a subset of brand—a discipline that ought to focus specifically on tactical interactions with applied metrics. Brand is always boss, the overarching concept that encompasses all interactions. It’s the overall, holistic experience.
Brand has occupied my mind and my creative output for a significant part of my career. Over time I’ve refined processes to develop tangible outcomes that really get to the heart of brand architecture, brand positioning, brand essence, brand stories and so on. But where brand really stands apart, despite the discipline and constructs we attach to it, is that it possesses an intangible quality. You can have a gut feeling about people, companies, products or services even if you’ve never directly met or experienced them. Reputation and perception—both the good and the bad—precedes any interaction. In all likelihood, you may not even have a tangible reason as to why you hold a particular opinion. It’s just a feeling.
That is brand.