Your strategy, whether marketing, business, creative, campaign, or brand, is your game plan. It’s what success looks like and what it’s going to take to get there. Sure, your strategy will involve how you’re going to target your customers and get those all-important conversions. It will say what you’ll be doing, when, and why. But what if we shifted the focus from what we’ll be doing, to what our customers are doing, when they’re doing it, and why? You need to use your strategy to help you compete on brand experience In an increasingly commodified and competitive consumer driven environment, the process of how we interact with a service or product has changed. Phones look the same and do mostly the same thing. Supermarkets mostly stock the same brands, with the only differentiation being whether I can be bothered to walk a few feet further to save a couple of pence. Added to that, we’re no longer dealing with a simple process of seeing an advertisement, purchasing the product, and… that’s it. Instead, a lot of what’s happening in the buying process, is happening outside of that moment of transaction. Brands now operate on a customer-based dialogue. When we talk to brands, we expect them to talk back. I can now tweet most brands with a problem I’m having, and expect a helpful response. Innocent, incredibly, even get free advertising doing this, because people are tweeting pictures of themselves drinking a smoothie, actively seeking a witty response from Innocent. Marketers are increasingly looking for ways to get engagement from users, whether that’s a campaign that puts users in centre stage, championing superfans by building a content strategy around user generated content, or getting customer input directly on what a brand should stand for. And it makes sense—Marketing is all about engagement, because we believe engagement drives conversions. But while we’re constantly asking how can we get customers to engage with our brands, we’re not worrying enough about how that engagement is experienced. Because, bad engagement experiences don’t drive conversions. We need to be using our strategies to make sure that engagement is supported and made better by the best experience possible, both online and offline. Brands focusing on users aren’t doing it because it’s the self-centred millennial thing to do—they’re doing it to give themselves a competitive edge. They understand that branding and marketing have become increasingly experiential, especially when I have so much choice to go elsewhere. The yardstick for if I purchase from you is how you treat me outside of buying your product or service. You now have to compete on the quality of not only your product, but of your customers experience of your brand. Some sad truths about not knowing how your users are experiencing your brand at all levels Your brand is everything you do, funnelling into who people think you are. But the sad truth is that all the energy and money in the world could go into planning and executing a campaign strategy that convinces me a brand cares, but as soon as I walk into a store and experience the worst service, or can’t find the button to process my transaction online, all that money and energy have been wasted. Unfortunately, marketing and brand building don’t stop the moment your logo goes on a product, or you send that Tweet. I like to call these experiences organisational brand neglect, because something has gone wrong in the internal communication of the brand within the organisation. My experience of the brand touchpoints has been inconsistent; the campaign strategy hasn’t considered what I do and where I go after I’ve seen the campaign, while the overall marketing strategy hasn’t told anyone in the shop how to talk about the brand. What I was told the brand stood for in the campaign hasn’t translated to the next logical touchpoint of the website or instore, and I’m left thinking you don’t actually care about me, and I’m probably going to take my business somewhere else. It’s an unfortunate human trait that we remember the bad things better than the good things—and this fact should underpin the drive to ensure your strategies revolve around making sure your customers have the best experience of your brand. If you take the time to shape what happens in your touchpoints as well as you shape your product offering, your user and brand will benefit immensely. Start designing your strategies around what your users want and do, then plan what you’re going to do to make it as easy and delightful as possible for them Any good strategy needs to be centred around not just who your target audience is, but what their objectives are, the actions they’re taking, and what they’re thinking and feeling. This is where customer journey maps become indispensable. Customer journeys maps visually show what your users are doing, feeling, and thinking at any time when they interact with your brand. They can look at an online or offline process, a whole end to end brand journey, or focus on one process – like ordering a pizza online. They can map out the roll out of a large-scale campaign. They can look at just the customer only, or look at what’s happening backstage in your organization to facilitate interactions too. An end-to-end customer journey will help you understand how all touchpoints, from social media and landing pages, to support phone lines and cashiers, are connected, and how each situation needs to be strategized for to ensure a cohesive, consistent, and compelling brand experience. For instance, just because you’ve completed a transaction, it doesn’t mean your customer’s’ journey must be over. Instead, leverage the opportunity to add in a touchpoint that supports your users, whilst giving them a little nudge that you’re still there. They can help designers understand where a user is coming from and where they want to go, enabling them to design to help customers get from point A to B as painlessly as possible. They can help copywriters understand how a customer is feeling, and therefore how they can use copy to help them feel a different way. The sales team can learn where customers are getting confused or frustrated, where they’re suffering from gaps in knowledge, or if they’re receiving inconsistent service. They can support campaign planning by ensuring your audience is directed to the right place and followed up with at the right times as to not annoy them. Done right, you can use these journeys to engineer your strategies to include tactical and strategic actions to influence how a user thinks about your brand from beginning to end—even months or years after that first point of contact. Why even pizza is an emotional experience that needs to be catered for Most people tend to gravitate towards a certain pizza takeaway brand, usually because of taste preferences, or whoever has the best deal. But for arguments sake, let’s assume all pizza tastes the same to the majority of people and is competitively priced. How do you get someone to buy from one brand over another? Let’s look at a very simplified customer journey of buying a pizza online. A lot of customer journeys will have a mood monitor section that looks like this: This graph currently misses a lot of interaction points (we could make a whole separate one for the process of ordering on the website, and we haven’t detailed how people are getting to the site or what they’re doing after they get the pizza), but this visually details how a customer is feeling at each of these touchpoints currently. A dip in the line here means the customer is unhappy—they could be bored or frustrated, which will reflect on your brand. What we’re looking to do is to control that line a bit more by looking for opportunities to intervene—and there are several ways we can do that. We could identify somewhere we could add a new touchpoint. We could change or improve the way one particular section works. We could remove an unnecessary step and automate it instead. We could swap the order of steps, or add a touchpoint before the line even begins or after it ends. We could even scrap the whole process of ordering a pizza online and reimagine what it could look like. Either way you’re really looking to have complete control over that line— to make it go up and let it go down when you think the time is right—and therefore complete control over how someone is feeling about their experience of your brand. You can see there’s a massive mood dip when users are choosing their pizza. This could signal a problem with the website. There’s also a dip when people are waiting for their pizza. Our research says the reason for that dip is because nobody likes ordering for ASAP only to still be left an hour later peering out the window and wondering when it’s finally going to arrive. So, let’s implement something to fix that. It could be an online chef cam that pops up when I’ve put through my order to show me my pizza is being made and when it’s going out the door. Or, it could be a pizza tracker attached to the pizza box, so I can see exactly where my pizza is and when it’s going to arrive. Whatever it is, strategise to control the ebb and flow of your customer journeys, and seize opportunities to make the most of your touchpoints. Join up the dots and give your users a reason to come back to you because your experience was much more delightful than your competitors.