SMPL Q&A: 4 questions on the tenets of experience design with Toby Marks

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SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview experts on all things relevant to branding, design and simplicity. In this Q&A we speak with Toby Marks, associate strategist, about how to design a compelling brand experience. 

What is a brand experience?

Brand experience is defined by the subjective internal response of thoughts, feelings and sensations, triggered in response to related brand stimuli. Simply put, it’s the feeling conjured by the brand in question. Take coffee, a pence commodity product, add packaging to the mix and the price spikes. Add service to the mix, the price soars. Add in localised coffeehouses, and the humble bean can justifiably demand a premium.

What are the foundations of a compelling brand experience?

Sensory has been a buzzword in branding for a long time. The sights, smells or tastes that customers can only get from your brand. Hugo Boss uses a distinctive musky smell in all its stores as a signature memory trigger. Even with eyes closed, shoppers can tell they’re in Hugo Boss, but there’s more to the experience than mere sensory spurs.

Second, social connections: customers choose brands emotionally over rationally, so a shared sense of values is crucial. Brands that transcend their product or represent lifestyle choices gather the greatest tribes. Take the “brotherhood” of Harley-Davidson riders for instance; united by a shared ethos, their success lies in the ability to “fulfill dreams of personal freedom.” In today’s turbulent world, people are hungry for a sense of connection on a more personal level such as this.

Third, intellectual stimulation: spirited brands that provoke a response, or fire conversation, make memories. Think of the United Colors of Benetton campaign, Pope Benedict XVI kissing the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar or the anti-racial message in the “White, Black, Yellow” hearts advert. Thoughts? The power of this campaign lies in its inability to be ignored; it transcends geographies and faiths to create global debate. With a list of cultural taboos constantly evolving, why shouldn’t brands join the conversation?

Finally, behavioral response: why tell consumers, when they can experience it for themselves? Just do it. Sure, you can tell me to do it, but until I’ve joined the running club, pushed the product to its limits or used the training club application, I’m unlikely to advocate your brand. Participating creates a much deeper connection; it personalises the experience. 

What’s the best way to start designing a brand experience?

Brands should ask themselves what feeling they want to evoke in their customers. This will give them a base around which to design their brand experience. Is it a sense of ownership? Adventure? Achievement? Think Cadbury, they instill joy in their customers’ lives—its adverts with the gorilla make you laugh. Cadbury understands what their consumer wants to feel when they turn to Cadbury, and they deliver it.

Using this feeling as a guiding principle, allow it to permeate every interaction with your customers. Live in their hearts and minds. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Look at your brand’s core strengths and use them to create a memorable experience; one that looks beyond distinctive sensations, to one they want to become part of.

What do brands stand to gain from building a compelling brand experience?

The experience now is the brand. If you deliver a compelling brand experience that surprises and delights, you’ll receive all the advantages of a strong brand: competitive differentiation, increased purchase intent, loyalty and increased customer advocacy.


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