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What is “brand experience?” While a lot of managers talk about the importance of brand experience, it’s awfully hard to find agreement about what, exactly, brand experience is. At the simplest level, brand experience lives exclusively in our minds. It is impossible for me to know whether or not your brand experience matches mine because how we perceive the brand is so subjective. A brand experience affects what we think, feel and do as a result of interaction with the brand. Of these three dimensions, perhaps none is more valuable than the “do” part.
Brand experiences are most memorable when the experience either changes the behavior of the audience or compels the audience to behave in a very specific way. This is certainly true for Instagram. It allows users to do certain things they couldn’t have done as easily before. For example, the service makes it easier for users to exhibit their work to a broad audience of people with similar interests. Serious photographers use Instagram as regularly as an amateur with a smartphone. Each has the ability to distribute their work to people they know, but their photos are also broadcast to a lot of people they don’t know. The service makes it easy to follow interesting photographers and keep a collection of “favorite” photos. This social functionality has augmented the behavior of users. Many users are taking photos to share with the world as much as they are taking photos to memorialize a memory.
Though it is often the butt of many jokes, the fact that people have to assemble IKEA furniture is an important part of the brand experience. We may curse the crazy names, the limited instructions, and the funky maneuvers we have to master with an Allen wrench, but the experience also makes us more invested in the inexpensive furniture we assemble. The furniture and the experience have meaning because of the behavior the brand induces.
Go into a Starbucks and order your favorite coffee. You’ll use a specific vocabulary. Starbucks engineered its own language, and we willingly put it to use. That’s part of what makes the Starbucks brand experience memorable. In fact, Starbucks influences a lot of our behavior at its retail locations. We stand in line. We sit in overstuffed chairs. We tip our barista. All of that activity influences our perception of the brand.
The fact of the matter is that many brands create memorable experiences by constraining what we can do. You can’t buy a meal on Southwest Airlines. You also can’t reserve a specific seat location. Southwest doesn’t fly to all the major airports, nor does it allow you to fly first class. And an awful lot of people positively love the Southwest brand experience. We frequently perceive greater value in the experiences that constrain our options. Sometimes we feel less overwhelmed because we didn’t have to sort through many choices—the brand lessens our sense of responsibility. Sometimes we feel a greater sense of accomplishment because the experience focused our attention. In either case, the brand experience makes us more aware of our behavior, and that behavior differentiates the brand at the point of delivery and in our recollections.