Is UX the future of branding? [#UXChat Roundup]

Advertising branding

Photo credit: Dennis Goedegebuure

What is user experience? Here’s our definition:

Everything that happens to your users when they interact with your business or organisation via your website, application or online communications. It includes everything they see, hear and do as well as their emotional reactions.

What is a brand? Here’s Seth Godin’s definition:

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.

These two terms have notoriously inconsistent definitions, depending on who you ask. I’ve chosen these two definitions because I believe they drive at the nucleus of both – an experience.

Our social media legend, OJ Quevedo, saw the same connection and thought it’d make for a great discussion on Twitter.

So for our most recent #uxchat – a 1-hour session, every Thursday, where pros discuss a chosen topic on our Twitter page – we asked, “Is UX the Future of Branding?”

Are the experiences customers have when interacting with our products, services and assets, the most decisive factor (in terms of how they feel) when they think of our business?

To answer this question, it was split into 3 parts:

  1. Is user experience the brand?
  2. Why do luxury brands, which are supposed to deliver excellent experiences, fail (at doing so online)?
  3. Is user experience, now or in the future, THE ultimate brand differentiator (rather than price)?

Here’s a selection of the best tweets.

1. Is user experience the brand?

Sarah Doody, a UX designer, believes “Product = Experience = Brand”.

I agree with Sarah’s destination… but not how she got there. The experience, not the logo, is the brand. The brand resides in customers’ minds, not the company’s walls.

But the product provides only an (arguably decisive) experience, not the experience. How about the experience provided by a company’s staff? How about marketing communications? These are all components of the experience too.

The UX Chap, Joe Pendlebury, comes at the topic from a different angle.

He reckons the experience is only one of a few experiences that shape a brand. I get the impression he means “the user experience” here – if so, I agree. Things like price and even the relative positioning of competitors can affect how a brand is perceived.

Facebook was considered the social media joint for people to share pictures of their adventures. Instagram has now taken that title by carving out a niche for content that’s extremely visual.

The existence of Instagram has framed the way we perceive Facebook.

2. Why do luxury brands, which are supposed to deliver excellent experiences, fail (at doing so online)?

Paul Randall, a senior UX architect, reckons luxury brands forget that websites aren’t adverts.

I agree – you can get away with thinking people want to be inspired, while creating an ad. But your website is mostly performing the role of a digital salesperson.

In my experience, the last word luxury brands want to be associated with is “salesy”. I’m not even sure how many expect a major contribution, on the sales front, from their websites.

I suppose if you’re Vera Wang, having text the same colour as the background (rendering your words illegible) is irrelevant. Especially when you’ve got a backlog of orders from celebrities.

Joe Pendelbury, takes his cue from Jaguar’s logo and goes for the jugular:

Hear that, luxury brands? Stop f*cking things up for users… no matter how royal you are!

3. Is user experience, now or in the future, THE ultimate brand differentiator (rather than price)?

Guess who it is… Joe Pendelbury makes yet another appearance. (I promise, he hasn’t paid us to do this – he just made lots of good points.)

This is an argument I often make myself – don’t blindly copy competitors! It’s easy. It’s comforting. But it’s silly and costly.

There’s a reason you and your competitors coexist in one market – some people prefer you and some people prefer them. Don’t piss off the customers who prefer you by morphing into the thing they were escaping when they chose your brand.

Learn about your users – with robust, quantitative and qualitative research – then provide an experience especially designed to delight them.

Breed some of that mystical “brand loyalty” everyone talks about but few understand.

Jennifer Ross, a UX consultant, asks whether price isn’t a part of the user experience.

I don’t think price is a part of the user experience – although I can see where she’s coming from.

Price can affect the standards we expect a business and its products to meet. I believe price can be an excuse for limited features – but never for a poor UX. I doubt anyone buys anything, expecting to have a terrible time using it – no matter how little money they’ve paid.

Also, “user experience” (and I guess, “brand”) is one of those concepts that runs the risk of being everything and nothing.

It can be used and abused in the same way as (now) amorphous terms like “innovation”, “synergy” and “content”.

Definitions are supposed to add specificity and clarity to ideas. Conflating UX with every variable affecting the interaction between a business and potential customer, only weakens the argument for viewing it as an independent and powerful differentiator.

During the chat, I went for price as the ultimate differentiator. Now? I’m not so sure. I think it depends on the industry and audience.

Enjoyed reading this article? Follow us on Twitter and join in during our next #uxchat – maybe we’ll feature your gorgeous mug and cutting commentary in our roundup.

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Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

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