Recently, I hired a style consultant because I needed a personal branding refresh. I felt that nothing in my closet suited me. Each morning was a struggle to put an outfit together.
The process I experienced to co-create this new style with her with wasn't just about buying new clothes, her telling me what was in or out of style this month, and what would look good on me. She had to get to know me as a person.
- The style of the home where I lived
- What I did for work
- What I did for fun
- How I socialized with friends
- My life perspective
- My goals and dreams
When I saw where the process was going, I realized that what was in my closet didn't match my thoughts, my actions, my speech - nothing. My look was distinctly separate from me, the person today. There wasn't much in common between the two except that I owned the clothes.
Anyone experiencing me was having a disjointed experience, and that wasn't doing me any favors. The look made one statement; my personality and actions made a different one.
I was like a company that had a logo and colors that didn't match the experience the customers were having.
For example, one UI may look super slick and modern, but the company's processes are antiquated with fax machines and paperwork. Another UI may look traditional, but the company has new mobile approaches that are unexpected. You have to wonder if the approaches unexpected because they are so new, or are they unexpected because after one look at the company's brand, it seemed so conservative that you were going to need to fax that in?
(I'm guessing option 2. I'm always amazing how Chase bank has new banking features mainly because they are a bank with old-fashioned baggage. But I'm never amazed that Capital One is doing something new - it seems perfect for them because they are so new and shiny.)
Sometimes I think we focus too much on the look of an app. It's like we focus on choosing a great outfit, but we don't focus on it being suitable and feeling right.
Sometimes before you can wear a particular style outfit, you need to do some personal work. You need to shift your beliefs or you need to work on your self-esteem and confidence (e.g., to really pull off a power suit, you need to have the confidence to go with it).
Anyone can put on a Versace shirt, but is Versace (or Armani, or any designer piece) right for you?
An app may feel simple with a lot of white space and light colors, but that doesn't mean that the users understand what to do at the site once they are there. It may be the best UI design approach, but functionally, it's not easy to understand to get started. And that's a shame.
Then people wonder why no one uses the app even though it looks great. We need to understand that great experiences go deeper than the screen. They go into the processes of the company - what it does, how it works, how employees communicate.
Sometimes company branding can sometimes be based on external forces:
- What are the competitors doing?
- How do others brand themselves?
- What's the hot color today?
But branding should really be about the employees and how they see the company and the product.
- How does the company describe itself? How do the employees describe it?
- What words does it use to describe what it sells?
- How do the employees engage with each other?
- How does finance communicate with customers (especially those who don't pay ontime)?
- How does customer support and service treat customers? Do they do the minimal work required or do they go the extra mile?
And like how you need to sometimes be in a crisis to know who your friends are and what they are REALLY like - you don't experience what a company is until you NEED to interact with customer service because something went wrong.
They have a nice site and offer pieces from boutiques around the world. But their real value - and their brand - really comes from their service.
I was originally going to pick up this shirt at a local boutique, but I couldn't find it. I then asked to get the shirt shipped to me and I was hoping to get it before I left on a business/pleasure trip. Unfortunately, I didn't. While I was on the trip, Shoptiques called me to see if I got the shirt. I couldn't believe how much they cared and remembered to find out if I got what I wanted.
That is what makes them unique and makes me rave about them to everyone. They have the most personal customer service ANYWHERE.
I'd like to work on more projects where we talk about how we want someone to feel or think about after they visit an app or a site. I understand that a product needs to ship and is often "born" allowing a user to accomplish some basic functions and goals. I even encourage my clients to do that because everyone needs to start somewhere - and starting at parity isn't a bad place to start.
But over time, you have to allow your app to develop character.
There has to be something you offer that others don't that makes you unique and unforgettable - like people do with their personalities.
And a cool navigation device or a fun image isn't what will make your app memorable. Interesting, yes. Fun, yes. Memorable and recommendable - I'm not too sure about that.
We need to talk about what the user REALLY wants to do and how the app can make that happen - not what the product manager wants to achieve, not what's cool, not what in style today.
- What do we want customers to say after they are done using the app or site?
- What will encourage someone to want to use it again? What does the user find to be useful?
- How did that person feel when they used it? Did they feel like they got something done?
- Does the user feel like you care about them and what they are doing?
Or the simple, million-dollar question: If the company/produce was your best friend, how would you describe it based on its actions/functionality alone?
We almost need to rethink branding to focus a little less on its style and a little more on reflecting the personality of the company itself (and typically, that personality is reflected in every touch point with a customer). We need to take a page out of my style consultant's book and get to know the employees and how they work to create a brand - a corporate personality - that truly reflects the uniqueness of that company.
- The phone line
- The forums
- The brochures and collateral
- The billing structure
- The support team.
- How it communicates and what it says
- What it gives away for free
- What it charges for
The look and feel needs to match that. Otherwise, your company will wake up one day and not like what it's wearing and not understand why, until a branding consultant comes in to get to know the company and find the right way to express itself.
I started writing about this a long time ago - I didn't know that I was writing about customer experience. It didn't really exist then, but here's the start. Enjoy!