There’s no difference between your brand and customer experience

Brand strategy, Customer experience

Merriam-Webster defines brand in a number of different ways. There’s the straightforward, farm application: a tool used to produce a brand. They also feature the more industrial use case: a mark made by burning with a hot iron to attest manufacture or to designate ownership. Finally, Merriam-Webster offers the more modern application of the term: a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer. No where in Merriam-Webster’s definition is there mention of customer experience, and that means it’s time for an update.

In a 2011 Forbes op-ed, brand expert Jerry Malaughlin said brands exist only in the abstract:

Put simply, your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.  It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s romantic).  Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it.  It’s fixed.  But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.

This is true to an extent, but there’s much more to be said about the customer experiences that drive brand eminence in the modern marketplace. The ease of navigating Chipotle’s line to order was a key component of the fast-casual restaurant’s initial rise to prominence. Amazon’s commitment to quality customer convenience has transformed the retail industry, and AirBnB’s end-to-end management of the bed and breakfast experience has forced legacy hospitality brands to orient their experience to better align with expectations set by the startup.

These brands exist in prominence because of their unique customer experiences and how we interact with them in the real world. To put it simply, your customer experience is your brand in today’s marketplace. That’s why it’s important to know what gap you’re filling for your customers. Chipotle sought to provide a quality dining experience to fast food consumers. Amazon wanted to improve the retail experience, and AirBnB hoped to evolve the hospitality industry. What is your intent? If you’re unsure, then you may have an opportunity to strengthen your brand by aligning with a meaningful customer experience.

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What to learn from these disruptive brands

Brand strategy

Disruptive brands breakthrough in the marketplace. They drive innovation and impact the culture. Disruptors go left where everyone else goes right, deeply impacting legacy industries like food and beverage and creating new niches of their own.

With star power like this bunched together on one list, founders, brand strategists and product managers should take notice. These brands are finding success in business with their own, unique innovations in product design, marketing and strategy.

Big ideas are back

Humanity is facing some of its biggest challenges. From climate change to dynamic social contexts, civilization is evolving, and brands are being tasked with figuring out the answers. Some have been successful at answering the call and driving business along the way. Tesla has become a star automobile brand selling the future of automobiles with electric and intelligent cars. Others startup brands like Kasita have taken the Tesla approach, boldly attacking the growing American urban housing crisis.

Kasita makes tiny houses

Kasita’s tiny house concept.

Their $139K tiny home brings function to the quirky urban landscape, giving hope to aspiring homeowners who’ve been priced out of the market. Loaded with fully functional amenities like washer and dryer, Kasita hopes to turn empty lots into sprawling communities by stacking their tiny homes. Kasita recently opened a 25,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas, to churn out its first few orders.

Fast food from the future

Beyond Meat

No, this is not meat. This is Beyond Meat’s plant-based meat burger.

Food sits at the center of some of humanity’s greatest challenges. Climate change has disturbed ecosystems and negatively affected food supply chains. Drought and famine are becoming more common. Animal farming energy usage is unsustainable, and its waste contributes to pollution. Insert Beyond Meat, an El Segundo based start with a mission to planet-based food products to market for consumers who prefer poultry, beef and pork.

Founder Ethan Brown believes his plant-based “meat” products can solve some of the world’s toughest food challenges, and the market does too. Beyond meat has received funding from the likes of General Mills and Tysons Foods. The plant-based meat producer also has presence in large grocers like Safeway, Kroger and Whole Foods. With standout products like their Beyond Meat burger patty and grilled chicken strips, Brown hopes to expand into other meat categories as they refine their production, lower production costs and convert meat lovers too plant-based meat lovers too.

Meaningful marketing matters

Glamour products are the flagship of the beauty industry. Hair, makeup and skincare products drive the $100+ billion dollar industry, many of which are branded for and marketed to women. That may be changing behind a brand and product line for men of color. Men’s grooming line, Bevel has broken through the marketplace noise with a brand narrative that touches the core of a life experience for millions of men.

Nas gets a haircut with Bevel

Nas gets a hair cut from his barber who’s using the Bevel trimmer.

Tristan Walker set out to give men of color a grooming experience for crisp, curly hair, and the intent behind Bevel’s products has carried over into their brand story. The copy, visuals and activations all speak to a very unique cultural experience, and that’s given Bevel eminence in the marketplace. Bevel has achieved distribution in major retailers like Target and Sephora; after a successful social marketing campaign featuring rapper Nas and rollout of the Bevel trimmer, the Walker & Co. brand looks to continue its expansion through referrals and micro retail at your local barbershop.