“A brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO
Great brands connect with people on many levels. Beyond appropriate function, products should embody a great experience and ideally create an intense emotional connection with your customer. If your product (or service) instills fierce brand loyalty you may have customers for life. Traditionally, industrial design has focused on designing products with great form and function in mind while executing a manufacturable design at the right price. Ergonomics and usability have always been an important part of the design process. The profession of industrial design has evolved from blending form and function to understanding the whole user experience and applying this knowledge in the creation of a complete product experience. Key to this approach is user centered design. Branding really embodies all aspects of a product experience from the moment you first see a advertisement, logo or a website, the shopping/ buying experience, through purchase and assembly (if required) and use of product – potentially for many years. Understanding this whole customer experience is key to conceiving and building a great brand. An industrial designer or industrial design consultancy can provide expertise in user centered design thinking- a central pillar of " the great customer experience." A brand is what your customer tells you it is- in other words; your brand lives within the minds of your customer. If your customer experience is lousy, your brand has diminished value. If the customer has love for your product, your brand elevates in value. Who wouldn't want a product, service and brand that customer's love? Getting there requires expertise and time. One important component is in developing a deep understanding of your customer's journey and interactions with your product/ service. You also want to learn about a customer's experience with a competitor- especially is there is a "best in class" example. It is revealing to understand both a bad customer journey and a good one. It is possible that (even in a highly competitive category) a fantastic customer experience does not yet exist. This is great news for your business- opportunity to beat the competition. We are talking here about doing "in-field" research and not focus groups. The customer journey and experience is best examined by going into the field using effective anthropological methods of observation and human understanding. Professional anthropologists are often helpful in both setting up a study, conducting the research and decoding the human behavior. A customer can be examined through an entire journey starting from initial interest in a product or service, through the in- store/ sales engagement, setting up and using product, experience over time, and eventual product disposal. New product categories have been created on this information alone. Story boarding this journey and can bring life to this information and make it digestible to the team. Creating engaging scenarios and rich stories are ways to connect with your customer and inspire great design solutions. Spending time with customers, understanding pain points, issues and their aspirations has to be done in a rigorous way in order to effectively extract the key drivers for you brand's growth. These key drivers are your recipe to design a great brand. Design creativity is applied to address key customer drivers and multiple options or "design concepts" will examine different solutions. Creating different solutions is central to a solid design approach and important to finding the right type of uniqueness required to make your brand distinct and memorable. These multiple design solutions can then be tested with your customers to understand more about what direction will connect with your customer- both on a functional and emotional level. Making sense of this customer feedback also requires expertise. There may be a couple of good directions to take but in ideal direction will embody great form, function and uniqueness. Considerations here depend on whether you are creating/ defining a new brand or building on an existing one. An existing brand may have its own great "DNA" that can be amplified. A new brand will need to be defined and this research information can help create the backbone of that brand. Once a final direction has been clearly articulated a visual and written description or "blueprint" will be defined and developed to describe product in enough detail for manufacture or implementation. A physical product would be described through CAD models and drawings and a service may be described via storyboards and scenarios. Brand attributes can also be described in both visual and written formats. As mentioned earlier, a brand embodies all aspects of the customer experience. A physical product does not stand alone within a brand. Other important ingredients include a great logo, packaging, website, trade show booth/ retail presence, sales/ service interaction and software. These elements all have to work well together just like different musical instruments playing in harmony makes a great orchestra. Pulling it all together is both a logistical challenge and a design challenge. Effectively executing a great brand strategy requires good communication between different disciplines. Marketing, product design and even customer relations need to work in harmony in order to achieve the best results. Industrial designers can both help drive this process and support it's implementation. Whether you are creating a new brand or boosting an existing one, design is a critical element of success. Connecting with and exceeding your customer's expectations makes for a great brand and a recipe for a financially successful business.
(This article was originally published in Design Product News, February 2012)