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Businesses Don’t Have Experiences, People Do

Creating More Memorable Brand Experiences

The term “business-to-business” works well for describing industrial business models, but obscures an important marketing reality: Businesses don’t have experiences, people do. Miss that point, and you’ll miss the tremendous benefits of memorable brand experiences.

Examples of great experience marketing abound in consumer markets – the familiar list usually starts with Starbucks. However, creating memorable brand experiences isn’t just for consumers anymore. B2B marketers can tap into this business-building opportunity by using a strategic approach for experience design.

Approaching Experience Design Strategically
The four-step Strategic Approach to Designing Customer Experiences can help you develop and implement a customer experience strategy in a B2B setting, with questions that expand traditional thinking.

Strategic Approach to Designing Customer Experiences (Figure 1)

Phase 1 (Creating the Strategic Platform) addresses brand strategy, identifying opportunities for more personal brand connections with customers and employees. Phase 2 (Ideation and Testing) focuses on key audiences and their personal motivations and interests. Phase 3 (Plan Building & Roll-Out) incorporates steps to determine a specific customer experience strategy and its tactical implementation. Phase 4 (Ongoing Monitoring) recommends varied listening posts to gauge the strategy’s impact.

A Model for Managing Experience Memorability
The three elements of the “Creating Memorable Experiences” model correspond closely to the first three strategic planning phases. This model addresses dimensions that affect brand memorability:

  1. The Brand as Enabler – With the strategic platform in mind, consider how your brand dimensions are involved in the customer experience and how they can potentially become more integral.
  2. Personal Needs & Interests – As you analyze what’s important to the audience, how can your brand experience cater more directly to their personal motivations and interests?
  3. Intensity of the Brand Experience – An experience’s degree of intensity can originate from various factors, including emotions, challenges, surprise, scarcity, benefits, and exclusiveness, among others.  Planning how these factors are incorporated into an experience allows you to manage its intensity.

The bigger the intersection of the three variables, the more memorable the experience should be. This model has been used successfully in a variety of venues – ranging from central brand interactions to more far-removed experiences, such as sponsorships.

Avoiding the Pitfalls
Along with helping you create memorable brand experiences for your customers, the planning phases can guide you past potential pitfalls in customer experience marketing.

Customer Experience Pitfall #1 – Thinking Narrowly About the Brand
Remedy: Consider a Broad Definition of the Brand

In business settings, customers are often buying predictability and peace of mind. Rather than a memorable experience, they’re looking for long strings of uneventful, quickly forgotten transactions. That’s a challenge for business marketers, and a reason for you to think more broadly about branding.
Viewing a brand as a name or logo limits possibilities dramatically. Using a broad, promise-based definition extends the brand’s reach to experiences at all customer touch points.

When creating the strategic experience branding platform, you can use the Typical Brand Elements table (Figure 3) as a good starting point.

Expand and customize the list of brand elements for your particular brand – the key is to make the list as broad as possible. Questions to ask in the process of taking a bigger view of your brand include:

  • What parts of the brand do we actively use now to create customer experiences?
  • What parts of the brand don’t we currently use to create customer experiences?
  • What are new ways to help foster and grow relationships with our brand?

If a product or service doesn’t seem memorable, there may be opportunities to use customer service, facilities, sponsorships, or other elements to create a lasting, positive brand experience. As you progress, revisit the list to consider how many other brand elements can be incorporated and aligned with the experience strategy.

Customer Experience Pitfall #2 – Thinking about a Brand as Only B2B
Remedy – Explore a Brand’s P2P (Person to Person) Dimensions

Business decisions are influenced and made by people in businesses. Creating more memorable experiences has to recognize that people (customers) buy your services or products and people (employees) create them. The challenge with both groups is building stronger personal brand relationships – the relationships essential to developing highly motivated employees who provide the outstanding value that drives customer loyalty. Within the ideation and testing phase, don’t take B2B too literally. Think about your business as P2P or Person to Person. Look beyond demographics and see individuals with personal motivations, hopes, and concerns. The following questions can help assist in the exploration:

  • Where are the opportunities to make people and relationships more prominent in our brand experience?
  • Are there new ways to help foster and grow relationships with our brand?
  • To create more memorable experiences, how do we best align audience needs, the intensity of the experience, and the role of our brand as an enabler of the experience?

Remember that people are not purely analytical in their decision making; there’s a clear emotional component, even in business decision making and relationship building. As a result, emotions are an important part of intensifying customer experiences to drive greater brand memorability.

As David Letterman once said, “There’s no business like show business, but there are several businesses like accounting.” It’s very true, and most business markets are a lot more like accounting than show business. That’s too bad. While we hardly remember what happened in yesterday’s meeting on accounts payable, we remember movies and music from years ago, and link them to specific events.

How do business marketers tap into that phenomenon?  Be uncommon. Incorporate emotional appeals into your experience building toolkit.  By using emotional elements, you can win hearts, open minds and enhance brand relationships. There are a variety of emotional appeals that you may consider to improve the memorability and relationship building aspects of your brand experience, including:

  • Affiliation – Creates an opportunity for customers and/or employees to interact more personally.
  • Fun – Helps cultivate a more creative environment.
  • Humor – Can help create more openness to receiving new information and improves approachability.
  • Heart-warming – People love heroes. Heroes associated with your business can become part of the cultural fabric for delivering outstanding, loyalty-building customer experiences.
  • Excitement – Sets the stage for people to feel passionately about your brand.
  • Drama – People generally respond to and retain stories better than facts presented alone.

But be careful. Make sure the audience knows where you’re going, and that it’s okay to react to more emotionally oriented approaches. If you don’t, there can be discomfort and big brand disconnects.

Customer Experience Pitfall #3 – Only Looking for Ideas in Your Own Industry
Remedy – Look Outside for New Customer Experience Possibilities

As you develop a customer experience design plan, look to businesses in other industries, particularly strong consumer-oriented experience brands. Consider how they approach memorable experience design and delivery, knowing that their conventional approaches can likely be adapted and modified (within ethical, moral, and legal restrictions) to become novel, memorable experiences in your market.

The first step is to articulate your experience opportunity in a generalized way; think through what you’re trying to accomplish and briefly describe it. Then address the following questions:

  • Who is facing similar or analogous challenges to ours, and how are they addressing them?
  • What are the best, most successful companies – regardless of industry – doing to successfully grow their customer relationships through memorable experiences? Can we emulate them?
  • What could their approaches look like in our business?

Customer Experience Pitfall #4 – Ignoring ROI Metrics or Defining them Only Quantitatively
Remedy – Use Whole-Brain ROI Metrics

While monitoring is shown as the final step in the experience design process, it’s actually beneficial to consider ROI assessment metrics near the start of the planning process. Focusing on the end result (maximizing ROI) and then looking at what elements will drive ROI (both benefits and investment), helps spotlight how each brand variable can be managed throughout the experience development and implementation process.

To understand the benefit and investment drivers behind the customer experience and how to aggressively manage them, ask:

  • What specific elements drive benefits for our brand?
  • What opportunities do we have to manage and minimize our investment in smart ways?
  • For both areas, what brand levers can we manage to maximize ROI?

The idea of “whole brain metrics” comes into play through the advantages of looking at both quantitative and qualitative metrics when assessing brand experience impacts. While you should push to quantify return metrics, some important impacts may only be able to be described or shown visually.

Asking and answering smart, fundamental questions is at the heart of designing and delivering more memorable brand experiences. But there’s no question about this: the strategic planning approach works. By clearly articulating what your brand stands for, keeping people and their needs in focus, building and implementing the plan, and monitoring progress throughout, you can create more memorable brand experiences – and your business will reap the benefits.

About the Author
Mike Brown is VP-Strategic Marketing at YRC Worldwide, a Fortune 300 company based in Overland Park, KS and one of the world’s largest transportation providers. He has extensive experience in research, market analysis, communications, and increasing strategic planning success and has also produced award-winning NASCAR and conference sponsorship marketing efforts. He’s a frequent keynote speaker and workshop facilitator for organizations, associations and universities on branding, innovation, and strategy planning. He authors a daily blog on innovation and strategy at

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