Brand Strategy
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Design for a better brand experience


All great design starts with people, or at least it should. Understanding how people think and feel about the brand, how they use the product or service, and what they do next, is key to brand design which results in meaningful connections and a better experience.  ‍‍

So why, when we know that people buy, use, and love brands with which they have an emotional connection, is the digital purchase experience so often rational and transactional?

Allison Spence

Perceived wisdom about online purchasing is that people are roaming on and offline: researching, and narrowing choices, so that when it comes to the moment of purchase, they have already made the decision. Perhaps that’s why the experience is accepted as a rational one. This wisdom, however, also assumes that the values, needs, and behaviours of people offline do not need to be (or cannot be!) met on the digital path to purchase.  

But is this true? Most people want to feel a connection wherever they happen to be, or whatever mode they are in:  browsing, researching or decision making. When we can replicate, augment, and enhance online, brands may be missing a trick to make their digital representation work harder.

Yes, there are some limitations online, but also multiple opportunities – some which we don’t have in the physical world. Instead of taking a cut-and-paste approach from offline, why aren’t we using digital capabilities to make the experience more people-focused and therefore better, in every sense of the word?

A recent survey [Spryker in its UK Online Grocery Report 2022] suggests that 80% of people would do more food shopping online if the user experience were better, yet the task of ordering groceries online is often a joyless chore to be endured. In the true spirit of Seymourpowell thinking, how can we make this experience better?

As designers and brand owners, we spend so much time crafting the pack and, what is more, consumers correlate superior packaging with a higher perceived value of product: according to The Grocer, 6 June 2018, ROI on packaging is estimated to be as much as 2.5 times that of spend on advertising and social media. Yet, it is often represented as a pixelated thumbnail. Why aren’t we making a hero of the pack or using the design assets and semiotics that work so well offline, to make an emotional connection online?

Transactions are driven by experience and, as we know, experience is multi-sensory – this is not something we often consider when bringing our brands to life in a virtual space.  We like The Drum’s encouragement to brands to design virtual sensory logos for metaverse experiences: “brands will need to rethink what it means to be experienced by their customers, and to think about what they ‘feel’ like”.

of people would do more food shopping online if the user experience was better.

It is well-known that aroma is the most powerful tool to evoke memory and provoke response, but although we don’t (yet) have a scratch-and-sniff capability online (or in the metaverse), we can still use sensory cues to connect. Sonic idents, ASMR, textures, colour, shape, and form all assist people in conjuring up the sensory landscape of the product and help buyers to feel closer to the brand.

Charles Spence, of Oxford University's Crossmodal Research Group, explores the growing field of multisensory flavour perception. His research found that different genres evoke different taste experiences: establishing that music can impact our perception of taste. Spotify is already capitalizing on this relationship between sound and taste, with its ‘Songmelier Edition’:  a wine-music pairing service. It’s only a matter of time before we will see similar concepts unfolding in the mass market.

According to a survey conducted by Havas (Havas Group Meaningful brands report 2021), 66% of people would like a more meaningful experience with brands, yet almost half of brand content is not meaningful to people. We need to stand out online as much as in the physical environment, but why not use the tools that we have at our disposal and stand out with meaning? According to Forrester, 45% of US shoppers will abandon an online purchase if they cannot find the details that matter to them. But this does not mean communicating everything to everyone, all at once.

Layering of information will enable people to explore the brand and product based on their own values. If consumers want to know about your sustainability credentials, for example, display them as a pop-up. If they are looking for nutritional specifics, make sure they are easy to consume. Tell the human stories behind the manufacture with warmth, big up the benefits with passion and evidence. Consider the beauty of information and power up the infographic.  

At Seymourpowell, we have explored this very notion for ourselves through the tourism industry: adding a 3D augmented layer to an entire city, reimagining the way in which people interact with (and discover!) places.

Direct to Consumer and subscription brands have been making their mark for some time now. What could be quite a functional, convenience-led transaction, has largely become something anticipated and ritualistic. The model allows personalised experience, of course, but what can we learn? Heinz to Home is appealing to its fans with bundles of packs for specific occasions or packs based on your sporting allegiance. Originating in Brazil, Nestle’s KitKat Chocolatory enables customisation of product and pack, with personalised messaging and home delivery. Both examples are going all out to activate brand fandom. But, any brand, through clever utilisation of assets and explanation of beliefs and benefits, can use the online channel to create more personal, heartfelt interactions by demonstrating empathy, shared passion, and emotional intelligence.

At the very least, why aren’t we using the major benefit of the channel to connect with people for the very reason they are there in the first place: convenience? Show how the product fits into life. Demonstrate how innovation and design is responding to how people live and shop for, use, store and repurchase the brand.

Amidst a cost-of-living crisis, it is more important than ever to prove brand value and to make meaningful connections with people by demonstrating understanding, care, craft, and consideration.

We must start with people: after all, that is where all great design begins.
Allison Spence is Director of Brand & Packaging at Seymourpowell.