Consumers, on average, take about eight seconds to make a purchase decision. That’s eight seconds you have at point-of-purchase to form an emotional bond with them. Eight seconds for them to form an impression of your brand and product, not only in the midst of all the other competitive offerings, but with all the other distractions in their lives as well.
Ray Davis of Umpqua Bank understood this when he convinced his Management Team to see their competition not only as other banks, but every other retail experience that shoppers encounter on their busy day. When I checked out my local Umpqua branch, the décor was relaxing. Through an open door I saw restrooms, clearly there if I needed them. There was even a water dish on the floor, in case I had brought along a dog. I was warmly greeted by a teller. My first impression? I was going to be comfortable doing business here. The teller had the training, authority and accountability to open up a business account that met my needs. He asked me questions about my business and seemed genuinely enthused and anxious to help me succeed. Along the way he introduced me to the Bank Manager and to the Small Business Liaison, who each made me feel right at home, with fresh coffee and cookies. I carefully scanned the brochures and compared Umpqua’s Small Business services and fees with rival banks. Umpqua was competitive, but it was the emotional and collegial connection they made with me that got them my business. Before I left, I was handed a bag of their own freshly roasted coffee beans (whole beans – my choice). And if it’s one thing we take seriously in the Pacific Northwest, it’s coffee beans.
In short, like every other consumer, I buy on emotion and justify with logic.
Do you want to attract and maintain customers with a great brand experience? How do you design your products and services so that personify your brand? Here are four key steps in designing for your brand.
Step 1: Apply Market Insights
Your first task is to gain clarity on where your products are in the market cycle. High technology firms are familiar with Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Life Cycle (TALC), as first denoted in his book Crossing the Chasm. The TALC model describes the predictable cycle customers and markets use when adopting new products, from the new innovation to the cost-reduced copycat. Understanding where your products are on this lifecycle has a direct bearing on your brand and design strategies. Are your products aimed at early adopters of new technology? Great. Then position your brand as innovative and don’t waste time and money investing in the world’s easiest to use customer interface. You’ll do that when your products reach Main Street and you have to satisfy the needs of mass market consumers.
Make the emotional connection with the unspoken needs of your customers. You need to discover what is meaningful to your customers, not through customer segmentation models, but through ethnographic studies, one-on-one interviews and other in-depth research methodologies. Get a handle on not only the features and functions customers want, but what they desire. And design for the environment they are in. Do you want Moms to print photos or create scrapbooks using your software? If so, you are competing not only with other software manufacturers, but with household chores, bill-paying, children demanding attention, and digital entertainment options that provide a few welcomed moments of distraction. When busy Moms get that you “get them,” they are much more likely to form a bond with your brand, and not only keep buying your products, but serve as your ambassadors to other Moms. And guess what? If you wanted teens to use your product to create their own self-expressions, the software could have many of the same functions, but designed to support social connections with other teens.
Finally, your channel partners have insights that can help you craft a compelling brand and design strategy. Talk with them early on, before you launch your brand and products. What have they seen that is working and what does not? Where are they confused? Can they separate your from your competitors in a meaningful way? How would they position your products? How will your products and services help their bottom line?
Step 2: Form Your Brand Strategy
Start with an audit of your own brand elements, both internal and public. This includes documents, messaging, ID, packaging, point-of-sale materials, and advertising. Are they consistent? Are they compelling? Are they providing customer loyalty and share value?
Deriving from a clear and compelling value proposition, your brand should offer something meaningful to your customers. Your brand positioning should be clear about the target customer, the compelling reason why those customers want to buy your brand, and how your products and services are different from the competition. This should be backed up by your brand persona. What is the character of your brand? What personality traits does it have? If your brand were a friend, how would you introduce him (or her) at a party? Each brand should have three strong personality traits, but no more. Adding too many traits makes a brand schizophrenic and meaningless.
If you have more than one brand, then map out your brand architecture and portfolio strategy. Are you a house of brands or a master brand with sub-brands? Each sub-brand should have its own target market and value proposition, as well as brand persona. You need to make the call as to which set of products are going to have premium positioning and which are more mass market. What is their portfolio role today and what will it be tomorrow? Gaining clarity on your portfolio is more difficult to define in large corporations, where every sub-brand and product line tends to see itself as vital to the market. I liken it to a group of people playing the board game RISK, where all the players are determined to have their armies capture Western Europe, while China and Latin America are left alone.
Once you have a clear value proposition, brand persona and brand architecture, you can get to work on designing the brand elements.
Step 3: Find the Relevant Influencers
You may have this image of great designs being born in a sealed off room, with creative people working in total isolation. While it’s true that design renderings should be created in very secured environments, the thinking that goes into them are based on external design trends. Where do you look for these trends? That depends on your product and services. One rule of thumb is to look at areas both near to, and far from, your product line. The “near to” view provides the micro-trends, while the “far from” provides the macro-trends. For example, if you are a camera manufacturer, look nearby at other consumer electronics, but also examine the automobile industry for long-term trends in core colors, materials and finishes. Use design researchers to discover what is trending in colors, patterns, materials and finishes. Some core colors, such as white, black and silver, are in the market for years at a time. Others, like orange and green, have much shorter life spans.
Deconstruct your competition. What are they implementing in their brand elements? What color, shapes and materials are they using? Do these communicate a specific value proposition and persona? How does this compare with how you are positioning your brand? What are they communicating at point-of-sale and how can you out maneuver them?
Check for cultural codes. If your products are selling into multiple countries and regions, be sure you understand if there are any deep associations those customers have with colors, materials shapes, and finishes. For example, cold whites have a negative connotation in Germany because of associations with the old Eastern German government. Light greens and golds in Korea signify wealth and prosperity.
A good trend researcher will also provide you insights on the latest material manufacturing technologies. Now’s a good time to check with your supply chain partners to ensure that your designs are not only compelling, but manufacturable and shippable in a cost-effective way.
Step 4: Design and Launch Your Products
OK, you understand your market positioning. You know what is meaningful to your customers. You’ve got your brand strategy clear. You know the relevant design trends. Now it’s time to design your suite of products and services. But where should you invest those precious design dollars?
The brand portfolio view is your guidance to design investment. In general, products that need to support premium brand positioning and hold above-market pricing should get more design investment dollars than those holding a low cost, firewall position.
Your value proposition and brand persona are the key indicators for the specific application of form, color, materials and finishes. The Design team should use these to identify the emotional cues that your products should evoke. Warm and friendly or robust and powerful? Tried and true or the latest and greatest? These cues must be specific and tested for, as the designs evolve. Testing for emotional cues gets you beyond customers saying “I like it” to “It’s the right product for me.” The same emotional cues should be expressed in your messaging, packaging, advertising and point-of-sale materials. All of these elements work together to create that brand impression you want. Once your products are launched, verify that you’re hitting the right tone and cues in the market. Adapt, if necessary, and verify again.
Designing your products and services around a clear understanding of your market drivers and design trends is what creates true brand differentiation. It will win your customers’ hearts and minds. It will grab them in that critical eight seconds and keep them for the next purchase.
It’s why you must design for your brand.
Dan Berne, founder and principal of Design4Brand, is a senior Stratus Global Partners Associate. Dan has over 15 years experience as a Marketing and Brand Design Manager and specializes in helping Marketing and R&D executives and their teams design products and services to maximize brand value.