Brands are Dead – Customers are Loyal to UX

In the 21st century, customers are loyal to the User eXperience (UX for short). Yet all that marketers talk about is this "Brand" and that "Brand." Is the concept of "brand" keeping marketers fully employed because they have hoodwinked everyone into believing "branding" has magical powers?

I'm here to tell you the concept of "Brand" as something existing on its own, separate from the experience of customers, is dead. The very concept of "Brand" is a vestige of 20th century industrial manufacturing economics built on the premise of "build it and they will buy."

But today, yesterday's concept of "Brand" has been replaced by the UX.

Brands are dead - customers are only loyal to UX and more importantly to their expectations.

Don't want to believe it?

Travel to Kuala Lampur, Dubai, Bangkok, Mumbai, Rome, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Sao Paulo, San Francisco, Sydney, New York, St. Petersburg and any number of other major cities of the world.

There in the midst of all these unique cultures and cities you'll find the same upscale "Brands" in exactly the same layout, with the same trade dress, the same products, and the same experience.

So why is it that "Brands" put so much weight on what is called "trade dress?"

Let's find out.

It's all about Form versus Substance

Although the external markings are identical anywhere in the world, what sets each "Brand" apart from another is the customer experience.

And what is important are not the "Brand" markings as such, but what the markings stand for: the customers expectations of the experience s/he will have with the brand.

Customers shop for the same experience, whether it is in China, South Africa or elsewhere. This has occurred thanks to the post industrial world shrunk small and instantaneous by the Internet, instant communications, social networks and interactivity available at the fingertips of everyone on mobile devices - all around the world.

However, what is striking about the experience is the dissonant chord that occurs when sensory information from local city around you smells, looks, sounds, and feels so very different from home. For example, the sights and sounds of Madrid are very different from those of Ljubljana or Venice. And the sights, sounds and smells of Dublin are far different than those of Boston, New Orleans or Washington D.C.

And yet the same hamburger or chicken meal - or take your pick - that is available at home is also available from a store just around the corner in all of these world cities that looks identical to the ones back home. For some - or many - people the homogenization of customer expectations drives the UX which drives the desire to seek-out and reward the "brand" for meeting expectations.

There in the midst of each world city are the same fast food restaurants - we'll defer on discussing the benefits and mostly risks of eating fast food in this post - and the same upscale restaurants, the same gig-economy transportation services (or mostly), and the same beverages. Not only is what is served identical, but how it looks, smells, and every other sensory experience are identical.

It's called trade dress.

You know you are in a different town, with a very different culture, language and sensibility: and yet the master-brands are all about in their trade dress.

Although traveling the world and seeing this first hand is an unsettling experience, it is a reminder that customers don't give a hoot about Brands.

All customer care about is the experience brands deliver to them.

More importantly, what customers care most about is their expectations and whether a given brand can delivers the experience they are expecting.

Where some customers crave sameness, others seek out novelty, others are drawn to value, and still others want exclusivity to part with their money.

Despite the massive amounts of money spent on advertising, colors, logos, and digital placements of trade dress, customers seek out and are loyal to the experience and customer expectation.

The smart brands know this and stick to creating and delivering customer experiences.

All else - including the so-called brands trade dress follows the UX.

An example

Just the other day I was in a local grocery store - not a chain - and was struck by an unexpected experience, and certainly not one being sought.

Someone behind a customer counter insisted on wrapping a freshly sliced loaf of bread in two bags even after I asked the person to wrap it in one bag.

He stated, "it's "policy and standard operating procedure, and besides that what the boss tells me I have to do."

Unfortunately, his statement ignored my expectation of the experience I would have.

I was expecting a more courteous interaction from this one of a kind non-chain grocery store.

I might expect an interaction like this from a large grocery chain, but certainly not from a single proprietorship.

In this case, expectation and experience did not align.

In the few seconds it takes for these experiences to occur are fortunes won and lost by enterprises. It does not matter whether the UX is up-close-and-personal or occurs digitally.

This grocery store employees actions are not alone or unique to him. His actions are mirrored everywhere, including at automobile dealerships, software companies, pharmaceutical enterprises, healthcare facilities, law offices and by politicians of all stripes.

What matters is customer expectations and whether the experience is aligned with expectations.

Such things are brands built and maintained on.

  • Trade dress follows UX
  • Form follows functions
  • When companies forget this, they can slide into oblivion
Insight: Customers Reward the UX - Not the Brand

Customers do not care about Brands: they care about the experience - the UX - and more importantly is the customer expectation the experience delivers against.

So called Brands live or die by customer experiences. Smart people understand customer expectations and consistently deliver experiences that meet and exceed customer expectations.

Others either don't get the business or they go out of business.

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