Meaningful Journeys: Design Research & The Authentic Brand Experience

01 Jul 2008|Added Value

How the tools and techniques of design research are used to develop “brand experience executions” that deliver what people seek from companies, services and products.  By Steve Diller and Denise Klarquist (The full text of this article is available in the July/August issue of Step Inside Design. It will be available online September 2008._

It sounds simple and straightforward and — to be honest — just a bit dry. But don’t turn the page so fast, because this is a story about a journey, or rather many possible journeys, and about the people who wander those paths. Design research is not about numbers, focus groups or concept testing. It is about surveying the landscape and getting to know these travelers. Like a great adventure, it’s about discovery, and a subject we hold dear to our hearts: designing with clear intent.Getting the lay of the land – what do we mean by “brand”?
It’s said that every great adventure begins with the first step. In truth, it usually begins with a lot of Googling and buying of travel books to learn a bit of the language and get the lay of the land. So first, let us be clear what we mean by brand and brand experience.

From the 50s until the 90s, the idea of “brand” grew to become a dominant concept in marketing. From its origins as a mark designed to identify a manufacturer, the concept of “brand” ballooned until it was used to drive virtually every aspect of business practice. It promised functional (sometimes emotional) benefits to customers. It inspired and served as the core benchmark for evaluating product concepts. It even offered prospective stockholders a reason for being – many companies in the late ’90s were bought and sold on the basis of their brand alone, revenue or even actual product be damned.

During this era, most agreed that a company’s brand stood as a promise to consumers. It used to be that the goal was to find the single, most important differentiating characteristic and to try and own that attribute among your consumer base. When Ford established the brand positioning “quality is job one,” they were declaring their commitment to deliver cars that were utterly reliable. Once the company adopted that promise, multiple touch points were designed to evoke that promise, be it the showroom, advertising, or the car itself. What’s important to understand is that the brand promise did not evolve from the intrinsic foundation of the company’s DNA, but rather was developed to stake out a unique position that the company then acted on to fulfill.

This approach to brand worked well because it guided companies in articulating a clear objective in producing for key markets.  Today however, we live in a different world — one that is dominated by new forms of distributed media, a demand for corporate transparency at every level, and increasing density in the competitive landscape. It has became clear that an approach centered on the articulation of brand can no longer be the control mechanism that will deliver desired consumer response and market results. Moreover, the approach can straightjacket innovation. This complex field calls for a new model of looking at brand positioning. So where does that leave the notion of “brand” today? …

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