Brand Layering: Syncing the Online and Offline Customer Experience

Brand Layering: Syncing the Online and Offline Customer Experience

I love cake.

Yes, I can finally admit it. But it’s not because of the cream cheese frosting.

It’s the layers of sweet icing, white almond cake, and strawberry filling. Alone each ingredient is okay. However, when combined, my sugar craving is completely satisfied.

And that’s how the customer experience should be. It’s not about online versus in-store.

Instead, shift your focus to delivering experiences layered with must-tell-a-friend customer service, worthwhile product interactions, and unique online checkouts.

Research shows that “86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience, but only 1% of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations.” Now is the time to give your consumers what they want.

Serve your customers differently. Get ready to add layers to the brand experience.

What is Brand Layering?

By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. That means everything you sell, and even how you sell it, is a commodity.

In business, someone will always have a better product or a cheaper price. Globalization has even taught us how stiff the competition really is.

Moreover, we’re learning that brand alignment isn’t enough. Your company must do more than match your brick-and-mortar store logo with your website design.

The time has come to think of the customer experience as the totality of all brand interactions. Everything from the greeting by live chat agents to the product packaging delivered to your customers’ homes.

Want to take a multi-layered approach to the customer experience? Brand layering is defined as:

“The process of nesting sequenced brand benefits within the brand whole, leading the customer through phased discovery to fulfillment. It is typically integrated within the brand journey.”

As a best practice, you need to lead the customer through a real-life shopping adventure. Similar to Pokemon Go, create ways to keep your buyers engaged. You want them excited to be a part of the journey.

How will you surprise customers at checkout? Or delight them when they open the product box?

“You need to go deeper. Your brand is how you communicate who you are, what your product is, what that product means to your customer – brand is how you make your customer feel. Your brand is what draws them to buy from you. I like to call it brand layering, meaning that you dig into all the different aspects of how you want to embody your brand,” writes Michele Markey, vice president of FastTrac.

Brand layering means going the extra mile. Combine all your channels and services into an extraordinary customer experience.

Why It Matters

As an ecommerce executive, you are already swamped with an endless list of things to do. So, why should you add another task to your strategic plan?

Because the shopping experience centers around your customers’ emotions. When buyers are happy, they may recommend you to a friend.

“Despite the emergence of digital technologies, one thing remains true in the business world: word of mouth is the best type of marketing. To that end, a great experience with a company is what really motivates customers to talk about that brand with their friends, family and peers,” writes Matt Kleinschmit, senior vice president of Vision Critical.

But if customers despise your brand’s existence, they will complain to their friends, strangers, and anyone willing to listen.

And it takes a lot of time and energy to win back that customer’s trust.

IMAGE VIA USABILLA

Consider brand layering a proactive method to fulfill the customer’s needs. This approach includes giving them what they ordered—the product—and how they want it—the experience.

Right now, some companies are doing it completely wrong. They make themselves the center of the customer experience.

“Because companies do not focus that much on these end-to-end customer journeys, you end up with an extremely cumbersome experience for customers, which is actually not optimized for the customer, but optimized for the company. What we are advocating now is this shift in perspective, so that the customer becomes the center of attention again,” states, Nicolas Maechleris, a principal at McKinsey.

When executed correctly, brand layering strengthens customer expectations. And opens the doors to more customer engagement.

That’s what happened with Movember, an organization bringing awareness to testicular cancer. It started as an annual campaign in November.

Then, the cause grew into a year-round movement. So, Movember decided to add an ecommerce layer to its brand.

“The ecommerce store is actually helping us build an aspirational brand with cool items people actually want to wear,” says Brooke Bastain, Movember Foundation’s Head of Global Merchandise. “The hats and shirts are starting conversations year-round and exposing our brand to people who previously hadn’t heard of Movember.”

Sorry, you brand isn’t about you. It’s about how your customers feel when they make purchases.

Knowledge Sharing

If knowledge is power, then knowledge sharing is power on steroids.

For brand layering to work, team collaboration must exist amongst departments. People must be willing to work together to achieve long-term company goals, not just this quarter’s benchmarks.

So, the customer service team needs to know what marketing is doing. And sales reps must be aware of customer onboarding processes.

For example, assess how you can build a cross-functional social media team. Normally, the social media manager would work alone and report monthly engagement reports.

IMAGE VIA ENGAGOR

But if you desire customer satisfaction at every touchpoint, enlist the help of other business units. That means sales is finding new leads on Linkedin. And the public relations team is ensuring the company maintains a positive image.

Team alignment lets your business tackle issues at every customer angle. It eliminates the unnecessary blind spots.

“Getting employees to share their skills and knowledge with coworkers is a simple way to drastically improve strategy and quality within your teams. Yet, there are many reasons why employees often withhold knowledge,” writes Entrepreneur Contributor William Craig.

The problem with knowledge sharing is that co-workers don’t want to share. Toxic workplaces exist.

Employees feel like if they share information they will be ridiculed. Or worse, someone else will claim credit for their great ideas.

Therefore, companies stay stagnant. And these silos hurt the most important people—the customers.

To encourage sharing in your company, equip teams with collaboration tools, like Slack and Trello. Reward your employees for contributing valuable information. And publicly recognize individuals who make an effort to build cross-functional teams.

Be transparent with your employees. Stress the importance of knowledge sharing for effective brand layering.

Customer Data

Studies show that CMOs plan to increase their marketing analytics budgets. Data offers an opportunity to really understand your customer.

Leveraging data means personalizing the customer journey. You can gather information about the consumer’s desires, lifestyles, and habits.

“If businesses can strike the right balance between adhering to their brand values while allowing AI to access the right amount of data, it can be highly beneficial – it is very cost effective and can deliver real-time personalisation that may not be possible via a human,” writes Maeve Hosea, a freelance journalist.

With the right platform, you can aggregate that data into one location. This strategy allows easy access for the entire team to monitor customer interactions.

IMAGE VIA WOOPRA

When selecting a tool, consider your company’s goals. Especially for ecommerce, a useful platform does more than just offer a checkout widget. It facilitates the brand layering process.

Trina Ahrens of Little Acre Gourmet Foods says, “Shopify is great because it has so many features we can use like pop-ups that allow us to engage with customers we might otherwise never meet at a tasting event.”

Gone are the days of ‘one size fits all’ campaigns. Tailored interactions give brands the opportunity to design experiences for specific customer personas.

And don’t forget the traditional routes of collecting data. Good old-fashioned customer interviews.

“It’s important to conduct a few interviews from each customer segment using your product, too. What worked for one customer may not have been as effective for another. Understanding data and trends mean collecting information from a sizable sample of your target audience,” writes Sara Vera, data scientist at Insightly.

For more personalization, use data to amplify the customer experience. Reach the right individual at the right time through the right channel with the right offer.

Integrate the Experiences

Let’s get rid of the mindset that there are online and offline experiences. You want only want one experience to exist.

That one experience harbors multiple customer touchpoints, feeding off of each other.

“Digital facilitates the real and the real facilities digital: Our world is digital, but real world experiences fuel the digital world, and visa versa. Embrace that fact and stop thinking of the two things separately, see them as one continuous journey,” states Tom Maya, content editor at Eventbrite UK.

For instance, the unboxing experience for a lot of customers is the first physical interaction with an online brand. A beautifully wrapped package attaches a brand layer of sophistication. And product presentation becomes memorable.

Even though major retailers have hundreds of traditional stores, they are experimenting with short-term sales spaces known as pop-up shops.

For instance, Target developed a pop-up shop during the 2015 holiday season. This tactic helped their team test out new technology and create a unique mood for a brand-defining experience.

The retail chain gave shoppers radio-frequency identification keys to select items, instead of shopping carts. To make a purchase, consumers scanned their RFID keys, and the product would be added automatically to their digital carts.

IMAGE VIA BUSINESS INSIDER

Below is an illustration of the complex B2C buying cycle. Hundreds of touchpoints exist, which can influence a customer both online and offline. From a TV commercial to a blog post, these touchpoints all play a role in the customer’s buying decisions.

IMAGE VIA GARYMAGNONE.COM

Remember that your brand experience also rests upon your employees’ shoulders. They too should embody the values and principles of the company. Likewise, treat your co-workers well.

Bryn Vaupel, principal of BC Consulting, LLC, states:

“As you establish standards for the member experience, do not forget the employee experience. Your employees will deliver the experience that you deliver to them. As a leader in your organization, set the example of how to live your brand. When you interact with your employees use the standard greetings and closing you expect them to use with your members.”

Blend customer touchpoints into one experience. It’s the key to customer satisfaction.

Syncing the Experience

Brand layering enhances the customer experience. It shows consumers that every single brand interaction matters.

Work with your team to share knowledge across departments. Use data to personalize shopping. Streamline online and offline interactions so that they work as one.

Upgrade your brand. Sync the customer experience.

About the Author

Shayla Price creates and promotes content. She lives at the intersection of digital marketing, technology, and social responsibility. Connect with her on Twitter: @shaylaprice.