You read a compelling advertisement for a piece of electrical equipment and you buy it.
And then you open the instruction manual.
It is incomprehensible in seven languages. The advertisement understood the reader; the manual does not. (Bullmore 1999)
I was first introduced to the concept of deep branding during my course on Information Design at the University of Reading. After giving a presentation on the subject, I soon realised that it was a term that most people were not familiar with, yet I found it to be a key element for a successful brand experience.
When we think of brand communications, we think of product or service awareness through advertising; billboards, TV ads, posters, magazines, trade shows, direct mail and online marketing. But, we don't think about invoices, purchase orders, terms and conditions or instruction manuals; in other words the less obvious sources of a brands reputation (Bullmore 1999).
A brand experience does not finish when you purchase a product or a service, it continues, for example, with monthly bills or opening the box the product came with. It is at those points that the experience goes deeper.
If the origins of branding are in burning a mark onto an animal to denote ownership, then nowadays, the main goal of branding is to make a meaningful mark on the consumer at an emotional level, that is to say, to establish a deeper connection. To achieve this connection, we need to think outside the box. Literally.
Thinking outside your box
Imagine you go to a shop and you purchase something. This something comes in a box. You then take this box home and open it. Whatever happens next will decide whether you love, hate or become indifferent to this brand. Here is where the brand experience reaches a decision point. Often, companies sacrifice design for the sake of profit making. This sacrifice has a higher impact on the brand experience than they can probably imagine. Can you think of any brands that answer your questions before you have time to ask them? Straight away Apple comes to most peoples mind and, in my case, Dyson.
The brands journey
Take the Dyson brand. I recently spent a similar amount of money on my Dyson vacuum cleaner as on an IKEA bed (note how I emphasise the feeling of ownership with the former). The vacuum cleaners box itself had clear instructions printed on it, as well as beautiful engineering drawings with interesting information and data. The fact that its motor is compared to a Formula 1 car engine makes the product appear powerful and exciting to use. Inside the box, there is a set of very clear instructions that answer your questions before you've even had time to formulate them. In addition, you get a little booklet explaining very succinctly the story of the designer behind your newly acquired product, which spans more than 20 years. The love for the brand is imminent.
Now take, for instance, a trip to IKEA. How many times have you gone to one of their shops, experienced the always exciting yet tiring shopping journey through their immense building, queued for help, queued again to pay, waited for a ride on a van and, finally, arrived home to discover that there is one tiny piece missing which stops you from building your piece of furniture?
Alternatively, if all the necessary pieces are there, how many times do you need to go through the instructions, printed on a greyish recycled-look A4 paper, to learn how to build it? Don't get me wrong, I love IKEA, I do. Their affordable, flat packed and carefully designed furniture has been a pioneering innovation for years.
Likewise, the instructions that come with the furniture are the work of geniuses it is well worth highlighting that they don't use any text, only visuals and numerals, which means that these can be used internationally without the need for translating them. However, could the products be presented in a more exciting way? For example, the packaging could become an educational tool for children to teach them how to design furniture. The instructions could explain the history behind that particular design or behind the company, altogether making you treasure every bit of information that comes with your product. Perhaps we would then be collecting them and even framing and hanging them on our walls.
Even though I have compared two different ends of the market here, the idea of deepening the brand experience can and should be applied to every product and service out there.
It is no different when we look at other businesses. There are many eye-rolling moments that take place on a daily basis when we attempt to understand mobile phone bills, parking fines, contracts, bank statements, illegible terms and conditions, complicated manuals, medicine prescription leaflets and the list goes on. These are the moments when we lose trust in a brand.
Every piece of information, every touch point, printed or digital, is responsible for deepening brand confidence and loyalty into its customers.
Bullmore, J. (1999) "Why every brand encounter counts." WPP Annual Report.
Linnell, P. (2009) "Building brand value through technical instruction“ a case study in the use of a qualitative analysis method, Society for Technical Communication Summit
Waller, R. & Delin, J. (2003) "Cooperative brands: The importance of customer information for service brands", Design Management Journal, 14, 63-9