At Modern Climate, we ask our clients: "Is your brand keeping its promise?" Here's what we are thinking about when we ask this question.
We believe when a brand first expresses itself to consumers, it is making an implicit promise to consumers and with each future impression it is reinforced. Embedded in that promise is what the brand stands for, what it offers and how it will benefit the consumer. And you had better believe that consumers are keeping score, evaluating if the brand is living up to its promise with every interaction.
Today, more than ever, this promise sets very specific and very high consumer expectations. Expectations are so high because of incredible choice and ubiquitous access. One has to only think of an idea, product or need, express it the form of keywords and voila – your search results confirm somebody has thought of it. I experience this whenever I’ve come up with my next $1M idea. Invariably, it already exists many times over and the best version is usually free or maybe $2.99/mo. – completely destroying my imaginary business plan. The point is, with so much choice you can’t just present your brand and say it’s great. You have to make it great. Nothing less than what you promised.
So before the sidebar, we established that brands make promises and consumers are keeping score. Brands that keep their promises score points, while brands that don't follow-through lose points. And making the promise is the easy part. Keeping the promise is where brands are authentic, add real value and generate greater traction with consumers. (Makes me think of this Seinfeld clip: https://youtu.be/4T2GmGSNvaM.) At Modern Climate this is literally how we think. Everyday we leverage this simple philosophy to help clients keep their brand's promises by creating Modern Brand Experiences.
Modern Brand Experiences
Whoa, whoa, whoa – stop the clock! What do we mean by "Modern Brand Experiences"?
Yes, it's about leveraging databases, APIs, visualization engines, GPS, security, image recognition, voice UI and literally anything else. But what it's really about is tapping into the powerful attributes of technology as an enabler to deliver more personal and valuable experiences to the consumer that enable them to DO things. And today, DOing is where it's at – it's what consumers expect.
And by the way, if you are not leveraging technology in your experiences to enable consumers to get stuff done, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage and likely being outpaced by your competition because consumers gravitate to DOing.
To be clear, this is not about white-labeling your brand over the top of an existing technology-enabled user experience. That is fast and cheap but it is not going to build your brand. In most cases it will damage it. A brand must aspire to unique and distinctive – not syndicated and commoditized. How do I know this? Because half of the work we do for clients is fixing broken experiences that fall short relative to the brand's promise and most certainly in the eyes of consumers.
Modern brand experiences are defined by these three simple tenets:
1. Reward consumers financially or emotionally.
2. Demonstrate shared values – the basis for any relationship (Consumers want to do business with brands they like, that think the way they do and are inspired by.)
3. Prove authenticity – staying true in it's actions to the brands mission, ideals and the promise it makes.
Simple? Yes, can be. Pervasive? Not really. Think about your brand's experiences. Can you check every box? – for every experience?
Keeping promises with an App.
To illustrate this thinking, let's look to the fast-paced category of the a few coffee retailers' mobile App experiences. Locally, there are three major brands: Starbucks (ubiquitous), Dunn Bros. (small and regional) and Caribou coffee (600-ish stores in 18 states and 10 countries).
Starbucks App is on its third or fourth major version. Each successive major release has strived to improve the experience by reducing content, simplifying tasks and generally refining to the nth degree. The version previous to the current version was a transactional efficiency masterpiece. With the current version they are starting to pour more content back in, presumably driven by business goals. To me, it feels harder to contend with, very data-dense. The primary focus is on rewards but it feels like “work” with an Inbox and history…I don’t like it. It’s not off-brand per se, but the previous version rewarded me with efficiency, shared with me the values of access, excellence and simple, articulate interactions. Using the previous version felt like going to the store. It matched. It was a logical and emotional extension of what I perceive the Starbucks brand to be: get in and out quick with a high-quality product that will be dependably identical wherever I get it.
Dunn Bros. is straight-up optimized transacting. There are a few other tabs, but it seems very little else was put into it, other than pasting in obligatory content like the horrible menu, order ahead feature and store locations. It’s a white-label App from LevelUp payment systems. Beyond the splash screen it’s just a logo and style sheets. In terms of a brand experience, it less than vanilla. It’s efficient and easy to use, but has nothing to do with the brand. As far as I am concerned, opportunity missed.
My favorite coffee App is still the Caribou App. Modern Climate designed and developed the App in 2015 and the fine folks at Caribou have been maintaining it since. I consider it a true example of a modern brand experience, built on leveraging the power of brand + technology, artfully intertwined to keep the promise made. Here are some reasons why:
Visually, it feels like the brand – and the store.
It's warm and inviting. It's casual and relaxed. There is "space" to move around and get comfortable. We could have loaded the screen with data and buttons and promos, but we purposely didn't. We greet you. We acknowledge your presence, location and the time of day. We create a moment where you can exhale a breath you didn't realize you were holding. We think it feels kind of nice.
It is heavy on gestural interactions.
Casually swipe up for Perks and promos, swipe down for the main menu and swipe up again to go back. In the menu section you can swipe left or right to browse categories and product (over 100 of them) with light flits of your thumb. No spinning your way through mobile drop-downs. We'll have none of that. Why all this swiping? Because it contributes to the vibe of chilling out, creating an oasis from density and complexity that is still too common in many our user experiences.
‘Perks' is not your typical reward program.
Caribou does loyalty differently. It's organic and unpredictable – you don't know when a Perk is coming. And because surprise and delight is a key component of the Caribou brand, we wanted to double-down. When you earn a Perk, Caribou doesn't just tell you what it is. When they send a notification, it merely says you've earned one and you can reveal it in the App. In the App, you slide a small river stone to the side to reveal your reward. It's engaging. There's anticipation and fun. Another moment, purposely created to take you away from your busy day.
Fit and finish — it matters.
Caribou stores are warm and comfortable with rich materials and quality furnishings. Experiences suffering from poor craftsmanship negatively impact a brand. Consciously or subconsciously people think, "Geez, how good can the product be if the website or App is this crappy?"
These are just a few of the highlights that make the Caribou App a modern brand experience. But every design decision in the App is a purposeful expression of the brand, powered by technology and guided by our tenets of a modern brand experience.
The promise your brand makes does not allow for exceptions or exclusions.
Brands see the most success when every single consumer interaction, across every touchpoint integrates in very intentional ways to allow the consumer to flow seamlessly and intuitively back and forth, in and out . Where message, content and functionality, purposeful redundancy and optimized exclusivity are thoughtfully considered and engineered to reduce friction and add value, impress, delight and differentiate. All so that the totality of the brand experience is superior to the consumer's other options. In today's world brands must keep their promises across the entire customer journey to win.
So, is your brand keeping its promise?