Thought Piece | Experience Design

Why is brand expression is the most powerful tool in the box?

Author: Chris Marsh
Date: 20/10/20

Why is brand expression is the most powerful tool in the box?

Chris Marsh, Head of Creative here at Splendid Unlimited, lifts the lid on what's behind a brands human connection with consumers - 'Why brand expression is the most powerful tool in the box'

Read the full article here

Unlocking the key to brand expression has become an integral part of the digital solution. By applying Human Understanding through mapping behaviours, voice, personality and culture through every facet of an experience, we are able to create a foundation that helps to define everything from propositions, IA & principles, right through to the tactile touch of a button. 

In short, it’s about making digital human. With this process becoming an ever-increasing arrow to experience design’s proverbial bow. 

So… what is it?

Understandably, it can be difficult to fathom that the key to unlocking the expression of a brand does not lie in the guidelines. We all know what it feels like when you receive yet another bloody phishing email assuming the identity of your bank (or one from the Cayman Islands that know’s your great Aunt Sheila). It carries the correct logo, fonts and colours and yet something just never feels quite right.

“Also, just for clarification, not suggesting any con artists start taking up our advice, unless…”

The key, we find, is how we decipher the difference between the tone of voice and voice. TOV implies one consistent behaviour. For example, the different altitudes a housing association has to interact with a customer can vary anywhere between moving-in-day and possible eviction. So, when applied to a digital experience (in fact, any experience) we need different tones and behaviours at different times.

It is this understanding that enables us to map those personality traits against every aspect of a digital experience – and this can inform everything from information architecture and design principles right through to the careful crafting of UI elements.

The first question that we always ask a client, whether they have a brand or not, is why? Why are you doing this and what is it trying to achieve? Understanding that is what is going to create the depth, the flavour, the essence, the brilliant uniqueness that will set them apart from anyone else.

rapha brand expression

Okay… so why is it so important?

Understanding micro-communities is so important when identifying the correct digital proposition for brands. Take Rapha for example, we all know cycling has a hugely passionate community – what they have managed to create is a community around themselves. They've coined their flagship stores as 'clubhouses' and created an environment that feels more like a cyclist hang out/coffee shop. This approach, combined with the personality and knowledge exuding from every sale assistant and bike mechanic, combined with the smell of freshly ground coffee – not to mention the life-size Rapha van parked neatly inside the foyer – immediately instils this sense of Rapha. They have managed to create an environment with a soul, a personality.

What Rapha understand, and something all brands should look to do, is that extending that expression beyond just one aspect of your organisation should infest your culture, your voice, your product and in the case of what Splendid do, your digital estate. So, the importance of brand expression is about understanding how to bring the same level of personality and expertise in an online experience.

You can check out a great video on how Rapha take on brand expression here:

https://www.rapha.cc/gb/en/careers

taxly brand expression

How has brand expression become such a prominent part of experience?

Much like architecture, experience design is about creating spaces that function at maximum efficiency yet still radiate personality. This has been highlighted in more recent times by the new world of digital start-ups – when engaging with clients, they often don’t have the brand foundations in place, whilst an organisation like Coca-Cola do because their brand IS the digital product we’re about to create for them.

Take Taxly. Their mission was to simplify the highly complex and expensive process of Swiss tax submissions by creating an AI app that allows customers to file their return in under 10 minutes for a tenth of the cost. When Taxly first approached us, they had nothing but a name, an idea and a determination to disrupt the industry in the same way Lemonade had for insurance, and Monzo had for banking.

When we began creating the experience, we quickly realised that no matter how much we simplified the process, there is little way to get around the fact that – simply put – there is nothing fun about tax.

What we identified was that characterisation would not only meet the ambitions of Taxly's investors but that we had an opportunity to create a voice that could join the customer on their journey, a voice that also recognised that tax sucks.

After quite a bit (lots) of exploration, one of our team came out with a quote from Orson Wells referencing, a) the Swiss and b) a cuckoo clock. Working with a scriptwriter we began to flesh out Roger ‘The Tax Boss’ – a sardonic, almost sarcastic, Hank Moody type cuckoo that would guide you through your tax submission.

This creation highlights one of the purest forms of brand expression that you could possibly imagine. When designing the login page we wanted to introduce Roger with a bang, so when a user began typing their password, we animated Roger to cover his eyes, but then he'd take a sneaky peak once you stopped typing.

What this meant for Taxly was that Roger became the brand, allowing total flexibility as to where they could direct the future of the business. It also meant that rather than the experience becoming a form journey, it became an expression of Roger, The Tax Boss. It was those moments of delight that actually helped alleviate a lot of digital anxiety and created human touchpoint throughout the experience.

taxly be 2

What’s the value?

Whereas in the 'early days' brands got lost in 'website design land', in the world of post-COVID-19 websites will play an ever-increasing role in the human parts of a customer lifecycle, and it's here wherein lies the value – and it's in the fact that brand expression is about more than visual recognition and trust.

Over time, and through our learning from creating carefully crafted digital experiences, backed by insight and data, we now know that the best solutions are ones made to feel the most human.

What we're seeing as a consequence, is that brands are beginning to go back to their roots. Here at Splendid, we are able to harness brand expression in everything we do to positively affect business KPIs and metrics for our clients.

Once clients understand the why’s and the how’s, they quickly realise the immense power brand expression can have on every aspect of their digital estate.