You have clarified your vision and values, found a unique and focused ‘big idea’, and managed to pack it all into an identity that feels right. Your brand guidelines tell you (or your designer) what typefaces and colors should be used and the minimum allowable space around your logo. You are fully prepared to manage how your brand looks, but are you able to explain to someone how your brand acts? If not, you may need to create experience guidelines.
Just like style guides, experience guidelines describe how your brand is reflected in the use of your product or service. They can be used to ensure employees and your product deliver the appropriate experience for your brand. Functional specifications such as speed of response and accuracy, can act as expressions of personality in an experience. Compare the softly pulsing lights of an iMac to the the PC’s rapid, jittering disk activity light. The features themselves have entirely different personalities. Dan Saffer has a great name for this sort of detail: Micro-interactions. Brands that excel at using micro-interactions have the best brand experiences. Through careful crafting and arranging of interactions like music, they express the essence of a brand through the most mundane of tasks.
The problem is, when lots of people are working on or in your business, it can be hard to keep things in uninson. That’s where experience guidelines can help.
Atlassian has clear design guidelines. So does Google. The UK Government maintains a set of design principals, as do Usability.gov and many others. Unfortunately, most of these guides focus on digital experiences. I think businesses need to be thinking more holistically, including more elements of the customer experience in their planning. Portions of Facebook’s ‘little red book‘ were recently released online (its a guide to company culture) –I would argue that this sort of information can help guide an experience. Employee training is a big factor too.
Nordstrom and Disney are two companies that match their brand and experience effectively. Nordstrom’s entire brand is built around their customer service. Disney exists “to make magical experiences come alive”. They invite customers to create their own unique Disney experience.
For many businesses, the in person customer experience is the number one force shaping perception of the brand. Yet, many fail to connect how they work and act with how they look and talk. This results in the sort of wooden delivery that makes marketing materials fall flat. Take United Airlines. Nobody likes United. To me, the United brand represents inconvenience, discomfort, and frustration. Those are the primary feelings I experience when using their product. There is no brand message that will change that. I think the only things that could change my opinion are a couple hundred thousand frequent flyer miles or a good number of flight experiences that greatly exceeded my expectations and actually felt like “The friendly skies”.