It’s midsummer and a lot of us have vacation on the brain. Are you going to the beach? When you come back, how will you remember it?
Most of us look back on our vacations as great experiences even if, when you really scrutinize every little thing that happened, there were probably some annoying and uncomfortable moments when things didn’t work out the way you expected.
Moments of Impact
This is the essence of our reflective nature. When we look back on an experience, we craft a narrative based on memory and emotion and the sum of our experiences. In an earlier article I wrote, Branded Interactions: Trends and Strategies for Digital-Physical Products, this cognitive/emotional processing is discussed in more detail.
The same is true of how we process our experiences with brands. A brand whose designers are able to create positive interactions that punctuate a product experience with joy, delight, or relief will be rewarded with love and loyalty.
Major opportunities to make an impact begin with product awareness, when a user begins to establish a relationship with a product and its brand. Purchase experience is the next opportunity, then unboxing and onboarding, and into repeated use and loyalty.
Here are examples of brands who are making the most of the crucial touchpoints along their customers’ journeys.
Touchpoint #1: Awareness
Advertising has historically been a company’s main tool for spreading brand awareness, and it’s still an important mode. But as products become more complex, the way we interact with them becomes more important than a brand’s cool factor or cultural significance. We’re starting to see interactions at the center of a lot of awareness campaigns.
Apple’s iPhone 6
See how the phone’s new 3-D touch interaction element is the heart of Apple’s advertising campaign in this iPhone 6 commercial? It both demonstrates the interaction and shows how it benefits you in the context of everyday life. Interactions play a huge role in the awareness phase of this product.
Here’s another example from Google. This is a funny scenario — Hall & Oates using Google Docs to collaborate on a song. You see in real time how this interaction occurs.
These ads show how crucial it is to invest time in creating branded interactions, because they come in handy when it’s time to advertise your product. If you can show in a short ad that the interaction is easy, fun, and has clear benefits, you’ve done a great job designing that interaction, and onboarding can begin during this awareness phase.
Touchpoint #2: Purchase
Many of us have been at the user’s end of Apple’s well-designed purchase experience. It’s not the typical in-store routine where you grab your item, head to the counter where somebody who isn’t very interested in their job checks you out, and you’re on your way.
Instead it’s this immersive experience where the employees, who are product evangelists, walk around and talk with you, check you out right there with their magic scanners, and make the whole interaction easier and more optimized for you.
Zappos’s Purchase Experience
The Zappos purchase experience delivers on its brand promise to deliver happiness. Zappos was the first company to surprise people with next-day shipping. (What’s more happy-making than that?)
The company also excels at bringing its brand character to life through micro-interactions. When you add something to your cart on its mobile app, it starts to rain cats. It’s very silly, but it also makes you smile and laugh. It gives you a happy experience at the point of purchase.
Amazon has always been all about providing a simple, one-stop, customer-centric experience. The Amazon Dash branded buttons stick to various surfaces in your house near where those products are stored. When you’re almost out of paper towels, you can hit the Amazon Dash button and automatically order a refill.
This is a really interesting, disruptive type of interaction at the point of purchase. It’s pretty new, so it remains to be seen how well this is going to work or how widely people will adopt it, but it’s neat to see how the shopping experience has gone from the physical world into the digital one — and how we’re starting to see it trickle back into the physical world again. Michael Schrage calls Dash a touchpoint that “augments physical reality.”
Touchpoints #3,4: Unboxing & Onboarding
The unboxing experience becomes even more important when you buy something online. This is an opportunity for a brand to either let you down or totally over-deliver. Companies who understand the importance of that first impression, like Dollar Shave Club pictured below, really go out of their way to create an unboxing experience that’s delightful for the customer.
For complex products, unboxing becomes part of onboarding. It provides an opportunity to layer and sequence information in a way that helps people digest and comprehend how to use your product and, if you do it right, to segue into successful first-time use.
Here’s an example of a product I worked on at my previous role at Neat. This is a WiFi scanner that lets you scan directly to cloud destinations like Dropbox or Evernote — no need to sit down at your computer and connect to software. This scanner understands the types of things you’re scanning and organizes them for you.
With previous products we had all sorts of instruction manuals, and people had problems getting it set up. We’d get a lot of customer calls from people needing help. For this product we minimized the amount of paper instructions included in the box and created a three step process: plug it in, turn it on, and follow the onscreen steps to scan something. We made scanning an item the focus of the onboarding process, because not only is it better to show someone — versus tell them — how to do something, but this also enables a small, quick victory.
This was by far the most successful onboarding process the company had ever implemented. Setup-related call volume was drastically reduced. And the onboarding experience jibed with Neat’s brand promises of efficient and paper-free.
Right off the bat it helped Neat plant the seeds for brand loyalty.
Touchpoint #5: Repeated Use
We just talked about onboarding, and when you’re designing a product experience and the interactions that go along with it, it can be difficult to balance the needs of a first time user with the needs of a user over time. For instance, a first time user may need explanation and to slow things down, but someone who has reached a certain level of proficiency with the system wants to be able to move quickly.
Nest is a good example of a product that works well over time. The whole thing about Nest is it’s not about creating a new way to interact with your thermostat. It’s more about creating a way to not interact with your thermostat, because who really wants to interact with their thermostat? At the same time you’re enjoying some of these small, delightful interactions and adaptabilities that help build a strong branded connection with the device.
The big jog wheel interaction is reminiscent of old-school thermostats, but really done nicely, and people, myself included, love using it. It’s just a nice, tactile little interaction. Every time you turn that wheel you think, “Yeah, Nest, this is good.” They also carry the wheel through to their mobile application. It’s a consistent interaction throughout various interfaces.
Farsight is a feature that lets Nest understand how close or far away you are and displays information accordingly. If you’re standing farther away, it will give you a much larger reading of the current temperature and less supplementary contextual information that you wouldn’t have been able to see from far away, anyway. Repeated use is really all about integrating the device into your everyday life in a way that’s pleasant and adds value.
If Nest is doing its job, its users will install it and barely ever interact with it. Monthly emails with a breakdown of the amount of energy saved are a great way to bring users back into contact with the brand. The little leaves gamify the action.
When Google refreshed its brand and redid its logo, it introduced these dots, which are used for all sorts of interactions. The dots are helpful, fun, and playful. They really speak well to the Google brand, and at the same time they provide useful feedback.
There are also Google Doodles, which are a real gift to repeat users, and a reflection of the brand’s values. You can start to see how these small interactions become a part of Google’s brand language.
Touchpoint #6: Loyalty
If you’ve done a good job with all of the touchpoints along the way, loyalty should follow, but there are few interesting examples and points to make about fostering loyalty at the end of the journey or past repeated use.
A lot of companies go out of their way to make cancelling your membership very difficult, hoping people won’t bother to do it. That backfires, because once people make their way through the cancellation process, they’re not going to sign up again, ever.
Netflix found that by making cancellation as easy as one click, a lot of users come back and sign up again repeatedly because they don’t feel trapped. This casual relationship is more effective than the kind of monogamous, locked-in relationships demanded by cable services. Netflix’s brand promise is to strive to be very straightforward, and this is a great example of that in action.
Breaking Up with Spotify
Something Spotify does when you cancel your subscription is to send you an adorable breakup playlist. Even a cancellation moment is an opportunity to elicit a positive emotional response from your customer — because like we just talked about with Netflix, people will come back.
Over-the-Air Updates for Hardware
The ability for products to address customer feedback and points of dissatisfaction with updates has become very important. This happens a lot in software, but it’s starting to happen more and more in hardware-based products that have a software component. Some are Jawbone, Tesla, Nest, Fitbit, iPhone, and Rachio — the list of examples keeps getting longer.
The ability to push out firmware or software updates gives you the opportunity to continuously improve your product. Making customers feel heard and having a product respond accordingly can be a really powerful driver of brand loyalty.
Was It a Good Experience Overall?
As your customer proceeds through these steps, they begin to understand what your brand is all about, how to use your product, and why they want to keep using your product. They learn a little bit more each time, and what they’ve learned in the previous step informs the next.
If you’re doing a good job with your branded interactions — here are 15 favorites — the level of emotional attachment steadily increases, so that by the time they get to repeated use, they’re primed to become loyal to your brand.
And just like the friend who recently returned from a great vacation and wants to show off pictures from his trip, these brand advocates will spread the word and the love.