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Mind the Gap – The Five Pitfalls of Omnichannel Brand Experience

written by Bob Skubic.

We’ve thankfully moved past the point where anyone wants to argue about the value of taking a comprehensive approach to designing an omnichannel brand experience. The bar for quality brand experiences continues to rise every year. Even the most skeptical companies are now being forced to improve their customer experiences for fear of losing share of market and mind. But just because everyone is being dragged into the age of the omnichannel brand experience, that doesn’t mean they understand how to navigate once they get there.


As a brand experience agency, one of the primary services we offer to our clients involves helping them first notice, then avoid, the most common pitfalls in the world of omnichannel brand experience management. Here are five worth watching out for.


#5 – Those Personas? They Suck.

By far the easiest way to begin taking a customer-centric approach to improving the brand experience involves the creation of personas.  Many of our clients proudly brandish their personas as proof of progress towards a great brand experience.  The only problem is that more often than not personas are either too limiting or too broad to be of any real help in crafting a great experience.  How does knowing that someone is 35, has two kids and drives a minivan help us figure out how to improve our brand experience? That 35 year-old is way more complex than a set of basic demographics. We all are. We all act very differently at work, alone, with family, with close friends, or in a big group. There are core characteristics that make each of us who we are and I’ll bet few would suggest that these include our age or what car we drive.


To be useful, personas need to focus on mental states, situations of use, and other psychographic dimensions that have to do with how a customer encounters our brand. If done correctly we can probably find customers who may traverse through many different states or modes depending on their situation of use—are they at work? On their phone? In a physical store?


For one of our customers, a manufacturer of computer anti-virus software, we ended up creating three key personas: Nervous Nelly, Set-It-and-Forget-It, The Tinkerer. These personas did not emphasize age, gender or amount of internet usage. Instead they focused on what each was trying to accomplish, how they might act in a certain situation, and how they needed to be helped. Crucially, one customer could be all three of these personas at different times depending on the specific context. This way of describing customers opens the door to new and creative ideas on how to craft a brand experience that will deliver on customer’s expectations. Understanding key expectations combined with leveraging more actionable personas is a huge step in the right direction that many brands miss.


#4 – It Doesn’t Matter How Good You Think You Are

Today’s marketplace is more complex than it has ever been, not the least of which is because the customer now has more of a voice than ever before. Customers are creating and sharing real-time perceptions of our companies based on their experience. These perceptions turn into our brands. If we are not delivering on our promises, the gap of what we think we provide and what our customers actually experience will grow even wider. Managing this perception gap has become critical. The problem is, most companies are either not thinking about this, or falsely believe they are hitting the mark. According to Forrester’s annual survey, 90% of companies across all industries say providing a great customer experience is a top corporate priority. But ask the customers of those companies whether they’re actually getting a great experience? Only 3% agree.




Why such a big gap? Most brands don’t take the time to observe customer interactions. While they start off with the best intentions, the conversations about the subject usually go something like this:


“Let’s go talk to our customers.”


“Yes, we need to talk to customers.”


Someone proposes a customer research project.


“Wait, how much do we have to spend? It’s going to take that long?”


“Well, we don’t have time for that. We probably have a pretty good idea of who our customer is.”


No, we don’t.


Gut instincts are certainly a good place to start, but customers today are increasingly complex and the web (pun intended) of different channels in which they interact makes it that much harder to truly understand what they believe, need, and want. Looking at data, conducting focus groups and sending out surveys does not tell enough of the story. No real substitute exists for making in-person observations in real situations with real customers. This is not an easy task. It takes time and money. But such understanding is the key to finding insights that will allow a brand to deliver on its vision and close the perception gap.


#3 – Believing What Customers Tell You


When observing customers, we find that a huge gap exists between what a customer says they do, and what they actually do. Which is why surveys are close to worthless when it comes to innovating the brand experience. This is not the customer’s fault. They believe in their thoughts and actions, but people often forget all the little (and big) things they do that have become second nature. Every business should experience watching a customer make a list of the steps they take to go through a process (such as shopping for and buying a product, setting up an account, or using a product) and then observing the same customer actually go through that process. There will be tons of differences.


It’s like the difference between telling a person to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich vs. telling a computer to make one. The person has the context and life experience to know they need peanut butter, jelly and bread, how to open the jar, get a knife, etc. For the computer, it needs every detailed step outlined in exactly the right order – the computer does not even know what peanut butter or a jar is.


We need to observe customers in their natural habitats and actions, so that we can see the thinking and actions that have become habits.


#2 – You’ve Got to Stand for Something

Every company is founded on core beliefs. Think of going into a small Mom & Pop shop in your neighborhood. Most likely they have a clear point of view on how they want their business run and can actively control the experience in the store because they are living these experiences with their customers. They are actively observing and interacting with customers, who are members of the same community, acting and reacting in real time because they are human beings and that is what human beings do. As a customer we choose them because they are real, they are convenient and they deliver on what we need.


This approach does not scale as brands grow larger and into new channels unless a brand can clearly articulate what they believe in while delivering what customers want. Large brands that hit this on the nose are far and few between, yet notably the customers of large brands are looking for the same things that we do from the little store down the street.


Chipotle focuses energy on making food fast and consistent, but also has a strong belief in sustainable practices. This belief guides the development of their brand and in turn attracts customers that share this belief. For example, Chipotle chooses not to sell pork because they have not yet found a vendor that meets their standards. While the omnichannel experience might not be top of mind in this particular decision, Chipotle has a clear set of beliefs and expectations that all employees from the executive board to the restaurant chains can clearly understand. This is why their recent e-coli issues were such a big deal to Chipotle, it goes against everything they stand for. To their credit, they went way beyond what other brands would do to correct the problem and are back as strong as before. Chipotle’s brand, expressed in places as diverse as a YouTube video and the attitude of a cashier, are portraying an authentic message that comes from a shared belief.


Anki is a robotics and artificial intelligence company that believes in taking robots out of academic labs and making them fun. Their hit product is a toy called Anki OVERDRIVE, and boy does it deliver on that belief. It’s a super complex mix of robotics and AI that allows you to race robotic cars using a smart phone or tablet either by yourself, against friends or against virtual characters. To me, it’s a vastly improved version of old time slot cars.  To my kids, it’s a live game and a video game at the same time.


Author Simon Sinek says that people don’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it. We call the core set of beliefs that motivate a company’s existence one of the touchstones of the brand experience. If we don’t know what we stand for, and we haven’t communicated that throughout the organization, how do we know that we’re doing what’s right for our brand experience?


#1 – There is No Omnichannel

If we truly take the customer point of view, there is no such thing as an omnichannel experience. Customers could care less how we think about channels. The customer has her desires, perceptions, and needs she is simply looking for us to satisfy them. The Omnichannel Customer Experience might as well be The Great and Powerful Oz.


Customers assume that brands have it figured out and that we know exactly what we are doing, or at the very least, they expect us to act like it. But behind the curtain we are scrambling, trying to piece together an experience for our customers the best we can, relying on surveys, analytics, and industry scores to gauge our success across channels.


Customers aren’t exactly lining up to explain to us exactly what we’re getting right and wrong. Of course, we do get feedback, but typically we only hear about the truly amazing experiences or the predictably horrible experiences. If we’re simply delivering on expectations, we might not hear anything. Perhaps the customer comes into the store or goes online – they look around, find what they want, buy it, and go away. In their eyes the experience was neither amazing nor horrible. They will neither shout our praises nor flame us on social media. But somewhere in their brain they know we satisfied their need and will consider returning.  Every time the customer returns, another opportunity exists to not just deliver on expectations but to exceed them.


As we work to understand the brand experiences we deliver to customers we’d do well forget about omnichannel and focus simply on exceeding expectations. From the customer’s perspective they have only their experience and their perception. To provide a successful brand experience, we need to ground ourselves in a clear vision of what we stand for, understand what our customers think and do, and understand the invisible parts of the experience so we can drive insights that allows us to better fill the perception gap that exists between our customers and our brand.


If we’re doing things right we won’t need to know our Net Promoter Score or send out a lot of surveys, all we will need to do is look at our bottom line.


This post was written by Bob Skubic. Find out more about brand experience and have an opportunity to discuss with Cibo experts at one of our SF Design Week events.


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