The Relationship Between User Experience and Branding

Ask UXmatters

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A column by Janet M. Six
May 18, 2020

This month in Ask UXmatters, the UX professionals who belong to our panel of experts discuss the relationship between User Experience and branding, comparing their scope and the value they deliver to an organization. Our experts then consider the relationship between User Experience and Customer Experience (CX).

Our panelists also explore the measurement of brand strategy utilizing KPIs and UX measurements. Plus, they consider the importance of consistency in the brand experience. Finally, our experts look at the impact that all of the touchpoints for a product’s or service’s user experience have on the brand experience.

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In my monthly column Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts answers readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].

The following experts have contributed answers to this month’s edition of Ask UXmatters:

  • Richard Alvarez—UX Practice Manager at Saggezza
  • Carol Barnum—Director of User Research and Founding Partner at UX Firm; author of Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set … Test!
  • Dirk Knemeyer—Managing Director of SciStories LLC
  • Gavin Lew—Managing Director at Bold Insight
  • Andrew Wirtanen—Lead Designer at Citrix

Q: Do you see a relationship between User Experience and branding?—from a UXmatters reader

“While we can tangibly manifest both branding and User Experience in creative solutions such as writing and design, these professions differ considerably in the breadth of their focus,” responds Dirk. “Branding concerns the brand of a country, company, organization, or individual person. The idea is that there is a specific, articulated outcome that a company should create or cultivate through the sum of all of the touchpoints that other people and organizations have with the branded thing. When we give branding the highest level of investment and care, it is active in every internal and external aspect that we can monitor, track, and act upon. This can manifest in seemingly infinite ways, including the oversight of everything from customer service to product to marketing to human resources.

“Depending on the organization, the implementation of creative branding solutions might originate either from a central group that is tightly held by those stewarding the brand, or it might be decentralized across several different areas, with the brand providing some cross between creative direction and quality assurance for the localized creative efforts. Of course, for most organizations—and indeed, for most of us—brand rarely receives this sort of depth, cognizance, or diligence. But practiced at its highest level, this is what branding should and does look like.

User Experience, as readers of UXmatters know, relates to the strategic creation and deployment of a particular experience, or the impact of a specific experience on the people who interact with it. Similar to branding, User Experience is inherently strategic, but focuses on a much narrower context.”

User Experience Versus Customer Experience

“This question could be about the overlaps and distinctions between User Experience and Customer Experience (CX),” answers Carol. “Customer Experience focuses on brand loyalty and customers’ likelihood to recommend. User Experience focuses on the immediacy of user interaction with your product. But the lines between them have blurred as the role of the UX researcher and the tools in our toolkit have expanded beyond the narrow focus of the user’s engagement with the user interface.

“When you do requirements gathering and ethnographic research, you are likely to be exploring more than the context in which people use your product or competitors’ products. You are bound to learn how people feel about your brand or your competitors’ brands. Once you engage with customers or prospective customers in this way, you’ll probably use your findings to create personas and engage in customer journey–mapping workshops.

“If you conduct usability testing with current or prospective users, you’ll likely learn what perceptions users have of the brand as they engage with the product. If you conduct focus groups, you’ll probe themes around your brand or your competitors’ brands.

“If you ask questions to gauge users’ experience and satisfaction with your product, you’ll probably obtain information that also reflects your users’ perceptions of the brand. In your choice of feedback questionnaires, do you include the Net Promoter Score, which asks, How likely are you to recommend this product to a colleague or friend? This is a popular Customer Experience or marketing questionnaire that UX researchers can also use when conducting customer-facing UX research.

“Who owns each of these aspects and tools of CX and UX research? Who contributes to an understanding of User Experience and the brand? We all do!

“So how can we all work together to support good user experiences and build brand loyalty? If you are engaging with stakeholders to understand their goals for your research, are you partnering with those on the customer side, as well as on the product side? These CX stakeholders often include representatives from customer service, marketing, training, sales, and other related areas. If you are siloed within a UX group that isn’t engaging with CX stakeholders, seek opportunities to meet, greet, and collaborate with them. We all want the same thing—great user experiences and strong loyalty to brand. Partnering with Customer Experience to accomplish this result makes every aspect of product development and customer experience better.”

The Measurability of User Experience

“The work we do in User Experience is measurable,” replies Richard. “It derives from our understanding of business goals. We provide design solutions that address our customers’ needs and wants.

As part of our overall measurement strategy, UX initiatives are like well-run science experiments. First, we observe users’ tasks to understand the current state. Then, we hypothesize an improved future state. Finally, we conduct experiments to achieve positive improvements. Using UX research methods, we test against benchmark data to demonstrate success. UX measurements revolve around the use and function of the digital products we work on—such as applications, Web sites, and mobile apps. We typically measure things such as success rates, clicks to complete, error rates, abandonment rates, and time on task—to name a few. User Experience initiates work within the overall business strategy and goals, as the business key performance indicators (KPIs) in Figure 1 illustrate.”

Figure 1—Relationship between business KPIs and UX measurements
The relationship between business KPIs and UX measurements

“When we think about an organization’s branding, things such as the company logo, colors, fonts, and imagery come to mind,” continues Richard. “Branding is part of the overall business strategy, so UX initiatives should always align with these branding guidelines.”

Consistency with the Brand Experience

“A product experience should always be consistent with the brand experience,” answers Andrew. “You must ensure that a brand’s product experiences share the same personality, voice, and tone. For example, it would be strange if the Disneyland site were formal and solemn when the park’s tagline is the ‘happiest place on earth.’ The Disney brand evokes fun and excitement, and that should carry through to all product experiences.

“Both product experiences and brand experiences continually evolve and must inform each other. In the late ’90s, Apple was known for its easy-to-use products, but nobody used the words innovative or modern to describe the company’s products at that time. Since then, the development of the innovative iPod, iPhone, iPad, AirPods, and more have helped redefine the Apple brand, while maintaining its reputation for simplicity and ease of use.”

UX Touchpoints

“When we think of a product or service’s user experience, much of our focus tends to be on product design and interactions, but the user experience actually involves many touchpoints,” says Gavin. “Let’s look at a mobile phone as an example. Before a new phone even arrives in your hands, you may have used a Web site to order it—whose creation involves UX design and research. When you receive the package in the mail, the out-of-the-box experience provides another touchpoint that involves UX design and research. The phone itself should have an engaging, usable, useful user experience. If you encounter any issues, you might call Support and encounter an interactive voice response (IVR) system’s user experience. When you speak to someone in the call center, the systems they use provide yet another user experience. The touchpoints extend from in-store employees and their point-of-sales systems to the paper or online bill you receive.

“Thus, the customer experience is only part of the user experience. Although the call-center representatives and store employees are not customers, they use technology to support the customers’s user experience. Together, all the UX touchpoints make up the brand experience. If you design all touchpoints using UX methods, the quality of the user experience ultimately impacts the brand experience. While you can measure brand impact in many different ways, the levers that affect the brand experience include the many user-experience touchpoints that a customer has with the product or service experience, as you can see in Figure 2.” 

Figure 2—The many touchpoints of a product user experience
The many touchpoints of a product user experience

Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixDr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research.  Read More

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