Outside of architecture, “facade” tends to be a four-letter word. It conjures up ideas of intentional and obvious pretense. But in advertising and marketing, brands have to maintain some sort of buffer between the truth of how they operate and the reality that they present to customers. The purpose of that veneer is not to pull the old bait-and-switch, but simply to ensure a positive customer experience.
Think of it this way: When a customer walks into your store, she doesn’t want to see the underbelly of what it takes to create a perfect retail environment. The end-result of that all the effort that goes into running a successful business should appear inevitably seamless, as if it couldn’t have come together otherwise. When crafted this way, spaces of all kinds have the power to transport us to new times, places, and emotional states.
But when a branded environment isn’t presented as an airtight package, a rift enters into the customer experience. The enchantment fades and it becomes abundantly clear that alternate realities exist -- that the world can work in different and better ways. When that bubble bursts, the customer suddenly has to work to stay engaged. Instead of eagerly awaiting what that brand will produce next, he notices the company’s cracks and opens his mind up to other possibilities.
Fickle shoppers will always come and go, but brands have a huge say in how pleasing or frustrating a customer experience they create. Normal people don’t just storm out of stores for no identifiable reason; somewhere along the way, there was a final straw. The challenge for most brands is not to keep a pristine track record of customer loyalty; it’s to understand the key fault lines that are preventing a passable store environment from being better.
More often than not, those breaking points are in plain sight for the customer. But actionable opportunities for improvement might not jump out as readily to those within the company. And no matter how big a fan favorite your brand is, continued success means regularly assessing whether your latest efforts will dovetail with the experiences your customers want and expect (ahem, Facebook and Netflix).
Wherever you are in the process of fine-tuning the way people experience your brand, the tips that follow will help.
Take advice from people who know your customer. It can feel irresistibly easy to institute changes from afar, but knowing which policies have a chance of working means staying close to the ground. Start by hiring someone at each of your stores to study how local consumers actually experience your brand.
Remove elements that detract from the customer experience. Clutter is the enemy, especially when it conflicts with the brand identity you’re trying to sell to customers. If your main benefit is supposed to be convenience, for example, anything that screams inconvenience will stick out to shoppers like a sore thumb. Customers might come to expect long lines at a popular store, but avoid the appearance of needless inefficiency by re-designing your checkout area to include only as many cash registers as you have employees to operate. Same principle applies to disarray in the online shopping experience.
Make customers feel like you are listening. There’s a lot of room to maneuver between being at consumers’ beck and call, on the one hand, and paying no attention to them, on the other hand. The first approach leads to brand chaos, the second to brand arrogance. Find the middle ground by developing smart ways to show that you know your audience. For instance, whether you run an independent small business or a national chain, host local in-store events that give you and your community a chance to exchange ideas.