The Brand Experience Map

In my last post, I took to task a local chain of fitness centers for announcing a “re-branding” but delivering only a “name change.” Because your brand is everything you do, I argued, you can’t truly re-brand by simply slapping on some paint and putting up a new sign – or redesigning your logo, website or whatever.

If you want to re-brand, you have to change the experience you provide. That’s because your experience creates perceptions in the minds of your customers. Those perceptions, in turn, define your brand.

Creating a better experience is the hardest part of building a healthy brand. But it’s also the most rewarding, because a superior experience is what gets people coming back – and talking to their friends about you.

If you’re serious about building a better experience, you may face a tough question: Where to start? Most brands have dozens, if not hundreds of touch-points – some big, some small – that define what they are. A touch-point, simply put, is any interaction between your brand and those you serve (or hope to serve).

A powerful way to start is with a tool called a “brand experience map.” It helps you visualize your experience so you can manage and improve it. I’ve helped several clients to do exactly that, and today I’ll apply the brand experience map concept to our friends at the fitness center.

I usually start by brainstorming all of a brand’s potential touch-points, most often with a cross-functional team of 4-8 people. Don’t evaluate; just get all possible touch-points, big and small, down on paper. You might be surprised at the sheer number of touch-points you can identify in an hour or so.  The number can quickly run into the dozens.

Next, sort these touch-points into clusters that make sense. Your default here should be the consumer’s view: How does he or she experience your brand?  This is the core of your brand experience map.

For the fitness center, there might be three broad clusters: advertising and promotion, buying mode, and membership. Each of these three clusters will have numerous touch-points. Membership, for instance, would cover everything a member might experience once they’ve signed up – personal training, group fitness classes, cardio and weight training equipment, locker room and shower facilities, general upkeep and maintenance and so on. Many of these touch-points, of course, can be broken down into sub-points.

Each cluster represents an opportunity for experience enhancement. At this point, we like to host a second brainstorm – this one longer and with in-depth focus on individual clusters. For each cluster, you’re brainstorming around the same question: How do we create a superior brand experience? This is where you create specific actions that could move your brand to the next level.

You’ll generate many ideas that don’t fall into the realm of traditional marketing, tapping instead into management, operations and human resources. That’s normal. The fitness center’s “Membership” experience, for example, might generate tactics such as:

  • No piece of equipment may be out of order for more than a week. Reward managers who keep to this standard.
  • Sales staff must walk the floor three times per shift, helping to tidy up and answer member questions.
  • Bring at least one new cutting-edge fitness class to members each quarter.
  • Institute quarterly member surveys to gather feedback and identify “blind spots.”
  • Conduct surprise visits by upper management with an inspection checklist. Again, reward managers with strong “report cards.”

Got a healthy list of potential initiatives? Now make some choices. You can’t do it all, and some options will be more impactful than others. We usually recommend a blend of shorter-term, easier wins (to gain momentum) and longer-term, more significant initiatives (to create real difference).

Clearly, a brand experience map can easily get over-complicated. Keep it as simple as possible while still forging a path for change. And, of course, this entire discussion presumes you have a defined positioning and vision statement for your brand. Building a superior experience is infinitely easier when you know what you’re trying to create.

A version of this post appeared in the Cincinnati Business Courier on February 22, 2008, in the column “That Branding Thing.” Originally co-written with David Wecker.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2008 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.