What startups can teach us about branding

Airbnb and Uber get how to connect with customers emotionally, says Lippincott's Lee Coomber.

We live in an age of simplification. Products arriving with convoluted instruction manuals or needing to be charged for 72 hours are few and far between. Now, they often arrive fully programmed to be used from the get-go, packaging is lean and guidebooks are becoming obsolete.

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But the pace of innovation in technology – from new products through to the way and speed at which we shop, swap and upgrade – means it's increasingly difficult to differentiate and maintain advantage with products and services.

Today's most innovative brands therefore recognise the product is no longer the star. Instead they consider how people are using their products, how they fit in their daily lives, and innovate that experience.

Airbnb connects with customers on an emotional level

Through experience innovation, brands connect with customers on a functional and emotional level.

Customer-centric not customer-led

The most successful companies of recent years are founded on business models that hold the consumer at heart. That's not to say they are led by consumers, but the best brands proactively listen to their needs, learn, innovate and refine, overturning the status quo in a way that works for the business.

Uber, for instance, the world's largest taxi company, doesn't have any vehicles; Facebook, the biggest media owner, doesn't own any media; Airbnb doesn't own property.

These landmark companies have become paramount because they bucked the trend and made customer experience as important as the product. But they did so through a brand lens – they reimagined the world in a way that corresponded with what was right for the brand.

Smaller startups

While the likes of Airbnb and Uber have become the poster boys of innovation, the myriad of other, smaller companies also championing experience innovation shouldn't be overlooked. Even the smallest start-ups are making their mark through innovation.

Startups like Dattch have real insight into their users needs and lifestyles

Think Deliveroo, TransferWise, Dattch, Relish and Secret Cinema. These businesses are all successful because they have real insight about people's lifestyles and personal everyday needs.

Brand as an ecosystem

While experience innovation is a powerful cut-through for businesses and a solution to hyper-competitiveness in products and services, it takes a completely different mindset to visualise how things could work better for consumers.

Brands need to be brave enough to be creatively disruptive, even if it means addressing things way outside of where they play today. This generates new challenges for established businesses, yet even the most monolithic institutions can evolve if they embrace the opportunity.

Santander, for instance, has announced a new venture to catalyse its digital offering by investing in tech start-ups. Atom, a new online-only bank, has just been approved by the Bank of England. These are just two examples of how something as institutionalised as financial services is innovating to simplify and improve the experience for customers.

Atom is offering a new type of banking

Healthcare is another area ripe for innovation. Technology Enabled Care Services (TECS) developed by the NHS leverages new technology like telecare, telecoaching and self-care apps to improve people's day-to-day wellbeing.

Recent trials in the UK imply telehealth could reduce mortality by 45 per cent and emergency admissions by 20 per cent, as well as saving time and taking the ordeal out of GP appointments.

What experience innovators have in common is knowing that to create a brand, you need to consider how it fits into somebody's life and reflects their values. And by taking a holistic, end-to-end view, companies more fully address complete customer satisfaction and achieve a lasting, meaningful experience.

Surprise with innovation

When looking to innovate, it's also important to connect things in people's lives that don't appear obvious fits. MasterCard and Parkeon, which provides parking management solutions, are on a mission to enhance the urban mobility experience, for instance. City Connector, a new couponing platform, will deliver offers and services from local businesses through on-street parking meters, generating moments of consumer delight in unexpected ways.

Secret Cinema cleverly trades on the idea of exclusivity

Connect the experience across the brand, both internally and externally
At Lippincott we use the phrase, when you're building a brand, don't just say something, be something. Adopting an experience innovation mindset must permeate right into the company's internal structures.

Rather than breaking up the workforce into different specialities each responsible for their own ideas, teams should be multi-disciplined and their competencies aligned.

While this may seem a complex organisational task, business should take note: everyone is creative, they just need to be given freedom to be creative, and when people are given a common objective, rather than one specific problem to solve, they will start thinking in different, more innovative ways.

Many brands assume certain constraints from the outset, putting a limit on what they can achieve. Instead they should see everything as flexible in the long-run. Truly successful and valuable experience innovation is achievable – brands just need to give themselves the freedom to change.

Words: Lee Coomber

Lee Coomber is creative director, Europe and Middle East, Design for Lippincott

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