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The Brand Experience Conundrum – Coping With What You Can’t Control (part 3/3)

During the past two weeks, we saw what are the factors that shape a brand experience (part1 of a three-part series on brand experience management) and 5 examples of “out of control” situations brands should consider (part 2). This week, we will see how to cope with what you can’t control within the brand experience.

There are indeed many things that you can’t control that will invariably affect the brand experience that you are working diligently to manage. However, there are a few things that you can be proactive in to help mitigate any potential undermining effects:

Defensive Branding: 5 Tips for Coping with What You Can’t Control

1) Understand What You Can’t Control

Recognize and understand that there are factors outside your control that will nonetheless influence your brand. Understanding what those are and the impact that they can make will help in planning how to manage the experience. In fact, these often present brand-reinforcing opportunities.


Knowing that your airline passenger may be stressed and frustrated by the time they get to the gate as a result of a long security line delay could be alleviated by how that passenger is treated when they do eventually get there.


2) Understand The Brand Journey Is Not Linear

To get from point A to point B is not necessarily a straight line experience. Little, if anything, is as sequential as we would like to think it is. Ask any retail designer about the challenges in how best to design a store layout, distribute products in the most rational way, and create a check-out experience that makes it easy and convenient for the customer. There are basic principles that have proven to be effective but in the end, people are generally unpredictable and linear thinking just won’t work. Trying to force people into a predictable pattern will usually backfire and only result in frustration.

brand-experience-the-branding-journal-11  Consider the Ikea store experience and how they orchestrate customers along a pathway journey but have provided many opportunities to deviate and alter course.

3) Careful Who You Partner With

Co-branding and ingredient branding are both effective ways in which to leverage the brand strength and synergy with a partner or host brand. However, you don’t control your partner brand and any negative experiences or connotations associated with it could cast a shadow on your own brand. Even a positive experience with a co-brand could have a dilutive effect, as the credit for that experience will be shared by the partner brands. Brand compatibility is important.


What do the Prada and LG brand attributes possibly have in common that resulted in the Prada LG phone? 


4) Know That Nothing Is Ever Perfect

Things don’t always go according to plan or work as expected. In fact, you can count on the fact that things won’t always work. However, this can be a brand-reinforcing opportunity. How the mistake is handled could be more memorable and build stronger brand loyalty than if things had gone right in the first place. Bad news travels faster and farther than good news, especially in today’s social media environment. Correcting whatever the mistake is as quickly as possible will help ensure that any negative experiences with the brand are contained and will be a good story around how your brand puts customers first.

Assume things are going to go wrong.

brand-experience-the-branding-journal-13 Consider Nordstrom’s return policy—there is none.1 They simply commit to take care of the problem.

5) Know How Far You Can Stretch

It is always tempting to take a successful brand and extend it into a new category in an effort to leverage already established brand equity. Success in one category, of course, doesn’t mean it will extend into a new one. The traditional, and safe, route is to stretch organically as Nike has done in creating athletic apparel off the success of athletic shoes. That’s a natural and believable extension. The Virgin brand has taken the more nontraditional route and successfully stretched across a broad range of offerings based on a less tangible common denominator of “category buster.”

On the other hand, there are the unfortunate examples of stretching too far. Attempting to leverage the brand equity into a category that has no synergistic value will often degrade the equity you are trying to build upon.


The Colgate experiment in the 1980s is a classic example of synergistic incompatibility. Colgate’s strong brand attributes and associations simply didn’t translate to appetite appeal. The only thing that experiment succeeded in doing was degrading the Colgate brand.

Conclusion: The Brand Experience Conundrum

There are countless articles, books and blogs about the importance of managing the brand experience, what to do and what not to do. Brands are seeking to create unique and memorable experiences. Leading brand consultants like Interbrand contend that, “brands should be thinking about how to create more excitement throughout the customer journey and make the greatest impact at various touchpoints.” We can only hope that the excitement and impact are all positive ones.

Although there are many things that cannot be controlled through the brand experience, there are obviously things that can be effectively managed. The key is to recognize and understand what you can control, what you can only influence, and what you have to protect against.

You can’t control the weather but you can at least try to prepare for it.

References:  Nordstrom’s return policy. Nordstrom.com. Interbrand.com

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