When Planning and Experience Collide

Originally published in Contagious.

It’s one of the slipperiest concepts in modern marketing, and something that’s often strangely overlooked in the age of digital disruption: the notion of brands and how they’re created. 

Ask agency executives to define brands and they’ll probably describe a great effort by Nike or trot out a Simon Sinek quote about finding one’s “why.” Ask a product design firm the same question, and they’ll wax poetic on the power of user interface to address unmet consumer needs, while reminding you that communications no longer drive actions or create behaviour change. 

In short, the world has gotten tricky enough that using deliverables to establish philosophy has started doing more damage than good. Everyone is solving problems through their solutions, and that question of brand remains unanswered. 

Before we examine why two philosophies are not better than one when it comes to brands, let’s explore how we got to this point. 

Agencies are products of their histories 

Brand planning (strategy) developed during the era of CPG, as “matchmakers” between products and the consumers we wanted to buy them. It was a new way of taking things that were seemingly alike and creating difference, usually through perception or belief. 

Design thinking (experience) became famous in the era of digital innovation, where the products themselves were virtual, like new business models and new problems that needed to be solved. The job was to remove “friction” so the experience would be seamless. 

As agencies developed, departments broadened and roles were added, but in the same philosophical silos. 

Brands have changed, but our tactics haven’t

In the meantime the products themselves became mutable, changeable.

The technologies we used to access them became fluid and flexible. Our interactions with brands changed, our power increased and our expectations grew.

Yet our strategists, who ace at defining brands and their ambitions, were incentivised to develop tactics and metrics. 

Our systems thinkers are now asked to create the next best experience without thinking about why or how it contributes to a bigger picture for the brand. 

In short: Marketing without UX is tactic without depth. UX without marketing is design without longevity. 

Who minds the brand?

When we only focus on one side of any discipline, we put ourselves at risk for missing the greater opportunity. And we’ve done it to ourselves this time – creating a massive vacuum in the work we create.

In political parlance, we’ve been so focused on protecting our points of view that we haven’t considered the benefits of crossing the aisle. And what happens amidst all this gerrymandering is that we forget about the brands we’re here to protect and grow. 

This is the door we’ve opened for consultancies – business consultancies that promise new streams of revenue. They promise to derive revenue from the one asset we’ve collectively ignored: the brand itself.

When marketing and experience are separate, it’s hard to say who is minding the brand. 

The new branding is a Newton’s cradle of marketing and experience 

Every brand narrative we shape must now consider the experience being creating for its customers, and vice versa. 

Thinking on both sides of the aisle opens opportunities for brand growth, and creates clarity for its products, lending proof to a belief, and translating values into actions.


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