Service branding and the extraordinary world of ordinary experiences

1 October 2014 15:36

(updated: 18 December 2016 15:38)

Service branding and the extraordinary world of ordinary experiences

As customer experience becomes a central arena for service competition in saturated markets, examples of good service experiences become more common and abundant. We all heard the cases of the Heineken museum, Disneyworld, Apple retailing shops, Starbucks cafes and LEGOLAND. Although all those are great examples of good and thoroughly designed experiences, they don’t make for much of our daily lives.

On the less glamorous world of everyday life, we also experience many other brands: telephone providers, postal service, insurance companies, cable operators, banks, public transportation, electric utilities, to mention just a few. These interactions, more than the ones mentioned before, makes most of our daily experience with brands, and although they are so pervasive, little attention has been given to them.

On this presentation, we will focus on these everyday experiences, or, as we call it, ‘Ordinary Experiences’. The idea here is to set a clear contrast with what has became known as “Extraordinary Experiences”; which is mostly concerned with the development of memorable leisure activities, as exemplified on Pine and Gilmore’s book “The Experience Economy”.

Contrary to Extraordinary Experiences, which relies heavily on environment and activities, Ordinary Experiences are supported much more by the characteristics of the service interaction. In this sense, as suggested by Ann-Jorid Pedersen, we are talking about experience as ‘service quality’ instead of experience as a product or an offering.

Talking about experiences poses many issues; one of them is the semantic misconception that usually follows. Some authors define experience as what happens at the moment of the interaction; usually these authors emphasize experience as a product or offerings. Other authors, in its place, focus on experience as the outcome, the post-rationalized perception that the customer carries with him after interaction.

Daniel Kahneman explains this difference by classifying experiences into two kinds:

  • Lived experiences; the one that you have at the moment of the interaction;
  • Remembered experience; the one you carry with you, and that will influence future decisions such as to repeat the (lived) experience or not.

The interesting aspect of this distinction is that the ‘remembered experience’ does not necessarily relate to the ‘lived’ one. In his research, Kahneman shows how the people make “irrational” choices, and develops the concept of “peak-end rule” (More on TEDx Talks).

Another theory related to the personal bias of the experience is Stimulus-Organism-Response (SOR). Central to the concept is the fact that people internalize the stimuli and respond accordingly. Different to stimuli-response behaviorism, SOR suggests that the response to an external stimulus (behavior) will be personal. Applying the concept to marketing, Sara Sandström (et al.) calls this personal bias “situational filter”. This means that different people will respond differently to the same situation (lived experience), thus having a different (remembered) experience.

The fact is, one cannot control other’s (remembered) experience, and the best one can do is to influence the other’s experience through the lived experience (the interaction). Thus, the design of the interaction setting must communicate the best way possible the desired (remembered) experience the company want the customer to have by embedding the right qualities (characteristics) in it.

But, what defines the experience the company wants the customer to have? In the early months of my PhD I went to a series of workshops on Service Design at a service provider here in Oslo. At some point one of the participants suggested “lets create the perfect ‘name_of_the_brand’ experience for our customer!”. Then, three seconds later he asked himself: “but, what is our ‘name_of_the_brand’ experience (proposition) anyways?”.

This is where I would like to introduce the concept of Service Branding. The branding concept is, as experience, one of those terms that have been abundantly discussed, but with very little common agreement to its definition. As I understand, there are two main meanings to branding, they are both interrelated, but one interpretation is more complete than the other.

The branding concept is usually understood by its grammatical meaning: Brand + “ing”, the “ing” suggesting action. In that sensebranding is somewhat related to the idea of ‘making the brand’. This is a very simple, comprehensive and accurate definition; the problem with it is that, besides not helping to understand what branding is, it also has a double interpretation:

  • Branding as formulating the brand;
  • Branding as making the brand alive in the “world”.

As I mentioned previously, one definition is better than the other, and in this case, the second definition is more complete, for, it implies a prior process of formulating the brand and making the brand shine through the company’s actions.

So, if the second definition of branding already includes the need to make it alive, why do we need another concept, ‘Service Branding’?

The problem is actually much more related to marketing than branding. A brand is, in itself, just a concept; it does not exist until it is made alive and experienced by the users. Traditionally, it is the role of the marketing actions to make that happens, but traditional marketing doesn’t work that well for services.

On the other hand, if we consider more innovative approaches to marketing such as Service Dominant Logic, or the service marketing literature from the Nordic School, then the concept of Service Branding becomes quite obvious. These approaches to marketing are quite comprehensive, and focuses on the role of the customer experience as the source of value creation.

The problem is that service orientation in marketing is a relatively new idea, and is not as pervasive as one would wish it to be. Service Branding builds on Service Dominant Logic, it also connects Service Design and Customer Experience with Branding. It is a perspective that reinforces the role of the Services Interactions as an essential tool to make the brand become alive in the mind of the customers.

To be continued…