Service branding in action

6 October 2014 15:21

(updated: 18 December 2016 15:35)

Service branding in action

At the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, as part of a PhD project financed by the Centre for Service Innovation, we are studying how to translate Brand Strategy into Customer Experience, in other words: How to operationalize Service Branding.

Before we present the framework developed during the research, two topics must be introduced. The first one is the issue of ‘Branding versus Customer Experience’; the second, ‘the role of the New Service Development teams in delivering the Proposed (Brand) Experience’.

Branding versus customer experience 

Many times, within organizations, there is a disconnection between the Branding and the Customer Experience departments. An anecdote exemplifies this problem very well: A bank was collaborating with a design agency to redesign some of their interaction systems. Once the project was done, it was presented to the Customer Experience department, with great appraisal to the outcome. Later, when the project was presented to the Marketing (and Branding) team, it was immediately rejected for being “too out of the brand scope”.

In this research we propose that there is no good reason to keep Branding and Customer Experience apart, and that actually, it make a lot of sense to integrate them. On the early on the research, we used the terms ‘Proposed (Brand) Experience’, ‘Interactive (Brand) Experience’ and ‘Actual (Brand) Experience’ as away to refer to the different moments of the experience creation process, maybe it’s time to reincorporate these concepts.

In this context, the idea is that the brand should define what the ‘Proposed (Brand) Experience’ is. In the proposed framework, this is done in the process of finding the Service Personality (Clatworthy, 2012). A term suggested by Daniel Grönquist during the research project was “Customer Experience based Brand Strategy”. This definition is very useful to separate the two main moments of branding: defining the brand and delivering the brand (a Brand based Customer Experience).

The ‘Interactive (Brand) Experience’ is the experience you design for; it is the setting of the systems and environments the customer interact, and it is where you can embed the right service qualities (characteristics) that communicate the brand through the service interaction. In Kahneman’s terms, it is the ‘Lived Experience’.

Finally, ‘Actual (Brand) Experience’ is the experience the customers have in the end and carry with them, the ‘Remembered Experience’ in Kahneman’s terms. It is this experience that will influence the customer perception of the service, the brand image, and ultimately, the brand equity.

The role of the new service development teams in designing the service experience  

There are many possible ways of embedding the brand into the service interactions. Some authors choose to focus on the role of organizational culture as a way to make the brand alive inside the company, thus leading to the natural development of brand-based experiences.

Differently to this organizational approach, we decided to focus on the role New Service Development teams in designing the interactions that will deliver the Proposed (Brand) Experience. This seemed to be a more practical and efficient way of doing embedding the brand into the Customer Experience, as cultural changes can be very difficult, expensive and time consuming.

For such, the theoretical concept of Semantic Transformation (Karjalainen, 2004) was central to this New Service Development teams approach. The idea behind Semantic Transformation is that the brand must be translated into some tangible expression (Lived Experience) that will communicate the brand to the customer. This is because, as mentioned before, the brand is a mere concept, and such, does not exist until it becomes alive through expressions and manifestations that interact with the customers.

The Semantic Transformation interpretation of the brand’s communicative process allowed us to focus on informing the New Service Development teams what the ‘Proposed (Brand) Experience’ is. Having chosen the focus, a study trying to understand what sort of information service designers use in the New Service Development process was conducted (Motta-Filho, 2012). This study focused specifically on the current status of brand manuals, and their usability for service design.

Once the outcomes of this study pointed to a low level of usability of the brand manuals for developing brand-based service experiences, we turned our attention to the development of the Brand Experience Manual: a communicative tool to inform service designers on what the Proposed (Brand) Experience is, helping them design brand-based service experiences.

The process of creating the Brand Experience Manual was called Brandslation. Following we will introduce this process, and by the end we will comment of the outcome format we developed with some suggestions for improvement. Unfortunately, due to the confidentiality of the material, the outcomes of our latest iteration of the process can’t be shown here. 

The Brandslation process 

The framework presented here was developed through a Research by Design approach over a series of iterations with a series of service provides in Norway. The first prototype of the process was tested by the fall 2013 as a pilot study, and was further developed and adjusted for the latest iteration on the 2014’s spring.

The Brandslation process is divided into two main parts, data collection and synthesis; the data collection process consisted of a series of 4 workshops with customer, employees and the management team; the synthesis part involved customer and the management team also in a series of 4 workshops. It is important to notice the essential role of a strong leadership from the company part, and need for the involvement of the management team the project.

The main reasons for a participatory process involving the customer, employees and specially the management team are:

  • The need to tackle the participant’s tacit knowledge of the brand and the business strategy;
  • The need to create a shared ownership of the outcome and enabled organization learning for the management team.
 The data collection process 

As experience emerges in interactions, we looked for insights from the three main stakeholders involved in the process: the customer, the employees and the company (here represented by the management team). Thus, the data collection process evolved through a series of 4 workshops.

  • Workshop with long-term customers – involving customers with more than 2 years of experience with the brand. The focus was to assess the brand image. Service experience and expectations were also considered, but the main point was to understand how long-term customers see the brand.
  • Workshop with new customers – users with less than 3 months of involvement with the brand were invited to talk about their experience in becoming customers. The first assignment was to interviews customers as a way to develop a generic journey that was later used in the workshop discussions. The focus here was to delve into the actual experience, but brand image and customers’ expectations were also considered.
  • Workshop with employees – here we tried to understand how the employees see the brand; what experience they are trying to deliver; and see what barriers they find in delivering a good service. The focus was on the employees’ perspective, but also a lot of indirect insight on the customers was gained.
  • Workshop with the management team – This workshop focused on understanding the business model, brand strategy and positioning of the company. Also we tried to understand what were the wished for a future positioning for the brand.
 The synthesis process 

In framing the brand from a balanced perspective of the customers’ views and the company’s side, we developed a series of 4 workshops. The idea is that by the end of the process we have an understanding of a brand that the customers can relate; that represents the company; and that the company can deliver.

  • Defining the Service Personality – We gathered all the material relating to the brand we could, summarized our findings from the previous section and presented it all to the management team. We started by aligning the experiences we summarized from the data collection process with the brand. Then we moved into clustering the qualities that emerged, and by organizing these clusters we could clearly see the emergence on Personality Traits. This outcome was a balanced view of the company’s and the customers’ perspective on the brand, or, as we mentioned before, a “Customer Experience Based Brand Strategy”, on Grönquist’s term.
  • Assessing the Service Personality with the Customers – In the second workshop we wanted to, first, check if the Service Personality resonated with the customers; and second, get the users’ interpretation of how the Service Personality would be in action. This led to a lot of insights on what company should do to deliver their brand through the service interactions.
  • The Management Perspective of the Service Personality – With the reports from the workshop with customers presented to the company, we developed a similar process with the management team as a way to improve the alignment of what is central and what is not central to the brand. This helped us not only to develop the Design Principles (presented in the next section), but also to refine the Service Personality.
  • Final Adjustments – Finally, all the material developed was organized and presented to the management team, this way, any business alignment mistakes would be fixed. This process involved challenging the business and the brand strategy, so that the business strategy may enable the brand to emerge, and the brand will represent the business strategy. 
The outcome: the Brand Experience Manual 

The outcome of the Brandslation process is a Brand Experience Manual. This is a way to communicate the knowledge developed throughout the process. Some criticism will be made to the final format by the end of this section, as this is, in a sense, still work-in-progress. The manual was structured in 3 main sections that are briefly introduced bellow:

  • The Service Personality is the core of the manual; it defines “whom” the customer is interacting with. In this section we also defined the relationship between the brand and the customer, how they met and who they are to each other. This creates a deeper understanding of how the brand should interact with the customer.
  • Design Principles are the “hows and whats” of the service experience; a set of guidelines that help the New Service Development teams embed the brand into the service interaction. In this section we also included the “Tone of Voice”, which reflects the main Personality Trait of the brand. The “Tone of Voice” should not only be used in verbal communication, but also inspired all sorts of interaction.
  • Moments are examples of how the Customer Journey would be if all the principles were applied; this section is not meant to dictate what the New Service Development teams must do, but to inspire them. It is set of examples that help the service designers understand what experience the brand is trying to deliver. 
Remarks and further work 

The manual is a great tool to communicate the Proposed (Brand) Experience to the design teams. But, to be effective, it must be used. This concern emerged during a conversation with Erik Abbing, who suggested that maybe a set of tools for a ‘Brand Experience Workshop’ would be a more effective way of communicating than a ‘Brand Experience Manual’.

Also, while having an evaluation interview with Daniel Grönquist, we came to realize that the Design Principles were much more about “what the brand should do” than “how” they should do it. Also, we understood that the “how” element was fairly well defined in the Tone-of-Voice section, which should in fact have had more prominence due to its importance.


Motta-Filho, M. (2012) – The Brand Experience Manual: Addressing the Gap Between Brand Strategy and New Service Development –, Proceedings from the 2012 International Design Management Research Conference – Available at: brand-strategy-new-service-development

Clatworthy, S. (2012). Bridging the Gap Between Brand Strategy and Customer Experience. Managing Service Quality, 22(2), 108-127

Karjalainen, T. M. (2004). Semantic Transformation in Design: Communicating strategic brand identity through product design references. Helsinki: University of Art and Design of Helsinki.

Further reading

Developing a Brand Experience Manual for djuice. – Available at: design/news?post_id=3673

Customer experience in the brand context: branding through services instead of branding of services. – Available at: design/news?post_id=3617