Building Effective Brand Strategy Through Product Design

The world of product design is changing. For those companies intent on making products that are enthusiastically received and championed over time, it’s no longer enough to simply design them so they function well and are aesthetically pleasing. For a product to have stickiness in today’s market it must reach consumers on a deeper level.

Today’s new breed of product designers understand that the key to successful, long lasting products lies, not just in the look and feel of them, not just in the function of them, but in the entire experience, from the first contact in the store, to the product’s ultimate disposal. At every stage, the experience should be meaningful and positive for the consumer, fulfilling aspirations and emotions.

This trend in design, called “experience design”, underscores, at its most basic level, the folly of taking a reliable, aesthetically pleasing product and putting it in an aggressively sealed clam pack that’s nearly impossible to open. It looks askance at such brand killers as poor customer service, badly written instructions and missing peripherals, such as batteries or mounting screws.

Frustrating and angering the customer should never be part of the consumer experience at any level. Unfortunately, these negative touch points can occur anywhere, from misleading advertising, to poor merchandising, to difficulties in disposing of the product.

Accomplishing an effective brand experience means reaching across disciplines. The marketing manager must be on the same page with the product designer as well as the customer service manager, the supply chain manager, and the retailer; all parties must work in concert to achieve the same goal by the same brand strategy.

The brand strategy, the overarching plan to manage the consumer’s experience of the product is at the heart of experience design. But who conceives of and directs this strategy?

The most effective brand strategies flourish in the fertile soil of collaboration. The gardener of this soil is the corporate executive in charge of product development. But just as a good gardener will nurture the many different plants in his garden, giving them the light and nourishment they need to blossom, the good corporate brand strategist will recognize the talents and abilities of his team while marshalling them toward a common goal based on an agreed upon brand strategy.

Working in teams is essential to effective brand strategy, teams at every level. A more apt analogy may be to a league, a confederation of teams, a team of teams, working together to achieve a positive experience for the consumer with the product. There’s the marketing team, the merchandising team, the design team, the retailers, the shareholders, etc. If any one of these teams is not working effectively with the others the strategy bogs down.

This can present a significant challenge to the brand strategist, particularly when some of their teams are independent entities with their own agendas. So it is incumbent on the brand strategist to get complete buy-in from all his teams, which means communicating a coherent brand strategy, one with the power to move even the most stubborn holdout.

To accomplish this, the brand strategist should work with the design team to anchor the strategy in the firm bedrock of consumer experience. One needs to know how the consumer interacts with and feels about the product (or if the product is yet to be developed, similar products).

Today’s product design firms routinely call on anthropologists to observe and evaluate consumer interactions with their products to discover ways to improve them, to fulfill aspirations and connect with positive emotions. This is not done in a vacuum.

Traditional focus groups too often rely on a false environment, a corporate meeting room, a few words of advice, a video presentation, which does not observe the consumer interacting with the product in a natural way.

Anthropological field work – observing consumer interaction with the product in their own environment – tells a much deeper story. Imagine following the consumer through their first experience with a product, from finding a description of it online, to driving to the store, to searching the aisles for it, to purchasing it, unpacking it, assembling it and using it.

Were there any negative touch points? Did the online description create the proper aspirations and expectations? Was the store conveniently located? Was the product properly categorized and easy to find? Was the price right? Was the product easy to get out of the package? Were the instructions adequate? Did it come with the necessary peripherals? Did the appearance of it elicit positive associations? Was the function of it intuitive? Did it function according to expectations?

An anthropologist working with a design firm can get answers to these questions. Working with the corporate brand strategist, the design team can help devise ways to enhance the consumer experience at every level. They can make suggestions that can be picked up and analyzed by the marketing team, the merchandising team, and others, on the way to designing an overall brand strategy with the power to move all players.

So while the brand strategist will work with many teams in his effort to create his strategy, one of the first teams he will want to consult with is the design team. Product design in many cases becomes the catalyst to develop a coherent and powerful brand strategy.

Product design is so much more than it used to be. Today’s product design firms are working on a much broader canvas, incorporating the philosophy of experience design to help companies design products that connect with the consumer’s emotions and aspirations. After all, delighting the customer is the key to successful, long lasting products, and the way to a better bottom line.