If you’ve ever used the meditation app Headspace, you might recall its brand visuals: bright, sunny, playful, and cartoonish. Not exactly what you might expect from a product promising calm. But Headspace’s brand promise is to make meditation simple and accessible for everyone. Or, as Headspace puts it, “Think of Headspace as your mind’s best friend.” Everything about Headspace’s brand experience, from its typography to its brand voice, reinforces that mission.
That’s an aligned brand experience. At first glance, it may seem like the font you use and the color palette you choose aren’t make-or-break decisions. But these brand elements don’t exist in a vacuum—they’re an opportunity to remind users of your mission and values and provide consistency to the customer experience (CX). According to a survey by Gartner, a majority of brands compete mostly (or entirely) on customer experience.
Designing a memorable brand experience is critical, and keeping brand assets aligned with your mission is even more so. But what, exactly, does that entail? Brand experience design covers countless brand assets and customer touchpoints, from logos to in-person retail experiences. Like CX, brand experience must be monitored across the entire customer journey.
In this article, I’ll break down the components that contribute to brand alignment and provide a roadmap for creating an aligned brand experience of your own. By designing a unique brand experience that resonates with customers and aligns with your mission, you’ll be able to create an emotional connection with users that’s more powerful than the sum of its parts.
What Is Brand Alignment?
Brand alignment covers your brand image, identity, products, marketing efforts, social media posts, and customer experience—just to name a few aspects. With so many brand assets and customer experiences to consider, keeping your brand aligned is a never-ending task that even the biggest brands in the world struggle to keep up with. McDonald’s, for example, conducted a brand refresh in 2017 to make branding more consistent across its 35,000 worldwide restaurants.
When your brand experience aligns, customers notice. As a result, it resonates on a deeper, more emotional level. When something about your brand experience doesn’t “click,” its impact is stunted and your brand’s core values and promises don’t come across as powerfully. Customers’ experience of your brand is more important than ever—73% of customers say experience is a key factor in buying decisions, behind only price and quality.
So, what are the elements that create a great brand experience?
- Brand Identity: Your brand image and brand identity are the foundation of your brand experience. Think of Apple’s minimalist design and memorable logo, for example, or the emotional reaction Disney’s brand generates. Examples of brand identity include your logo, colors, typography, and overall visual identity. All of this should echo your brand’s values and mission.
- Product Design: Some brands think of product design, marketing, and brand strategy as separate disciplines. But when done right, it’s all part of the same process. Tesla is a great example of how product innovation can generate a consistent buzz. Tesla’s stunning design and eco-friendly electric cars reinforce its vision for a sustainable future.
- Marketing: Everything your brand communicates should be aligned with your brand’s persona: ads, email campaigns, and public relations strategies. Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, for example, struck a chord by challenging beauty stereotypes, reinforcing Dove's image as a brand that celebrates women as they are rather than imposing unrealistic standards.
- Social Media Presence: Your brand voice is present on your website, in your ads, and on your product packaging. But these days, your brand voice is often most visible on social media channels. Each social media post contributes to your brand experience, which is why it’s important to be thoughtful about the content you create and share, and the tone with which you do it.
- Customer Experience: Everything customers do when they interact with your brand is part of the customer experience, from scrolling through your landing page to calling customer service. Look at every touchpoint as another chance to reinforce your brand’s values. At Zappos, the shoe company, their brand’s stated purpose is to “Deliver WOW”—that is, to provide delightful service. They’ve built a customer service experience that’s designed to accomplish that, which in turn has become the most critical part of their brand experience.
Designing An Aligned Brand Experience
1. Understand Your Brand
Allbirds, the shoe brand, makes a startling statement on their website:
"Fact: Allbirds pollutes the planet.”
Of course, this is true of almost any brand that uses manufacturing to convert raw materials into physical products. Most brands would just rather not highlight this fact.
So why is Allbirds being so explicit about it? Because the brand has been designed around promoting sustainability. They’re pulling back the curtain on their manufacturing processes and carbon output because they know that in doing so, they give the brand meaning.
If your brand doesn’t already have a clear position on what it represents, this step will require introspection. What are the core values of your brand? What is its mission and vision?
Some products lend themselves more naturally to this process: for REI, the outdoor goods store, its purpose (”…inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship”) is a natural extension of the products it sells.
But any brand—from B2B software to cloud infrastructure providers—can stand for something. Take HubSpot’s mission of using inbound marketing to help businesses “grow with a conscience and succeed with a soul,” which seamlessly aligns with its education-based marketing and sales software.
2. Know Your Target Audience
It’s tough to stand out as a sock company. Socks have traditionally been a commodity—the closest they got to brand differentiation was with Hanes and its classic Michael Jordan commercials:
But times have changed. Now, brands are expected to stand for something more than association with celebrity endorsers.
Bombas, a sock company, allowed its target audience of socially conscious consumers to feel like they were doing something more than buying socks. Realizing that the most requested items at homeless shelters were t-shirts, underwear, and socks, Bombas built its brand around a “give a pair, donate a pair” promise. This allowed the company—with the help of customers—to donate more than 100 million items of clothing.
Like Bombas, your target audience might be socially conscious, or as in the case of the Allbirds shoe brand, they might be interested in sustainability. Whatever the case may be, identify what your ideal customer stands for—and make sure your brand stands for it, too.
3. Develop a Consistent Brand Voice
When some brands think about their brand voice, they come at it from a public relations angle:
- How can we appeal to the largest number of consumers?
- How can we offend the fewest number of people?
These questions might be important for Fortune 100 companies that have to appease shareholders and millions of customers. But for most small and mid-size brands, all this does is dilute your messaging.
When developing your brand voice, think about who your target audience is and how to stand out in a memorable way from the other messages they’re being bombarded with.
Dollar Shave Club, a subscription-based razor company, used irreverent humor in its launch ads (and even cursing!) to connect with its target demographic of 18-49 year-old men. In an industry dominated by legacy consumer goods brands like Procter & Gamble, Dollar Shave Club’s brand voice broke through the noise and allowed the company to capture 10% market share just two years after launching.
4. Design a Cohesive Visual Brand Identity
A logo might be the most omnipresent part of a brand identity, but your brand’s visual aesthetics are even more critical: they’re the subtle foundation of your customer’s experience.
Take Glossier, the beauty brand. The brand was built “to make beauty accessible and uncomplicated.” Glossier reinforces that mission with a simple, minimalist aesthetic that is consistent across all touchpoints—from product packaging to brand photography to Glossier retail outlets, like the one below.
Try this: think of your brand as an art gallery.
Your logo, color palette, typography, graphic design, brand imagery, website, brand voice, and social media presence are all hanging on the walls. Does it feel cohesive? Make sure to curate each element of your brand identity to create a coherent narrative that your audience can immerse themselves in.
Your visual identity is more than just pretty graphics. It’s a way to lodge your brand in the minds of your audience in a powerful way. This has real implications for your brand’s growth—a study by Marq showed that brand consistency across all platforms can increase revenue by 10-20%.
5. Align Your Products with Your Brand Promise
Pact Coffee is a UK-based coffee supplier with a bold mission: To shift the coffee industry toward a direct-trade model that pulls coffee farmers out of poverty.
The results are impressive. Pact Coffee pays 60% more than the average Fairtrade base price for coffee. Through their relationships with 139 different farms, they’ve helped thousands of coffee farmers increase their income.
Pact Coffee’s mission is reinforced with every bag of coffee it delivers to consumers. Its packaging includes the name of the coffee farmer who grew the beans, reminding customers why they chose Pact Coffee and reinforcing the brand’s values each time its customers make a cup of coffee.
Why is this so important? Havas’ 2021 Meaningful Brands Report found that we’re living in an “age of cynicism”—71% of consumers don’t believe that brands will deliver on their promises. If your brand can keep the promises it makes, you’ll stand out. Aligning your product and brand promise isn’t just a strategy for creating a better brand experience. It’s also a marketing strategy that cultivates loyal customers and encourages word-of-mouth marketing.
The Path to An Aligned Brand Experience
Obsessing over brand experience can sometimes feel like a luxury that only large firms or hyper-profitable brands can afford. Sure, brands like Apple can spend five years and millions of dollars ensuring the latest iPhone is innovative and flawless. But what about the rest of us?
The truth is, creating a positive brand experience doesn’t require an enormous budget or a fanatical approach to design thinking. All it requires is understanding your brand and your customers, and letting every other brand and user experience decision stem from that.
From Headspace's playful branding to Allbirds' unflinching honesty about sustainability, brands that nail alignment go beyond surface-level branding. They deliver memorable, meaningful experiences that allow customers to connect with them emotionally, reinforcing their mission and inspiring loyalty.
Creating an aligned brand experience means designing your brand in a way that emphasizes its values, tells a compelling narrative, and does those things consistently across platforms and mediums. And by doing so, your brand becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Ready to take your brand experience strategy to the next level? Don’t miss the chance to subscribe to our newsletter and get our latest tips on everything from brand identity to customer experience.
Related read: Best Customer Loyalty Software