1000 Sansome Street
Suite 200
San Francisco, CA 94111

The Value of Understanding Brand Moments

The great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra once said: “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” He might as well have been talking about the challenges of today’s experiential marketers. We are all faced with the task of delivering the lofty promises our brands make.


It’s one thing to put a brand promise in an executive slide deck. It’s another to deliver that promise to a customer. Just satisfying our customers (i.e., making sure they don’t leave) is a good start, but as our operations and thinking develop, we need to evolve towards truly delivering on our brand promises, and delighting our customers to the point that they become our greatest advocates.

But what to do? Where, and when? What will make the difference between the experience we are delivering now and the one that will move the needle for our business? More specifically, where do we get the insights that can make the difference between what we’re doing today and something that will make our customers gush with enthusiasm?

If we all had just one customer, it would be easy to sit down with her over a cup of coffee and talk about what her life is like, what she needed from us, and brainstorm some ways to hit it out of the park for her. Instead, we’ve not only got thousands — or millions — of customers, but several types of customers, each of whom we may interact with across different channels throughout their lifecycle. The insights required to transform those experiences for the better are a little tougher to come by.

The Quest for Insights

You can’t reverse engineer an insight, but you can reverse engineer your brand moments. Delivering any kind of complex brand experience takes so much work, time and money that we often are left with little time to look for and generate insights. We can be so buried in the weeds that we miss easy ideas that are staring us in the face. We certainly don’t have much time to go puzzle out the more difficult ideas. We also frequently look in the wrong places for answers.

Common sense tells us to look at the world around us for inspiration, and consequently we often find ourselves examining successful companies that are out there crushing it. Best of breed is best of breed, right? But when we look at what other companies are doing in the marketplace, we are looking at the results these companies have produced, not the insights that got them those results. This isn’t to say that a survey of our industry — as well as of other industries — can’t produce valuable thinking, but deciding that we’re just going to become “the Tesla of our industry” won’t get us very far.

Let’s assume we have a vision for what we are trying to accomplish. We now need to ask ourselves some key questions: What are all the essential moments of our brand experience in which our customer forms an impression of us? Are we in control of crafting these moments? Do we know what they expect from each moment? What is their current experience of each moment? How are we as an organization set up to deliver in each of those moments?

Moments Matter. Carefully defining and managing each moment matters. When we set out to understand each of our brand moments, and think about them as moments-of-truth, two key things happen. The first is that we stop dealing at the level of the entire experience, which means we reduce complexity. By zooming into each moment, we provide ourselves the space to starting thinking about the many facets of a single moment, and perhaps some of the criteria that make each of these moments successful. In truth, each of these moments represents an opportunity to make our overall brand experience successful. If there is anything resembling a rock we can pick up and look under for insights, examining each of our brand moments might be as close as we can get.

Then, as we look at each moment in turn, we can begin to see threads that tie them together — or as is often the case, threads that should tie them together that are lacking. What principles, standards and criteria need to be in place to deliver on our brand promises? What can we do to make each of these moments that much better?

Consider these avenues:

Big Data. Small bits of big data are your friend, but not your only friend. As more and more of our customer interactions have moved into technology-mediated channels, data and analytics have become essential sources of insights to the modern marketer. We can now have hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to slice and dice the customer and their behaviors as they interact with our brands.

History is increasingly becoming a valid way to predict future behavior. In particular, some of the best insights now available to marketers include the ability to correlate micro-behaviors with marketing performance. Knowing that customers who have viewed a particular piece of content are three percent more likely to purchase can drive the rearrangement of an online experience for significantly higher conversions.

Data provide a hint, but it is important to remember there is always more than one right answer — data are directional. To paraphrase Aaron Levenstein, big data is like a bikini: provocative in what it reveals, but critical in what it hides. While big data gives us a ton of rich information and places to look for problems, it often masks important context.

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.” — Yogi Bera

One of our clients was recently analyzing site data that clearly showed everyone was clicking on an ad that appeared on a specific page. They were ready to put ads on a lot more pages as a result. But when we pulled up the page they were analyzing, we noticed that the ad contained a large yellow button.

That button happened to be the only clear call-to- action on the page, and appeared after some scrolling exactly where the user might expect to find an action associated with the purpose of the page itself. It was pretty clear that, left with no other clearly visible options for action, users just clicked the ad. Small bits of big data lead us to big insights about particular customer moments. Focus on the moments.

Observe Your Customers. You can’t meet all your customers, but you can observe them. Context produces insights, and you can only truly understand the customer’s context by being in it. That’s more than just asking questions of customers; it’s entering their lives. Contextual observation helps us spot the many things that customers would never tell us about because it would never occur to them to do so. Yet these observations often generate the most valuable insights into how to better serve their needs.

Contextual research is often one of the first things cut when budgets and timelines get tight. When we do, we often miss things that we can never get from analytics or our own hypotheses. Once, during some research to support the creation of an online tool for high-net-worth individuals, we observed a couple doing their monthly finances. They sat down at the kitchen table, took all the bills, laid them out on the table in neat stacks and used a dinky free calculator they had received from their bank. This ritual was important to them, but what stood out was the use of the free calculator. These folks were both frugal and set in their ways. The free calculator led to a series of questions that ultimately led to an entirely new concept for a solution.

The Value of Contrary Thinking. Organizations are like people. They easily get stuck in their ways. We find a method of accomplishing our goals, and tend to stick with it — the costs of rethinking our approaches often outweigh the efforts involved in our existing methods, even with their inefficiencies or quirks. Consequently, the deliberate exercise of reinventing the wheel can sometimes be a valuable source of insight. The approach ends up being as simple as it is powerful.

We just question everything: every assumption, every approach, every outcome. If we had to force ourselves to do things differently, how would we do it? Like many creative exercises, this method produces more than a few unusable, even stupid ideas, but insights often arise when we give ourselves permission to abandon our current positions, even if only for a few hours.

Insights Require Action. We’re all looking for the ‘a-ha’ inspiration that can make a real difference in our businesses. In order to find them, however, we really have to look. We have to act to create insights, and then, of course, we have to act on those insights, driving change into our organizations and designing new experiences for our customers.

Every organization has to find its own way to both the process for making change, and the culture required to do so constantly. The important thing is to get started down that path. Nothing slows down in today’s marketplace to wait for good ideas to come along.

This article was originally published in Hub Magazine.