The relational experience: the fragrance of the brand

Aurélie Sutter

Innovation Lab & Consulting Director

Views and ideas

Because a brand is not merely a registered logo, it must be underpinned by a relational strategy reflecting the company’s culture and values. Managing to touch the hearts of its customers so as to get them on board, this is what I view as the origin of the Innovation Lab project that we have just launched at BlueLink.

“Brand it in the memory”

Having a name and a logo doesn’t mean you have a brand, in the sense of a value creation tool. To really emerge and stand out among the myriad of trading names registered around the world, you have to consider the brand in its own right. To take risks, create your own codes, plot another route. “Brand it in the memory” by breaking the established norm. So as to ultimately get people on board.

The development of brands is fascinating because it reflects an era. Antoine Haincourt, brand strategy consultant, sums it up nicely. I was fortunate to be able to attend one of his classes, and I would like to pick out a few examples he uses here.

A proprietary symbol at the time of the Romans (if the wine was poisoned, you had to be able to track down the vineyard owner!), the brand was considered a quality label at the advent of modern marketing (“it’s a good brand, we can trust it”).

The brand then became a promise of pleasure. It went beyond the notion of product functionality to assume more intangible dimensions: I don’t drink Coca-Cola to quench my thirst, but for sheer pleasure. From the 80s onwards, brands started to market the notion of belonging to a community: Quicksilver is aimed at the surfer community, but also at all those who identify with the brand’s universe, around the notions of power, partying and the big outdoors, etc.

The meaning of brands would radically change in the 2000s, with the advent of social networks. Consumers voiced their opinions, the communication process was reversed, and all the previously mentioned phenomena would henceforth coexist. The 2010s saw the emergence of networking platforms, such as YouTube and Airbnb. These brands promise nothing else than being able to exchange, meet, rent, barter, share… In other words, they promise us the ability to act.

The notion of brand has changed and will continue to do so. For a company, it’s a projection of the future, a definition of what drives a community of customers. The brand carries with it the great unifying project of the company, its vision and its raison d’être; it is able to get an entire ecosystem of individuals on board. It’s all about a culture, codes and values that make sense. Which set things in motion.

The brand experience

Beyond the product or service provided, what counts these days is the experience a brand offers its customers. Between messages sent by a company (through advertising, targeted marketing, the media), what customers actually experience, and the messages they share with their communities, distortions are sometimes considerable. And yet, all these dimensions must be coherent for a brand experience to make sense.

To enhance the customer experience, brands rely on digital technology (which can meet a need for mobility and permanent connection) and the harnessing of data (for ultra-customised services), but also on the reinvention of the point of sale. It is worth citing the example of Canada Goose which launched the concept of an in-store cold roomto allow customers to try a jacket on at a temperature of -25°, or Timberland which, in late 2018, set up rain and snow rooms in its 5th Avenue pop-up store so customers could test the brand’s shoes in near real-life conditions.

Digital transformation and reinvention of “brick & mortar” outlets: phygital promises an unmatched brand experience.

The relational experience, remembering an emotion

Entertainment and the promise of pleasure can boost sales over a period of time, but to avoid “event overkill” and falling into the trap of always having to do “more” (stronger, bigger, more of the wow factor), all these initiatives must be part of a long-term approach, aimed at building a strong and consistent brand for customers step by step.

My 12 years working in the field of Customer Relations have taught me that what allows a brand to win the trust of its customers and to survive, whatever the hazards, is the attention paid to Relations with others. Every journey, every important purchase, every step outside of your comfort zone is accompanied by doubts, unforeseen circumstances, and therefore an absolute need to be taken care of, reassured and supported. Whatever the communication channel, when the customer feels that someone is listening and is service-oriented, this will create an emotional response that will stick in their memory.

I believe in the relational experience, as an intangible fragrance or a memorable impression, which is felt and experienced, therefore entering the life and memory of customers. A bit like a sudden emotional memory…