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2020 Trends to Watch in Brand Experience, Customer Experience and Employee Experience

Why an integrated approach to brand, customer, and employee experiences keeps you ahead of the curve.

“Life has never been this fast before and will never be this slow again.” It’s a quote that’s been around a few years, but it continues to be as relevant as ever. Everyone feels the pressure. Old paradigms fall by the wayside as newer—and faster—ones emerge. Innovation and challenges to traditional ways of doing business push companies, and agencies like ours, to be nimble and to anticipate change before it happens.

One big area of change is in how people experience a brand. For decades, a company’s brand—its customer experience and employees—were seen as individual elements of the company. But this is rapidly changing. Companies stuck in vertical silos will find themselves struggling to deliver an authentic and aligned brand.

We have always believed that an integrated approach to brand experience, customer experience, and employee experience builds stronger, more durable brands—which increases a company’s value. It’s what we advise our clients to do. And it works.

It’s our job to see trends in the industry. Here are some we think are going to be vital to any business looking to stay ahead of the curve.

Companies will break decades of vertical alignment in redefining their brand experience

(1) Going Horizontal

For the better part of two decades, companies have organized their business vertically. Go-to-market plans centered on identifying and then productizing to segmented markets, which led to silos emerging between different organizations within the company to support those sales efforts. It was just the way you did business. Over time, this verticalization led to a disparate customer and employee experience.

This will change. A true brand should reflect the way the organization looks and acts both outside and inside. If I’m an employee of a company, then my experience shouldn’t be radically different than the customer experience. Likewise, if I’m a customer, I will expect that my interactions with the employees at that company will be reflective of the brand I have bought into.

Creating a better customer experience starts from a better employee, and brand experience. Likewise, a better employee experience means customer experience and brand experience must work hand-in-hand.

Consumers increasingly expect more of a horizontal customer experience. So, too, does today’s workforce. To cater to these two separate but equally important stakeholders, a single, holistic approach to brand will become the norm.

A new wave of workers demand a more holistic work and employee experience

(2) Consider the Experience Continuum

Much as our consumer experience no longer consists of going only to the mall to shop, our collective work experience no longer operates on a 20th century, 9-5 framework. Whether it’s an increasing number of remote workers in a wide array of industries, or just the natural evolution of a more technologically articulate workforce, we are in a transitional period in the way we work.

The lines we used to draw between work and home have blurred. In fact, the term “work-life balance,” that ubiquitous phrase we all grew up with, is no longer relevant. This year you will see a shift to a “balanced employee experience” model.

Workers are whole people, moving between work and life continually, so how we think about designing work experiences needs to reflect that unified existence.

Thoughtful, intentional, “empathetic” employee experience design meets employees where and how they work. This flexibility gives workers a chance to breathe, and to work their best when they’re at their best.

This is one big reason Liquid Agency sees employee experiences as an extension of brand experiences. The way you design your brand for consumers—meaning people—should aim to apply to employee experience design thinking.

Taking a public stand on issues will become a necessity… and a risk.

(3) Purpose Is the New Profit

It’s no secret that the days of brands closing their eyes and covering their ears to the bigger issues of the day are all but over. Now we will see an era of companies reaching out and looking for issues to both believe in and to build on. How aggressive those brands will be remains to be seen, but there are definitely some willing to take the risk.

Some of this is simply scanning the landscape and seeing that the generations dominating the future of the workforce and consumer markets are keenly aware of who is caring and who is not. Millennials and Gen Z are demanding that brands have a clear public persona when it comes to social issues.

A company’s social purpose must be rooted in its brand DNA. As such, it has to be authentic, and relevant to both its customers and employees. If people believe in the purpose, then the company can succeed financially because people believe in the brand—no matter what the purpose is about. This is a key balance. After all, if the end of your website doesn’t say .org, you have to keep profits coming in.

Employees are just as concerned with a brand’s social impact. With retention as important as ever, companies are looking closely at what they stand for, or against, with one eye on the talent market. Reputation matters, and companies that cling to a profits-only model of business will struggle to attract and retain top talent unless they take a closer look at what they value and take action accordingly.

Taking public stances is just part of a brand experience strategy in today’s marketplace. And that’s not a bad thing. Any brand can benefit by having a stated purpose, and by making that purpose clear and open. And it doesn’t have to be only on controversial issues. So long as the company’s belief is genuine and trusted, there will be value in pursuing it.

With big data no longer enough, a return to creative will win the day

(4) Creative Paints Data in a New Light

Have you ever seen a giant spreadsheet and thought, “Now that is beautiful!” If you answered “yes” to this question, then let’s talk about my taxes.

For the last few years, businesses have worshipped at the altar of so-called “Big Data.” Data, it was promised, would dictate the path to winning. But along the way, something surprising happened. Data in and of itself proved incapable of telling the whole story.

Who clicked what, bought what, viewed what, shared what, didn’t end up dictating with any real clarity what to do with all that information. That’s why you’re going to see a return to a more creative, storytelling approach to brand development.

This isn’t to say that data will no longer play a fundamental role in business decisions. Far from it. In order to see that deeper contextual picture, you need to merge data and information with a creative, even artistic, approach to executing on that data.

Finding the correct balance between the numbers of business and the nuance of art is the key to sustainable growth.

Giving relief to overwhelmed consumers (and employees) will be a big push in 2020

(5) Simplify My &!%## Life

Oh, all my wonderful toys. Blinking lights, pings, music, color. Instant information, push notifications, AI decision-making. Now, why can’t I seem to get them to stop?

We’ve reached a tipping point in our digital existence. Layering technology on top of our lives is burying us in a pile of distractions. Even those technologies that help us only add to a chaotic muddle. Integrating and unifying technology into our lives will be the next wave of innovation.

So how do you minimize all of the noise? A movement described as “calm tech” aims to decrease our overstimulation and move it to the periphery. Bringing us relief from an overwhelming “digital touch, digital noise” will prove to be a valuable, and profitable, business. Brands that do that will be more welcomed by consumers.

Employees, particularly in industries dominated by tech tools, are not immune to the stresses of over-technology. There are significant implications—and possibilities—for employee experiences as well.

Imagine for a moment an AI bot that could look through your overstuffed Outlook calendar for tomorrow, take into account your schedule, your regular eating habits, your times of maximum productivity and help determine ideal places for moments of calm or food breaks. Maybe it makes lunch plans if your schedule is tight around lunchtime, or even arranges to have lunch delivered, so you don’t go hungry.

We may not quite be there yet, but as empathetic employee experience design meets up with digital tech design, such scenarios are increasingly possible.

Privacy concerns will make companies show transparency… and humility

(6) Trust Must Be Earned

If there’s one constant over the last few years, it’s the battle for privacy. Brand after brand has gotten burned by hacks, mistakes, whistleblowers, and other peeks behind the data curtain. Once a company loses public or internal trust, it can take years to win it back.

That’s why we are going to see an increasing number of consumers and employees raising expectations around data privacy and collection, and holding brands accountable for meeting and exceeding those expectations.

But trust must be earned. A company’s commitment to protecting privacy and securing data must be authentic and consistent. When it is, that trust begins to become a part of the brand.

Brands that come in after the fact and try to mea culpa their way through simply won’t be successful. An easy example of this is financial giant Wells Fargo, who tried unsuccessfully to act humble in predicting a less-than-rosy outlook for 2020. Instead, the company lost consumer trust, and it’s still affecting the company today.

There are complications, though. Questions surrounding ownership of data, the depths to attaining and measuring data, and other unknowns, still exist.

But one thing is clear: new generations of employees are demanding their employers walk the walk and follow through on what they’ve promised when it comes to transparency and privacy concerns. Building and maintaining that trust internally has a major impact on retention and recruiting.

Companies have to strike a balance, though. It’s not in most employees’ thoughts what it takes in terms of commitment and expense to achieve true transparency, particularly around compensation and awards.

Doing what it takes, and knowing where to draw the line, to build and maintain the trust of consumers and employees alike will be on the front burner for companies right away.

You can’t always be certain, so companies will be taking more calculated risks

(7) Embrace the Unknown, Data Warrior 

How do you know it’s safe to jump? What if you’re wrong? Welcome to business in the new decade.

It’s going to become increasingly difficult to know for sure whether the data you’ve gathered is telling you a true story or not. Sometimes even with a lot of data available, you can’t be totally certain if the decision you’re about to make is the right one. Too bad.

Companies willing to give it a whirl are going to read between the lines of data, trust their read of the market and anticipate—even drive—what’s coming. The penalty for missing your chance may outweigh the downsides of taking a chance.

Even if you have to take a chance, there are ways, though, to at least try to collect as much usable data as possible. Platforms like Qualtrics XM can measure across all four core experiences of business—customer, product, employee, and brand. While you may end up having to judge for yourself whether it’s the right time, gathering as much data as you can at least makes the guess as educated as possible. Even if that doesn’t make it any easier to jump.

Trends Become Truths

These trends all have one thing in common: they all center on building and maintaining a brand that is unified across customer and employee experiences.

At Liquid Agency, we’re always looking for where the market is headed, not just where it’s been. Every organization is different, but challenges are universal. By looking ahead and seeing what’s coming, we can better prepare ourselves—and our clients—for how to harness change in 2020.

Looking to stay ahead of the game? Reach out and let us show you how to harness what’s next.