In his book The Brand Flip, Marty Neumeier (also author of the classic The Brand Gap) offers a concept that marketing strategists and executives, and really anyone who contributes to any experiential elements of any brand ever, should take seriously to heart. It's one that seems so obvious upon first read that you're like well yeah, of course, but with some consideration, it becomes clear how easy it is to let these 'intangible' brand elements slip by, ignored.
First, it would be good here to agree upon a simple definition of a 'brand' so that we can proceed on the same page. I'm going to borrow Neumeier's definition here, because it's excellent and accurate. He defines a brand as "a customer's gut feeling about a product, service or company." Yes, perfect, because it captures it all: design, feeling, reputation, experience, memories, and even the way that a brand can fit neatly into a customer's vision of their future, better self. Ok, on to the intangibles.
Intangibles are, of course, the things that add value to a product or experience that you can't touch or even see. Despite their elusive invisibility, they're what matters, and are key to consider in the process of developing a brand, campaign, product or interactive experience. Here is Neumeier's list (from pg 26 of his book):
Authenticity: offer the real thing
Availability: make it easy to get anywhere, anytime
Belonging: offer a sense of community
Clarity: make it very easy to understand
Certainty: remove all doubt about its benefits
Control: put the customer in charge
Curation: act as tastemaker on behalf of customers
Delight: deliver more than reliability
Findability: make it easy to see, choose, or discover
Flexibility: be eager to accommodate requests
Guidance: add support, learning or interpretation
Hope: offer a chance at future success
Immediacy: give quick delivery or priority access
Inclusiveness: allow customers to contribute
Lightness: eliminate weight or density
Optimism: make customers feel positive
Patronage: help customers support a cause
Personalization: let customers configure their purchases
Protection: keep customers safe from extra costs
Safety: protect customers from physical harm
Simplicity: streamline the product or purchase
Speed: help customers save time
Style: incorporate beauty or personality
Surprise: disrupt expectations
Symbolism: help build customers' identities
Marketers, print this list and paste it to a wall in clear sight. Or, better yet, bring it to your next operations meeting and talk with your team about how some of these intangibles could be better incorporated into your businesses' products or process. Can you improve findability and immediacy on your website? Can you increase the clarity of your email newsletters? Can you offer guidance on topics that are important to your customer on your company blog, or via events in your community? Can you add an element of surprise into your products' packaging experience, giving them something to smile about upon opening your box? Your customers will thank you.
These days, companies need to be competitive not just on the benefits their company offers but on experience, engagement and meaning. The value of intangibles become clear as day when you think about their impact those three things. Further, anyone in business knows that a company's most important asset is their customer's loyalty. A streamlined, friendly, delightful brand experience can work wonders for locking in loyalty and creating brand evangelists, the magical unicorns that each business seeks and treasures.
Do you feel like you need help strategizing the best way to incorporate intangibles into your website, product packaging, printed collateral or customer communication? As branding and visual communication experts, we'd love to help.