Brand Engagement: Designing Experiences with Emotion
Dian Duvall in Brand Design, Brand Engagement Survey, San Francisco

The ColorPlus store in Bangalore, India, breathes life into the culture and craftsmanship of the brand. Photo by Prasad Durga, © Gensler.

Engagement has become a big buzzword in the brand world. How is engagement defined? How is it measured? There can be many variables depending on who’s involved so these questions require some thought. At Gensler, we stay focused on the consumer, the end user – engagement is a very human word, after all. To me, the consumer is “engaged” when he feels like a brand truly understands him. The brand knows what that consumer needs and wants, and delivers on that. The moment when you realize someone understands you often comes as a surprise, and it’s that moment that can seal a solid relationship. Buzzword or not, this connection is critical for brands who want to stand out in our crowded world.

I had one of those moments after shopping at Issey Miyake in Tokyo. I always feel welcome and valued as a customer, especially when the staff goes out of their way to remember me or remember past purchases (even if a little technology helps them recall). But that extra-special moment of surprise came when I received a personal note from a sales person after a recent shopping trip. To be recognized by name, even in a city of so many millions, I felt even more appreciated, like they really understood me and valued me as a real person, not just a number or a dollar sign. That effort essentially guarantees that I’ll go back to the store on my next trip to Tokyo.

Consumers can develop very deep, emotional connections to brands that understand and anticipate their unique needs, wants, personalities and passions. Gensler’s 2013 Brand Engagement Survey digs into this concept: 46% of our 2,838 respondents said that their favorite brand is significant because it makes them feel good – ranking higher than price, style, functionality, or popularity. And the statements people make about their favorite brands are very, very personal: “It makes my wife happy,” or “it makes me feel safe,” or “it’s been around in my world all my life.”

This kind of connection doesn’t happen by accident. The most successful brands, such as those called out by respondents to our survey, create emotion by design. Whether your brand is a product, a service, a physical place, or some combination of the three, engagement can be designed by providing the right experience for the consumer at the right time – that moment of surprise that sparks emotion. In a retail store, a hotel, a museum, a school or even an office building, you have to understand how a person moves through and experiences that space, and then each touch point can be designed as an engaging experience. The tone of each experience has to be relevant to the brand, and to the core customer, too.

When we partnered with India-based retailer, ColorPlus, to refresh their retail stores, our design team spent countless hours with the client getting to know the product, the process, the craftsmanship, the customer, and the culture of the place. Through this immersive process we developed deep connections of our own. The result is an authentic experience and an aesthetic that honors each of those unique elements of the brand – the quality of each individual thread, and the aspirations of the Indian male shopper. Without the initial understanding of each nuance, the brand experience would fall flat.

The same is true of our experience working on the brand campaign and collateral for The Presidio Landmark in San Francisco. Near and dear to my heart, The Presidio and its stunning shoreline and fragrant forests stir up many a Bay Area resident’s emotions. Calling upon these deep-rooted passions, the design team captured the spirit of the property and the park that surrounds it – reinforcing at every level what is special about it, and reflecting the personality and the values of the people who call it home. By anticipating the end user’s needs and wants, and by calling upon our own emotional connections to brands and people and places, we can all work together to make experiences more engaging.

Each customer touch point with The Presidio Landmark residence in San Francisco, Calif., reflects the spirit of the place. Photo by Eddie Berman, © Gensler.

Dian Duvall is a co-leader of Gensler’s global brand design practice, and a principal in the San Francisco office. With experience living and working on multiple continents, Dian is inspired constantly by her interactions with culture and nature and the things that make each culture and individual unique. Contact her at
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