Brand is a Critical Part of the End-to-End Experience

A commenter on another of my posts asked me to explain further why I think “brand is as much a part of the end-to-end experience as the user interface, device, OS, apps, and services.”

I took it as a challenge to actually get my thoughts on the subject down in writing. So here we go…

I use the following mental model when thinking through end-to-end user experiences:


Or, since this is not real math, in words:

An end-to-end user experience is a cohesive combination of devices,people, brands, channels, services, and content that improves over time.

I hold a strong belief that the real value in creating new businesses that deliver value to consumers with technology is in delivering experiences. The successful companies in the future will understand this, just as, I believe, Apple does today.

The full post with my definition on Experiences is here.

For this article, the focus is on the “Brands” component of the experience equation. Why is brand just as important to the end-to-end experience as the device, or operating system, or cloud services?

To answer this, I’ll use a really simple product as an example: A pack of Sugarless Bubble Yum Original Flavor bubble gum.


The end-to-end experience for a consumer of a pack of Sugarless Bubble Yum goes something like this (in temporal order):

  1. Category Awareness. At some point in the past the consumer gained some awareness of the product category of “gum” and the sub-category of “sugarless bubble gum”. This could have been by observing someone else chewing gum, a general advertisement, or a scene in a movie. Or it could be that this “point in the past” was when they first walked into the 7-11 to buy a Big Gulp and noticed a big display of colorful items near the checkout counter.In any case, at some point the consumer became aware of the category.  Category awareness is easy for things where the category has existed forever (like gum), but hard where the product category is new (like inexpensive portable tablet computers).
  2. Brand Awareness.  At another point in time the consumer gained some awareness of the Bubble Yum brand. Brand awareness happens different ways, but, in general mass media advertising is primarily about making people aware of a brand.  Word of mouth is also an important media for generating brand awareness. Brand awareness does not happen by accident. Companies spend the vast majority of their marketing budgets on driving brand awareness.Sometimes a brand can ‘get lucky’ and gain awareness through a viral Internet meme. I suspect I became aware of Bubble Yum in 1977 because we all “knew” Bubble Yum was so great because they used spider eggs as an ingredient.
  3. Product Awareness. Then comes awareness of the specific product, and the branding used to differentiate it from other products (in the same category and even within the same brand). In our case there are multiple variants of Bubble Yum bubble gum. I happen to love the original flavored Sugarless Bubble Gum and can’t stand the non-sugarless watermelon variety.The Hersey’s company has carefully ensured that the branding of each variant of Bubble Yum gum is distinct and conveys clarity about the product. Original flavor uses a pink wrapper while Cotton Candy flavor uses a blue wrapper. Somewhere along the line, our consumer was educated (likely via advertising or product literature) how the branding sorted out, and started to form opinions about the specific products.
  4. Decision to Purchase. We’re now at the point in time where the consumer is aware of the brand, and even has knowledge of specific versions of the product (flavors of gum). We’ve caught up to the point in time where the user is in the store, at the gum display, and is reaching for the pack of Original flavor Sugarless Bubble Yum.At the moment the user touches the pack, we’ve crossed a threshold from “knowing” to “feeling”. How Hershey’s packaged the gum becomes very, very important to the end-to-end experience. Is the wrapper smooth or coarse? Does the wrapper feel flimsy or high-quality? How these questions are answered (by the consumer!) impact the consumers perception of the Bubble Gum brand.
  5. Purchase.Next the consumer takes the gum to the counter and pays for it. Again the Bubble Gum brand gets reinforced (somewhat subliminally, of course) by the price. Hershey’s very carefully picked a retail price point that balanced competitive, category, demographic, and other factors to ensure high-sales, high-margins, and repeat customers.
  6. Usage. Shortly thereafter the consumer unwraps a piece of soft & chewy Sugarless Bubble Yum, Original flavor, and starts chewing.Most people equate “product experience” to just this phase. But this is where most people are wrong. The period of time where a consumer is actually using the product is, generally, much shorter than the other phases. More importantly, though, for the success of the business the part where the customer actually uses the product is just one part of the end-to-end experience. It comes back to brand.
  7. Retirement. Once our consumer has blown a bunch of bubbles
    and gone through the entire pack (perhaps making others aware of the Bubble Yum brand by giving a few pieces away) the end-to-end experience starts to wind down.  The consumer “retires” the product, but the impact of the brand is still strong in the consumer’s mind.As you probably intuit, we will circle back to the beginning again when in a few weeks our consumer is in another store and has a craving for some bubble gum…

Great businesses are built through an understanding of creating a cohesive and holistic end-to-end experience where brand is a critical ingredient. I used bubble gum as an example because it’s simple. But the same concept applies to technology products.  Remember

“People do not buy things. People are sold things.” – Me


  1. Nonsense; barring vendor lock-in (Nikon cameras with F-mount lenses), I evaluate the features of each device prior to purchase without any weight given to brand; my last four phones were Nokia, LG, RIM, and Motorola and I can’t even remember the brand of my first phone. I’m switching from Mac to Windows because of compatibility issues, not because Windows has a nicer logo.

    Your “Bubble Yum” analogy is inapplicable, as gum is an impulse buy while electronics tend to be more researched purchases.

    1. Your focus group of one is just that.

      1. DJ says:

        Great post. I’ve found that most people tend to define a brand as something related to graphic or industrial design (logo, typeface, a color scheme, etc.) when in fact this is a very narrow and outdated view of branding. One of the current leading brand thinkers, Marty Nuemier, offers up a simple, yet effective definiton of brand: “a persons gut reaction to a product, service, company or individual.” When I say “Enron” – what do you think of? Your blink/gut reaction is what a brand is – in this case, a very lousy brand). A brand is essentially defined by its customers, or in other words, “it’s not what marketers say a brand is, but what the customer says/thinks a brand is.” A brand is defined by its customers, because the customer is the one that experiences the brand over a period of time. In the marketing industry, we refer to these experiences as “brand touch points” or “brand interactions.” Whether you have a single touchpoint/interaction with a particular brand, or hundreds, the impact of those touchpoints/interactions combine to create an individual’s overall “Customer Experience”


    I would like to call it something like “product lifecycle” based on brand experience. We are trying to extend the product usage by adding new features iteratively. Our base plan is to iterate each quarter in a time frame of one year. Later we are planning to extend the product by add-ons like third party hardware as well as to sell services belonging to our product separately. We are doing that with a mobile app and an Azure backend.

Debate this topic with me:

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