At the turn of the 20th century, brand experiences were human, personal and local. Reputations were made, sustained or lost by the quality of product, service, knowledge and advice given.
The best local brands or businesses were those that got to know their customers intimately over time and were able to anticipate their needs, rather than react to them or provide a one-size-fits-all solution. Customer service was vital and the right of reply was personal and direct. Things were connected, nimble and simple.
Move on through the decades to mass production, the service economy and global distribution. Brands, both corporate and consumer, had become international, with revenues the size of small countries, but there was a trade-off. In gaining scale, they had lost intimacy and the ability to listen to and engage in dialogue with their customers.
The market research industry grew because of this, and while it provided some insight, it was based on claimed or derived intentions, as opposed to actual behaviour and attitudes. The technology just didn't exist for consumers to make themselves heard.
Today, web connectivity and access to real-time behavioural data means that the priority for brands has to be to deliver unique, anticipatory and iterative personal services and brand experiences allied to scale.
Of course, it is a challenge to be personal and global in the same breath, and not all brands are there yet, despite the expectations set by the likes of Amazon and Ocado - that is a key branding challenge. The benefits of personal touch apply, but the scale and opportunities are different.
Take the internet. It is awash with generic, formulaic sites and applications that do not help in delivering sustainably relevant and differentiated brand experiences. They may be functional and efficient, but they are also increasingly homogenised and play to commoditisation. This has to be fertile ground for driving consumer preference.
The online channel for retail banking is a case in point. The interface is focused on conformity, familiarity, speed of task, safety and security. It has been designed for ease of management rather than creating a rewarding brand experience for the customer.
Ultimately, we believe the best brands will go a step further and create a standout brand experience that becomes the natural choice.
Why rely on advertising claims to make that differentiation, rather than the experience itself? Surely actually being better is superior to simply claiming to be better?
Generally, with the possible exception of First Direct, the banks fall short. For example, the platforms for reply and genuine dialogue are hidden amid the FAQs and myriad contact numbers. The listening bank may be listening, but is it encouraging conversation?
While many leading brands deliver fragmented customer experiences with little or no interaction between the physical and the virtual brand worlds, some are getting close to achieving a cohesive, differentiated experience. Ocado, for example, offers friendly, simple and efficient service. It remembers your shopping habits and suggests relevant alternatives; you choose your delivery time and the goods are hand-delivered by a man (or woman) in a van. It provides old-fashioned customer care and service in a 21st-century context - echoes of the local grocer, calm amid the chaos and the complex made simple.
In July it launched the Ocado on the Go iPhone app, a practical, useful brand extension that is now one of Apple's most popular, generating orders that already account for 2% of sales. Ocado saw an opportunity to enhance the customer experience and was the first of the big supermarkets to get it out there. Clever stuff: creating the personal touch on a grand scale.
There is, however, a brand that has gone one step further, executing perfectly the marriage of personal service and scalability into today's connected marketplace and paving the way for the future.
Not surprisingly, that brand is Apple, which creates seamlessly enjoyable, personal brand experiences. It is ostensibly the 'Apple Experience' that uses old rules in the new world.
For decades, big brands and organisations have believed that marrying personal service to scale was an unachievable combination. Now, in a digitally enabled world, squaring this circle is not only possible, but is likely to be a defining dimension of brand success.
PETER KNAPP - EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, EMEA
Landor Associates is one of the world's leading strategic brand and design consultancies. Founded by industry pioneer Walter Landor in 1941, the company has a rich heritage of brand strategy and design leadership. Partnering with clients, it drives brand-led business transformation.
Landor takes a holistic approach, building brands on the combined rigour of disciplined thinking and process and exceptional creativity.
Its work spans the full breadth of branding services, including brand positioning and asset management, research, valuation, packaging and structural design,, engagement and corporate identity.
Landor London's current and past clients include some of the world's most powerful brands, including BP, Diageo, Invensys, Morrisons and Procter & Gamble.
Peter Knapp is based in the London office, overseeing all creative work generated from the region. He has an extensive portfolio of global and domestic consumer and corporate clients including British Gas, Gulf Air and KLM.
To find out more, visit landor.com
CASE STUDY - SYMBIAN
Symbian is the world's biggest mobile phone operating system. It lives in hundreds of millions of handsets globally, and holds a 60% market share.
That's three times the market share of RIM's BlackBerry, and five times that of Windows Mobile.
In June 2008, Nokia acquired the rights to Symbian with the intention to make it open source. With the goal of increased innovation, Nokia agreed to release the Symbian code and create a royalty-free open platform.
To do this it created the Symbian Foundation, a not-for-profit entity to manage the Symbian platform and maintain relationships with its partners and contributors.
Although Symbian had no plans to change its name, it was transforming into a company that offered a fundamentally different proposition.
Because of its legacy, there were plenty of preconceptions about what Symbian was and what it did.
Additionally, most consumers had no familiarity with the brand, something the foundation was keen to change.
Symbian needed a brand that built on its existing equity as a trusted market leader, while signalling its fresh start as an open-source platform in a compelling and exciting way.
The new identity captures the essence of the open-source spirit - being a champion of collaboration, creativity, freedom and community.
While the rest of the mobile technology industry feels slick, sophisticated and stand-offish, Symbian breaks category conventions.
Symbian now incorporates hand-drawn illustrations featuring a heart within its corporate identity to express the theme of humanity.
It is open, friendly, human and personable.
Now Symbian can engage in a dialogue with developers and consumers alike.