Ever since the first cow was burned with a ‘brand’ so Joe could tell his herd from Peter’s, we have come to understand brand as promises and as signifiers of quality, of value, and of personality.

Interbrand outlines the various ages of brand here, with the first age being that of brand as identity. Brands existed to differentiate one product from another and show a level of quality and consistency. Then we moved on to the age of value, where brands sought to be more useful to consumers offering value beyond the product itself. For instance tire manufacturers Michelin published the Michelin Red Guide awarding Michelin stars to select restaurants and encouraging motorists to travel and explore, of course rolling on Michelins.

Over time brands have evolved to the point we are in now – brand as experience. In the words of Interbrand ‘Interactions (between brands and consumers) are seamless, contextually relevant and increasingly based around creating an ecosystem of integrated products, services, information, and entertainment.’ It has already begun shifting into the age of You – technology allows us leveraging network effects and creating very specific and unique experiences and connections with brands.

It is easy to understand the idea of brand as experience in the context of digital products. User Experience (UX) is the latest buzzword and a hot new design field on the block. We all engage with apps, social media platforms and software. We know how pleasant it is to use an app that is simple, intuitive, delightful and that helps us achieve our purpose for interacting with it. We also know how frustrating it is when a product doesn’t work well, when the app or program crashes, when you can’t figure out how to do the basic things. In a world where good user experiences are widely distributed and cheap to access, consumer expectations rise across the board to demand good user experience not just in digital products but also in real life interactions.

What does this mean for individuals, startups and small businesses looking to develop and grow their brands? Well its like Marty Neumeier said:

Brand is not what you say it is. It is what they say it is.

And what they (your customers and stakeholders) will say about you is based on their experience of your brand. You may have a brilliant logo, and a beautiful corporate identity, but if the process of engaging with your business, purchasing your service or receiving your expertise is disjointed, confusing or outright terrible then that experience defines your brand despite your best visual efforts. You have to think a lot about how your users/clients/customers connect with your brand.

Which brings us back to the idea of purpose. If you the entrepreneur are trying to create the world in your image – make a dent in the universe, change the way people do things. Then this purpose cannot just sit gathering dust in your mission and vision statement portion of your profile. It must be baked into the DNA of how you function and how you deliver to your customers. It must become a lived experience within the ecosystem of your brand.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but actions and experience are much much louder than words.