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Brand Experiences Must Be Human Experiences

Editor’s note: This post is part of our ongoing exploration of how design is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was originally published on LinkedIn.

Think about the last brand experience you had. How would you tell that story?

Brands are, at their core, a collection of stories from which a thematic emotion emerges. Strong brands are built on stories that build a positive emotional connection with the product or service at the center of the brand. This is because stories are containers for meaning, and as humans it’s hard for us to decouple the emotion of an experience from the meaning of an experience. Logos, symbols, colors, and words are shorthand for this emotional meaning — references that become trustworthy signals that we can expect a certain experience and related emotion.

While not all brands have physical places, all physical places have brands. Home offices, for example, have undergone a complete rebrand in recent weeks. So have traditional workplaces, whether office towers or sprawling corporate campuses. We’re telling different stories than we were just three or four weeks ago. This is because these places have taken on new meaning by facilitating new experiences.

Humans as a species are meaning makers, hard wired through evolution to think in stories and find patterns. Stories are effective at building connections — and engagement — because they cultivate a shared worldview. Humor, for example, is proven to be an effective social connector because shared laughter can help strengthen our relationships, and that can be good business. At LinkedIn, humor is central to the brand culture and a core part of the workplace design language, a factor in strong recruiting and retention.

Our senses shape our experiences, and our stories. Language, sight, sound, taste, and smell are the armature of meaningful experience. Science has shown us that isolating one sense makes others more powerful. As we all distance ourselves from our normal social routines (for now), we have an opportunity to look more closely at the things that connect us — our shared stories — and how we connect — through storytelling itself.

We’re telling different stories today — stories of isolation, but also of newfound connection. Stories of working with kids in the room, stories of family meals and new hobbies. Stories of stress, anxiety, and fear. Stories of hope, optimism, and courage. Which of these stories do we wish to continue telling into the future? And how will we tell them? While embracing new stories, how will we change the brand experience of our places?

By paying attention to the stories we’re telling, we’ll easily determine what is actually meaningful to our families, our friends, and our colleagues. During this time of change, the skills we hone for better storytelling will bring us back together in more powerful ways than ever before — and will give us a toolkit to make future experiences of work, life, and play compelling in ways me might not have imagined two months ago.

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Janice Cavaliere
Janice is a design director and global leader of Gensler’s Brand Design practice, focused on developing experiences and telling stories that make meaningful connections between people and places. Her work spans a wide range of projects including strategy, brand positioning, corporate identities, communications, websites, retail experiences, and branded workspaces for clients globally. Janice is based in San Francisco. Contact her at .