Brand touchpoints are where customers actually “touch” and interact directly with your brand. It’s where the rubber meets the road and your branding and promises are either proven or fall apart. Before a customer even get their hand on a product, they’ll be form a lasting impression of your business. Take control of your brand experience by mapping and crafting your brand touchpoints.
The important difference between a brand touchpoint and a channel
The 4 qualities your touchpoints need to be effective
Practical guidance for improving the touchpoints you have
A guide to mapping your brand’s touchpoints and crafting an overall strategy to connect with customers
Full Podcast Transcript
Hello Beings of Earth! I’m your host Neil Verma.
Welcome to eBrandCast, where we decode what branding truly is, so you can build a dominant eCom Brand.
In this episode, we’re going to take a much closer look at one of the “buzzwords” associated with branding: “touchpoints.”
We’ll clear up exactly what they are, and how to make sure your touchpoints are actually working for you.
If you were planning a vacation to LA in California, you might use a website like Trip Advisor to choose a hotel.
Filtering by top user rating, you’d see the usual suspects, the Bel-Air, the Four Seasons, but you’d also find an unassuming little option called The Magic Castle Hotel.
A consistently top-rated hotel, it has, at times, even out-ranked its 4- and 5-star neighbors.
At first glance it’s a little hard to tell why: The Magic Castle Hotel isn’t even really a hotel.
It’s a block of 1950’s apartments converted into what’s more accurately a nice motel.
It’s a nice place with a good location, but nothing about the décor would tip you off as to how it competes with some of the most luxurious hotels in LA.
What they have done, is mastered the art of the touchpoint.
In essence, a touchpoint is literally any point of interaction or communication between a brand and a customer.
The associate that greets you as you walk into the store – a touchpoint.
The checkout process on your brand’s website – a touchpoint.
A branded email announcing a new product launch – a touchpoint.
It’s any physical or sensory interaction, anywhere the customer “touches” your brand.
Which brings us back to the Magic Castle Hotel and what make them so special.
Google them, or read any review and you’ll quickly find out that one of their claims to fame is a free, 24/7 popsicle hotline.
At any time, guests can pick up a red phone and within minutes a butler will appear with a selection of popsicles on a silver platter.
There are other unique services, too.
They also offer free snacks, including full-sized candy bars.
Basically, what high-end hotels would put in a mini-fridge and charge you 3 times the price for.
The Magic Castle also offers free DVD rentals, a board game menu, and a free laundry service.
Aside from being a sign of exceptional service, what makes The Magic Castle Hotel so special is that they’ve created multiple touchpoints in their brand experience that creates delight in guests.
And it’s these positive feelings that form cherished memories of their stay.
Other lessons on touchpoints we can take from The Magic Castle Hotel:
the touchpoints work because not only do they reinforce the “Magic” of the brand, but they’re totally unique and help differentiate the hotel in a city full of competitors.
By creating unique and delightful interactions with the brand, The Magic Castle Hotel makes sure they’re remembered fondly.
Touchpoints are the building blocks of your brand experience and reputation.
Whether a customer’s interactions with your brand are positive or negative will dictate whether they come back or recommend you to a friend.
So neglecting the role touchpoints play in your business can result in lower conversions, fewer repeat customers, and a subpar reputation.
Consider how a few amazing touchpoints elevate The Magic Castle Hotel from what would otherwise be a vanilla motel experience, to one that rivals luxury options.
Unfortunately, in eCommerce, largely because branding isn’t well understood, touchpoints are often undervalued.
And they’re also frequently confused with channels.
A channel is simply where this interaction happens.
But a touchpoint is the granular, nuts and bolts of the interaction.
A customer doesn’t interact with your website.
They visit your website and interact with all the individual elements on your site.
Your site’s search bar is a touchpoint.
The forms a customer fills out in the checkout process, are a touchpoint.
Even the “Allow Cookies” button is a touchpoint.
So any interaction with a brand can, and often does, involve multiple touchpoints.
Of course, for simplicity we refer to your website as a touchpoint, but in reality, it’s the sum of dozens of smaller touchpoints.
Something else to keep in mind: there are branded touchpoints, those that you control, and non-branded touchpoints, interactions with your brand you don’t control.
As for touchpoints that are created outside of the brand, it can be as simple as a consumer observing someone else interact with your brand, or use your product.
Some brands are more “public” than others.
Cars brands, for instance, are very public.
You see what brand of manufacturer your neighbors drive, or your friends.
You’re also likely to spend some time in someone else’s car, which might be a different brand from what you drive.
Jewelry, watches, and to an extent clothing, are also public brands.
And over time, we start to associate certain brands with certain personalities or social groups.
The fashion brand Burberry actually had to do a major rebrand because they had become synonymous with gangsters in the UK.
Branded shopping bags follow the same logic, although that’s a touchpoint the brand has a bit more control over.
Similarly, word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations are touchpoints.
So is a word-of-mouth criticism.
Online reviews, blog posts, social mention, or recommendations by influencers that you haven’t sponsored count too.
In the common eCommerce customer journey, consumers are likely to encounter a range of touchpoints, including many that your brand didn’t create.
This is actually a good thing.
As long as you’re properly managing your brand, and your products fulfill their promises to customers,
there’s nothing more powerful than encountering a genuine review or recommendation from another consumer.
Follow the example of The Magic Castle Hotel and focus your energy on the touchpoints you do control.
The more consistent your brand and the more care you put into the customer’s overall experience, the less you need to worry about the touchpoints out of your control.
By creating stand-out memories with their touchpoints, The Magic Castle Hotel ensures the downstream word of mouth about the hotel, positive reviews on travel sites, and social media posts.
But even negative reviews can be helpful.
Sometimes critiques of a product or service can help clarify for a potential customer why a product might be right for them based on what didn’t work for someone else.
Or it can be an opportunity for customers to explain what fell short about your product, but why your customer service is great, which ultimately helps your brand.
It’s still a good idea to monitor social mentions of your brand to keep an eye on your reputation and address concerns when needed, but don’t get too uptight about it.
The broader takeaway about brand touchpoints, is that the quality of an interaction with a brand, no matter how small it appears to be, influences how customers feel about your brand.
Because touchpoints are the real-world interactions customers have with your brand.
And it’s the sum of these little interactions that creates the larger impression of your brand.
In eCommerce, on average it will take 5 to 7 significant touches, before customers will have a distinct enough impression of your brand to feel comfortable completing a purchase.
What do I mean by significant?
Touchpoints aren’t all created equal.
For most customers, reading a customer review, for example, will be a lot more influential on their perspective of your brand, than accepting cookies on your website.
Between customers, especially eCommerce customers, what those 5 to 7 touches are, is going to vary because the customer journey can take many different forms.
Some people will first encounter your brand through a targeted ad.
Others will see your brand mentioned in a blog post, or a post by a friend on the socials.
Some customers will do a lot of research online about your brand and products, leading them through both solicited and spontaneous reviews,
content marketing, media mentions, your social profiles, and various pages on your website.
I mention this because even though any given brand will have hundreds of touchpoints, 5 to 7 of them can make or break a sale and your brand’s reputation.
And while I don’t recommend neglecting any brand touchpoint, it’s important to know the ones that will have the most leverage with your audience.
The Magic Castle Hotel, again, can teach us this.
They know who their audience is: families with children.
And the popsicle hotline, free snacks, and game and movie rentals are all geared toward making the brand experience magical for kids.
They even have a magician that performs magic tricks during breakfast.
Also, nailing those high-leverage touchpoints is going to be a lot more important than trying to perfect every last interaction.
The Magic Castle Hotel’s headline touchpoints often obscure the drawbacks of the location.
The pool is pretty small, there’s no elevator to reach the second floor, no room service, and no on-site gym.
Details that might otherwise put a dent in someone’s experience, but the power of the few touchpoints they’ve mastered leaves a much longer, positive impression.
Which is in line with how our memories work – we tend to forget the details, and form our impression based on the most intense emotional experiences – more on this later.
By creating a few moments of pure joy, The Magic Castle Hotel ensures they’re remembered well, even if the experience lacks in other areas.
Remember this, because when you start to evaluate your touchpoints it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of them.
So before we go further, know that designing and managing your brand touchpoints shouldn’t be done until you have built a brand.
Because I’m not asking you to micro-manage hundreds of little interactions.
That’s the last thing you need to be doing.
The point is that when you have a strong brand, your many touchpoints will naturally align, and only need minimal attention in order to optimize them.
But it’s having a clear brand underneath your touchpoints that makes them effective.
This is one place where the Pareto Principle – which states that 20% of the work makes 80% of the difference – is really at work.
And the 20% in this case, is branding, and a lot of the recommendations I’ll make are covered in the larger branding process.
If you do have a brand, it’s still a good idea to go through the touchpoint mapping process.
The advantage will be, that if you find touchpoints that are letting you down, you’ll known instantly how to fix them.
But without the direction of a brand, trying to align and optimize your touchpoints is going to be impossible.
If you need help with this, we offer a free book, Checkout, that you can order from ebrandbook.com if you’re interested.
It goes through the whole branding process, specific to eCommerce, step-by-step.
Okay, warning issued.
There are 4 qualities that your touchpoints need in order to work.
First, a touchpoint needs to feel appropriate.
Does this touchpoint make sense in this context?
For example, we expect an “Add to Cart” button on product pages.
But it would be weird to find an “Add to Cart” button in a direct email confirming our order has shipped.
Tone matters, too, and the tone of the touchpoint needs to match the context.
This will also be dictated by the overall personality of your brand.
If you have a formal, more educational brand voice, you’re not going to want your tweets to sound like the infamously sarcastic Wendy’s Twitter wrote them.
Then within the range of your brand’s voice, tone needs to be appropriate for the context.
This will be especially important when responding to negative feedback, or working through a customer service issue.
Think of the Magic Castle’s popsicle hotline: surprising, yes?
But appropriate for a kid-friendly hotel that trades on “magic.”
Not to mention the idea of 24/7 access to sugar indulgence and vacations go hand-in-hand.
The second factor is touchpoints need to be relevant.
Aside from a touchpoint making sense, does it actually perform the function it’s supposed to?
Do links go where they’re supposed to?
Do customers get what they expect?
You do want to go beyond this, and deliver a moment of delight or surprise, but at minimum, your touchpoints need to be functional.
They can’t be broken.
And no matter how clever they are, if they don’t work it’s only going to cause frustration.
You wouldn’t think much of a popsicle hotline if the popsicles never showed up, or no one ever answered the phone.
Third, touchpoints must be meaningful.
This is really where having a brand makes all the difference.
What this means is that consumers feel there was some purpose behind the interaction.
A major offender here in eCommerce is sending too many emails.
If you’re spamming a customer’s inbox with email marketing, customers are going to start ignoring them.
On the other hand, if you only send emails when it’s meaningful, then your emails will be welcomed.
Like emails to announce a product launch, or alert a customer that an item on their wishlist is back in stock, or on sale.
This is also an especially important factor to think about when you’re designing your checkout process.
Too many form fields, asking for too much personal information without a clear purpose behind it will undermine trust.
And generally, touchpoints will feel meaningful when your brand purpose and identity are shaping them.
Consumers will feel the larger mission behind every interaction they have.
Again, many of the Magic Castle’s touchpoints reinforce the idea of “magic,” which is often synonymous with effortless.
And nothing is more effortless than free snacks and entertainment, even your laundry can be taken care of.
Disney does this in their parks by hiding the “effort” of transactions by using one-touch wristbands to keep track of purchases for later billing.
This takes care of both the physical effort of taking out your wallet and the mental effort of justifying a purchase.
The fourth factor is that touchpoints should be endearing.
In other words, they have to create an emotional reaction.
The essential job of touchpoints is to contribute to the bond between your brand and customers.
It’s how customers feel during an interaction that will come to define your brand, so touchpoints need to leave people feeling good.
And for sure, no one touchpoint is going to convert consumers into a loyal customer, so you want the sum of your touchpoints to be greater than any individual part.
This is where the peak-end rule can be applied, which I’ve already alluded to.
No customers consciously evaluates your brand at each touchpoint.
They’re going to experience your brand as a whole, even if their impression is influenced by each step along the way.
So it’s important to understand how people ultimately form memories, and judge their experiences.
The peak-end rule is one model.
This is actually a cognitive bias that’s been well studied in psychology.
One major study was actually conducted using colonoscopy patients, and deciphering what made the biggest impact on their impression of the experience.
Basically, we tend to remember the most emotionally intense moment of an experience, as well as the end.
Depending on what those experienced emotions were, we then generalize about the experience as a whole.
In one study, participants were asked to hold their hands under water for 60 seconds at a time, and the temperature of the water was varied.
There were 3 rounds.
The first round was 60 seconds at 14 degrees Celsius, or 57 degrees Fahrenheit.
Second round was 60 seconds at 14 degrees again, then 30 seconds at 15 degrees Celsius, or 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
Finally, in the third round, participants were invited to repeat either round 1 or 2.
Now, neither 14 or 15 degrees is particularly pleasant.
So you might guess that most participants would choose to repeat round 1, because on the whole, it’s 60 seconds of discomfort, instead 90 seconds.
But actually, about 80% chose to repeat round 2, because the 1 degree of temperature difference after 60 seconds felt so much more comfortable, they judged the entire round as more pleasant.
It’s a reminder that even a small change can have a huge impact on people’s memory of their interaction with your brand.
So not every touchpoint has to be amazing or perfect, but none of them can be terrible.
Of course you’ll get the best results if at some point you can inject a moment of surprise and delight, especially if it’s toward the end of the interaction.
But if any of your touchpoints toward the end of the experience fall short, even by a small degree, it will undermine all your hard work.
A guest at the Magic Castle Hotel might be annoyed by the lack of an elevator at the time,
but they’ll remember that popsicle a lot more clearly, and ultimately that feeling of fun will be how they rate their experience.
So it definitely ticks the “endearing” box on our list.
With these 4 diagnostic tools in hand, you can now evaluate your own touchpoints, and start designing your customer experience with touchpoint mapping.
Basically, it’s an outline, or visualization, you make of your customer journey, and all the interactions that a consumer might have with your brand.
Before jumping into this process, again, I strongly suggest that you have already done brand work.
In particular, to get the most out of this process, you need to really understand who your ideal customers are.
Where they are online, how they prefer to shop, and what motivates them to buy.
More than that, you need to understand their needs and goals.
Of course, this is another critical part of the branding process, and customer is the 2nd C in our 7C process.
This process will help you zero in on the handful of touchpoints that are going to give you the most leverage to create an amazing experience.
Also, you will certainly need to make more than one map, since there’s going to be more than one journey a customer takes.
Start by making 3 separate lists.
First, make a list for all of the touchpoints you can identify that happen before a purchase.
What pages on your website will a customer likely visit?
Product pages, for sure, but also potentially the home page, your about page, potentially a FAQs, and so on.
Don’t get too lost in the weeds here, try to identify the most important points only.
So, you don’t need to list every potential button a customer would touch, or form they could fill out.
But keep it categorized by action – like an email signup form, a wish list function, site navigation, content pages (don’t worry about listing each one individually), or an ad campaign.
Although, as far as advertising goes, you should list each advertising channel you use separately.
So, Facebook ads, Google Shopping, TV ads, billboards if you have them, and so on, should all get their own spot on the list.
But basically, right now, you’re just trying to get an overall picture of where your customers come into contact with your brand.
Now, make a second list, this time for all the touchpoints that happen during the purchase process.
A customer’s cart, the checkout process, that kind of thing.
If you have a chatbot that helps customers complete a purchase, or a phone order process, include these as well.
Finally, the third list should include every touchpoint after purchase.
These are things like emails that confirm a customer’s order, or that their items have shipped.
It’s also follow-up emails, your product’s packaging, any instruction or assembly material, customer feedback surveys, and customer service channels.
If you have a loyalty program, any material that educates and converts customers to your program should be counted as well.
Once you have your lists, go back over them to see if there are any important touchpoints that are currently missing.
If you notice anything you haven’t yet implemented, write those in as well.
Now, based on what you know about your customers, and using whatever data you have, organize your touchpoints into your customer journey.
Make a few different versions based on the most popular routes to a purchase.
First, make sure there are no dead ends in the journey, those are places where the customer might be unsure of their next step.
Does every touchpoint have a clear call-to-action for what to do next?
Also, run through the 4 expectations customers have of a touchpoint.
Is it appropriate in terms of context and tone?
Is it relevant to the journey, and does it function the way it should?
Is it meaningful and obviously tied to the larger brand?
Is it endearing enough to contribute to the bond between the customer and your brand?
Look for touchpoints that fall short, or that you may have been neglecting.
If you identified any missing touchpoints earlier, now is the time to brainstorm in your map for how you can design the touchpoint to fit into the journey seamlessly.
Keep the peak-end rule in mind and look out for anywhere you can implement a moment of surprise, delight, or fun.
Anything that can create an emotional high that will help shape the perception of your brand.
Mark the point along the journey that delivers emotional pay-offs for customers.
An obvious one is the moment of purchase.
Shopping gives us a dopamine boost, which is a feel-good neurotransmitter.
But there should be other pay-offs, too.
Plenty of studies have found that price is the main purchase driver behind hotel choice, because most people see hotels as simply somewhere to sleep.
It’s not seen as a big part of their vacation experience, especially because the added luxuries in most hotels come with extra costs.
The Magic Castle Hotel’s perks are free, which allows parents to enrich their kids’ memories without having to worry about extra costs pilling up.
It’s an added pay-off that deepens the fun of their services.
Also, as you go through your touchpoint map, be sensitive to potential pain points, any touchpoint that detracts from the experience, or creates confusion.
Are your touchpoints effectively moving enough customers to at least research your brand?
Are you getting click-throughs?
Are there enough touchpoints that move customers toward a purchase?
And are you offering enough aftercare?
Are you enticing customers to return for a repeat purchase?
Don’t forget, it’s not just about highs and lows.
The end of the journey has a big impact on our memory as well.
This is one reason why the popular “please don’t go” popups that are triggered when users move to leave the page are high-risk.
If a consumer is still in the research phase of the journey and haven’t yet signed up for your email newsletters, and you’re pestering them as they try to leave, it can leave a bad taste in their mouth.
And then when they remember your brand what they remember is feeling irritated, rather than informed.
Even if they forget about the pop-up, they will remember how they felt.
Another thing to think about is that you should expect the unexpected.
We’re dealing with technology here, and we all know that it doesn’t always work perfectly.
Technical difficulties like server outages, or missing content, is going to happen every now and then.
Consumers know this intellectually, of course, but suddenly hitting a dead end as they browse around your branded touchpoints can be jarring, and it will tend to stick in the mind.
Error pages and messages can become branded touchpoints too, with a little care.
For instance, you should customize error messages and your 404 page with your brand voice and visual identity.
It’s a small touch that can mitigate some of the disappointment.
Finally, I know mapping is a simple, but fairly big job.
So hold onto your work, and update it as you make design and branding changes.
It can make sure any adjustments to your brand are applied consistently where it matters most.
But also, you should make time regularly audit your touchpoint maps and make sure your touchpoints are still creating the overall brand impression you’re looking for.
Consider these maps as part of your branding guidelines.
And like your brand guidelines, your touchpoint map is an ever-evolving document.
I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, so here’s quick recap of the take aways from today’s episode.
First, touchpoints are not channels.
They’re anywhere your customers “touch” and interact with your brand.
And the quality of those interactions is what shapes how a customer feels about your brand.
It takes 5 to 7 significant, positive touches for a customer to complete a purchase, and each one of those significant touches must have 4 qualities.
They must feel appropriate, relevant, meaningful, and endearing.
And with that, I leave you all to map your touchpoints and start building a better customer experience.
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