A Holistic Definition of Brand Experience

Even though there is plenty of literature about brand and marketing concepts, Brand Experience still seems intangible and premature. However, we all thrive for experiences. Therefore it’s essential for brands to design brand-related experiences. But what are actual aspects of Brand Experience? In the following I describe, compare and merge different brand concepts with new disciplines to create a new, more holistic definition of Brand Experience.

What is Brand Experience? Why is it so Important?

The brand concept is in a process of change, influenced by the digitalisation as well as changing needs and values of consumers.¹ They strive for experiences, want to be entertained, stimulated and emotionally addressed by brands.² (Read more about the needs of millennials here.)

Experiences have a more lasting effect on the happiness and satisfaction of consumers and their consumption behaviour. Accordingly, the design of experiences has become indispensable for brands and companies. After the industrial and service age, follows the experience economy.³

With regard to experiences, however, classic analytical and rationally designed brand concepts such as brand value, brand behaviour or brand personality can no longer cover the versatility of a brand.

This is why Brakus, Schmitt und Zarantonello came up with a new approach with their definition of Brand Experience as

„subjective, internal consumer responses (sensations, feelings and cognitions) and behavioural responses evoked by brand-related stimuli that are part of a brand’s design and identity, packaging, communications and environments.“⁴

While this is already a useful definition, it lacks some important brand aspects, as I will describe in the following.

Brand Concepts and Disciplines that influence Brand Experience

There are various approaches and definitions of the brand concept as well as new areas of studies that influence Brand Experience. To conclude them in a holistic definition of Brand Experience I determined and compared four different fields:

  • Brand and Brand Experience
  • Multisensory Marketing
  • User Experience and User Experience Identity
  • Branded Interactions and Living Brands

Brand and Brand Experience

The International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) defines a brand as a characteristic image — for example through the brand name or the brand logo — which distinguishes a company from others on the market. Moreover brands are the totality of perceptions, benefits and experiences that consumers associate with a product or service.⁵

Consequently, there are two aspects of brands:

  • Brand Identity — how the brand see’s itself or how it would like to be
  • Brand Image — how others perceive the brand

However, the Brand Experience definition extends the ISO concept. Brakus, Schmitt and Zarantonello divide experiences into four dimensions:⁴

  • sensory — impressions of the brand that are perceived through sensory organs
  • affective — feelings, moods and sensations that are triggered by a brand
  • intellectual — curiosity and problem-solving thinking that are stimulated by a brand or, conversely, are not triggered
  • behavioural — physical activities that are motivated by a brand or, conversely, are not triggered
Brand Experience definition model based on Brakus, Schmitt and Zarantonello

Multisensory Marketing

According to Kilian, consumers perceive brands with all their senses, which is why the targeted design of all senses and their correlation are crucial for an effective brand success. Accordingly, Multisensory Marketing focuses on the sensory dimension of the Brand Experience. Kilian describes four successive phases of Multisensory Marketing:⁶

  1. Creating a brand identity model to determine brand values.
  2. Translating brand values into selected brand elements. These are divided into acoustic, visual, haptic, olfactory and gustatory elements according to the five sensory impressions.
  3. Merging brand elements into actively communicated brand signals such as products, media or environments.
  4. Strengthening the overall Brand Experience.
Multisensory Marketing: brand elements sorted by the five sensory impressions⁶

In contrast to the Brand Experience definition, Multisensory Marketing reveals the relation between various brand elements and the respective sensory impression. Consequently, Kilian’s described brand elements can be equated with the brand-related stimuli of the Brand Experience definition.

An empirical study investigating the interaction of both concepts also confirms the positive effect of Multisensory Marketing on the Brand Experience.⁷

The five sensory dimensions form Multisensory Marketing within the Brand Experience model

User Experience and User Experience Identity

More and more points of contact between consumers and brands are digital.⁸ As a result, brand experiences are increasingly created in connection with digital products such as websites, apps or infotainment systems. As a result, disciplines of digital interaction have recently begun to influence the understanding of the brand concept.¹

User Experience is concerned with the optimal design of interactions. Its definition by ISO takes into account reactions, including physical as well as psychological reactions, perceptions, feelings and behaviour.⁹ Thus, the aspects of User Experience coincide with the sensory, affective, intellectual and behavioural dimensions of Brand Experience. The User Experience considers these aspects before, during and after the interaction with a product, service or system, whereas the Brand Experience generally refers to brand-related stimuli. In addition, the User Experience includes beliefs, preferences and performance of the users.⁹ These factors, on the other hand, are not taken into account in the Brand Experience definition.

ISO also describes that the brand image has an impact on the User Experience in addition to a multitude of other factors, such as the performance or function of the interactive system.⁹ This means that the correlation to the brand is already established in the definition of the User Experience.

Aspects of User Experience within the Brand Experience model

Van de Sand, Frison, Zotz, Riener and Holl also describe the overlap between Brand Experience and User Experience. The researchers conclude that brand positioning is directly related to the User Experience. Therefore, they developed the User Experience Identity (UXi) method, which ensures that brand values are communicated through interaction with a brand’s digital products. This method is divided into three phases:¹⁰

  1. Creating a Semantic Map (based on vision, mission and brand values of the brand identity).
  2. Collecting Empirical Knowledge based on the Semantic Map.
  3. Translating the Empirical Knowledge into Digital Design Codes.

Both the process of Multisensory Marketing and the UXi method use brand values as a basis for translating them into brand elements. The UXi method, however, specifies these elements as Digital Design Codes. Thus, in the context of User Experience, the method refers to digital elements that can be equated with the brand-related stimuli of the Brand Experience definition. Multisensory Marketing, on the other hand, describes brand elements independently of the medium. However, both concepts aim to improve the Brand Experience.

Branded Interactions and Living Brands

Spies and Wenger offer another perspective with their definition of Branded Interactions as digital Brand Experiences at the intersection of business goals, brand goals and user goals. For the researchers, Branded Interactions are interactive applications that are designed with the brand as the starting point and thus make Living Brands tangible.¹¹

Living Brands are understood as dynamic brands that engage with consumers in a lively and open way. Living Brands adapt to consumers, while maintaining their own attitude. For this purpose, Spies and Wagner develop a comprehensive design process that is designed for the cooperation of agencies and companies. Within this process, a model for brand signatures of Living Brands is presented. This supplements conventional brand signatures with new signatures that emerge from speech-based, gestural and digital interaction. The Living Brands model emphasises the dynamic characteristics of these brand signatures. Consequently, the model describes signatures such as micro-interactions, animation, navigation, speech and voice.¹¹

The Living Brands model¹¹

The classic brand signatures of the Living Brands model are similar to the described brand elements of Multisensory Marketing. The model expands the spectrum of brand-related stimuli. Thus, the new signatures of the Living Brands model can be classified according to the five sensory impressions of the sensory experience dimension.

New Holistic Definition of Brand Experience

The examination of Brand Experience⁴, Multisensory Marketing⁶, User Experience⁹, Branded Interactions and Living Brands¹¹ reveals the overlaps and commonalities of the concepts. The fusion of these allow a holistic view of the scope and complexity of Brand Experience in the age of digitalisation and the experience economy.

The findings are therefore merged into a more holistic definition of Brand Experience and visualised in a model:

The Brand Experience encompasses subjective, internal responses and behavioural responses of a person evoked by a brand-related stimulus that finds its origin in the brand identity. A distinction is made between the four experience dimensions: sensory, intellectual, affective and behavioural.

NOTE 1: Subjective, internal responses are defined by the following components and dimensions. Perceptions and sensations are subordinated to the sensory experience dimension. Emotions, feelings and psychological reactions belong to the affective experience dimension. Beliefs, cognitions, preferences and performances are assigned to the intellectual experience dimension.

NOTE 2: The sensory experience dimension is further subdivided into the five sensory impressions: acoustic, visual, haptic, olfactory and gustatory. This experience dimension includes all brand-related stimuli at the points of contact between consumers as well as users and brands.

NOTE 3: The brand identity is the starting point of the Brand Experience. It defines the brand values of the brand, which are conveyed by the brand-related stimuli.

NOTE 4: Brand-related stimuli are audio logos, brand songs, sounds, tones, voices, names, slogans, words, logos, key images, iconography, typography, symbols, colours, shapes, textures, micro-interactions, animations, movements, navigations, infographics, layout, materials, dimensions, stories, fragrance, flavours and taste.

Holistic definition of Brand Experience model

I’m curious about your thoughts on this holistic definition of Brand Experience. Tell me about your story — hello@luisjordan.com.

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[1] Heun, T. (2020). Total Digital? Zum Wandel des Markenkonzepts im 21. Jahrhundert. In S. Dänzler, & T. Heun, Marke und digitale Medien. Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler.

[2] Bauer, H., Heinrich, D., & Samak, M. (2012). Eine Einführung in das Konzept der Erlebniskommunikation. In H. Bauer, D. Heinrich, & M. Samak, Erlebniskommunikation. Heidelberg: Springer.

[3] Schnaack, M. (2020). Experience first — Marken erlebbar machen. Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler.

[4] Brakus, J., Schmitt, B., & Zarantonello, L. (Mai 2009). Brand Experience: What Is It? How Is It Measured? Does It Affect Loyalty? Journal of Marketing, 73, 52–68.

[5] ISO. (2010, March 10.). What’s in a Brand? Quite a bit, actually. Retrieved from ISO: https://www.iso.org/news/ref2486.html

[6] Kilian, K. (2010). Multisensuales Marketing: Marken mit allen Sinnen erlebbar machen. Transfer, 4, 42–48.

[7] Wiedmann, K.-P., Labenz, F., Haase, J., & Hennigs, N. (2018). The power of experiential marketing: exploring the causal relationships among multisensory marketing, brand experience, customer perceived value and brand strength.Journal of Brand Management, 25, 101–118.

[8] Bughin, J. (2015, February 1.). Companies adept at using digital tools along the consumer decision journey are gaining a sizable lead over competitors. Retrieved from McKinsey&Company: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/brand-success-in-an-era-of-digital-darwinism

[9] ISO. (2019). Ergonomie der Mensch-System-Interaktion — Teil 210: Prozess zur Gestaltung gebrauchstauglicher interaktiver Systeme (ISO/FDIS 9241–210:2019). DIN Deutsches Institut für Normung e.V. Berlin: Beuth Verlag GmbH.

[10] van de Sand, F., Frison, A.-K., Zotz, P., Riener, A., & Holl, K. (2020). User Experience Is Brand Experience. Cham: Springer.

[11] Spies, M., & Wenger, K. (2018). Branded Interactions (3rd revised edition). Mainz: Hermann Schmidt.



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Luis Jordan

Luis Jordan

UX Concepter | Strategic, Ambitious & Minimalist