Frictionless or memorable — The keys to building the brand experience of tomorrow

As businesses and brands become more mature in designing experiences, the term “frictionless” has become increasingly prominent in recent years. However, what exactly are the cost of pursuing “frictionless experiences” and should “frictionless” be the goal for future brand experiences? In this article, let us take a closer look at the term, the cost of over-pursuing it, and what brands should strive for instead, using various examples from prominent brands such as Amazon, Disney, and more.


In the pursuit of providing a "frictionless experience," brands risk sacrificing their unique heritage and characteristics that distinguish them, leading to decreased brand loyalty and a focus on being a mere necessity rather than inspiring love. Instead of exclusively prioritizing frictionless interactions, brand designers and strategists should aim for "memorable experiences" by embracing purposeful and meaningful frictions that convey the brand's message. Purposeful frictions should be carefully planned to align with the brand's identity and story, while the medium chosen for these frictions can vary between digital and physical channels. Active involvement of customers in experience creation, akin to Disney World and KitKat Chocolatory, fosters stronger bonds and enriches brand interactions. In an evolving technological landscape, brands should focus on building memorable experiences rather than blindly chasing frictionless perfection, by integrating the right frictions, mediums, and customer participation.

Over-obsession with “Frictionless experience” — the dangerous chase after fools’ gold

The rise of “frictionless experience”

As the world pivots from analog to digital, brands can now interact with their target audience through many different touchpoints. From traditional touchpoints such as printed materials to digital touchpoints such as social media, digital OOH displays, and e-commerce portals, modern brands now have endless opportunities to develop communication strategies suitable for their identities. However, with opportunities also come risks. Along with the ongoing global events, modern customers’ behaviors have changed drastically. Unlike in the early days of the 21st century, customers now judge and compare brands not only against their competitors but also against other brands they interact with on a daily basis. Brands, therefore, must now fiercely compete with other brands, regardless of what industry or sector they are in if they want to win the battle for their audience’s share of mind.

To better prepare themselves, many brands, large and small, integrate communication strategies into their customer experience (CX) strategies, making CX’s importance more prominent in recent years. It’s not an exaggeration to say that CX now lies at the heart of many business meetings of all levels. Some businesses can go as far as hiring external agencies while establishing internal teams to improve their brands’ CX. It’s only a matter of time before a UX expert or even a brand designer starts frantically pushing to create a “simple, seamless, and frictionless” customer experience.

Indeed, the word “frictionless experience” has become a goal and an ideal for many UX experts, designers, strategists, and brands. Many businesses strive to streamline their processes, cut down unnecessary waste, and improve the speed of their transactions. Some went as far as sacrificing heritages that make brands unique to implement a “3-click process,” turning what could have been memorable brand experiences into another “me-too” e-commerce portal.

The ups and downs of pursuing “frictionless”

In the short term, this sometimes radical obsession works wonderfully. A study by PwC showed that businesses providing frictionless customer services can charge up to a 16% premium on products and services. Further studies also show that a frictionless experience can offer competitive advantages through lower costs and faster processing speed.

What about the long term? This is where the real cost of over-pursuing “frictionless experience” shows. As stated above, it is no longer common to see brands ready to sacrifice heritage or characteristics that make them unique in the pursuit of a “frictionless experience.” In the long term, such a sacrifice will turn brands into objects of need, not love. Think Amazon. With a wide range of services and products and over 200 million Prime subscribers, Amazon possess a seamless ecosystem that has long become the goal for many brands and businesses. However, if you think of the business from a user’s perspective, you may hear how customers respect Amazon as a business, and how they may rely on Amazon for daily necessities. However, you never hear customers saying they “love” Amazon. As an object of need, Amazon suffers from lower brand loyalty and has to continually innovate and improve its service or risk losing customers as soon as another competitor (Tiki in Vietnam, Rakuten in Japan, etc.) arises.

Let’s contrast Amazon with Disney World. According to surveys, the attractions at Disney World parks have an average queue time of 36 minutes. Not exactly a “seamless” or “frictionless” experience. However, instead of seeing customers leaving for a competitor’s theme park, Disney sees many returning customers looking to enjoy more of the brand’s “magical experience.” Why does this happen? The answer is simple. Instead of being an object of need, Disney strived to be an object of love. Instead of eliminating elements that can create “friction,” the brand focuses on developing “memorable” moments instead. Interestingly, similar to Amazon, Disney World also reported higher year-on-year growth even amid economic downturns (the brand reported a +70% revenue for Q3/2022).

As seen from the two examples above, “frictionless experience” isn’t the only way to improve a brand’s performance, nor should it be the end goal for any CX development and improvement attempt. Instead of aiming for an ultimately “frictionless experience,” brand designers and strategists should aim to create “memorable experiences” by embracing “friction.” The question is how designers and strategists should employ “friction” to grow the brand instead of driving customers away.

Building modern brand experiences — Creating “memorable friction”

The first key: Purposeful and meaningful “frictions”

One of the keys to building “memorable experiences” is to embrace “friction,” and not just any “friction,” only the purposeful and meaningful ones. If the employed “friction” is not carefully planned, brands risk creating bad experiences that could drive customers away. However, just what exactly are purposeful and meaningful “frictions”?

To answer this question, brand designers and strategists need to refer back to the brand’s narration. What message does the brand want to tell? What story does it want to convey? A purposeful “friction” is then defined as the “friction” that can be employed to communicate the brand’s message and story.

Let us visit a different brand as an example: KitKat. Since its first debut, the KitKat Chocolatory has served as the “experience-first” retail store for the brand. Customers coming to KitKat Chocolatory can not only buy traditional products from KitKat but also create their own KitKat chocolate (at the cost of similar KitKat products and some additional wait time). Objectively speaking, the process for customers to create their customized chocolate is nowhere “seamless” nor “simple” (and certainly not “frictionless”). From navigating through a large number of base ingredients to choosing additional decorations and waiting, customers encounter many “frictions” before they can complete the task they are set to achieve. However, these “frictions” are purposeful. The large number of colorful base ingredients convey the wide variety of flavors contained within KitKat’s product lines. The choices of decorations show KitKat’s dedication to creating the best chocolate for each customer. The in-store music and the interior design were carefully selected to embolden KitKat’s identity and message: “Have a Break, Have a KitKat.”

KitKat and the KitKat Chocolatory are just examples of “memorable experiences” created using purposeful and meaningful “frictions.” However, just because the “frictions” are purposeful and meaningful doesn’t immediately mean that customers will find them pleasant to accept. How brand designers and strategists should integrate these “frictions” into their “experience” is yet another key we must look at.

The second key: Choosing the medium for “frictions”

Now that you’ve chosen what “frictions” to be implemented, it’s time to think about how they should be woven to create your brand experiences. This step is similar to choosing the medium and the method to convey your brand’s story.

With the appearance of new platforms and technologies such as social media and the metaverse, brands now have many opportunities to implement their purposeful and meaningful “frictions.” For example, in the case of KitKat Chocolatory’s digital portal, KitKat employed a mix of different motions and 3D elements to create an immersive experience unique to KitKat’s brand while still conveying the colorful character of Chocolatory. Another example would be Ikea Place, known as the staple in AR technology. The app facilitates customers as designers of their own spaces, allowing them to use their imagination and let dreaming come to the fore as they create their perfect interiors. Through Ikea Place, Ikea is also able to convey and reinforce its positioning, which is also echoed through its “The Wonderful Everyday” tagline.

However, just because there are more opportunities for implementing “frictions” on digital channels now doesn’t mean that physical channels should be neglected. For fervent followers of the Cannes Lions, campaigns such as “The Art of Self Examination” or “The Unwasted Beer” serve as a reminder of the strength of physical experiences. The key to success, then, lies in creativity. There is no wrong medium for “friction,” and at the same time, no absolute best medium for it.

The third key: The more, the merrier

With the answer to what and how to implement “friction” answered, we now move to the last key to creating a memorable brand experience: the audience.

“You endure a grueling experience with others and emerge with bonds that will never break.” — Chip Heath, Dan Heath

Behavioral science has proven that with direct participation, participants will be more likely to remember the experiences they went through and will be more likely to establish a strong relationship with fellow participants. This principle is also applied to brands. By putting customers into a more active role and allowing them to create experiences with the brand, customers are more likely to remember the experiences they created, through which their bonds with the brand will strengthen.

If the successful example from Disney World and KitKat Chocolatory isn’t enough to convince you, perhaps “The Natural Bar” from Corona (Abinbev) will. To compliment Corona’s new 100% natural product launch, the brand also set up “natural bars” created using 100% natural materials around the world to invite customers to experience the new product. These “natural bars” serve not only as a platform to let customers experience the new products firsthand but also as a medium for customers to create their own experience based on Corona’s latest brand message and positioning. Needless to say, the campaign is a big success, plunging not only Corona’s latest products but also the brand itself into the limelight.

Involving customers in the brand experience creation process also helps to make the brand more humane and approachable. Furthermore, by letting customers participate in the experience, brands also create space for pleasant surprises.

Some last words

As the hurdle to creating both online and physical presence lowers, the pursuit of “frictionless experiences” will continue to accelerate. While the effort to simplify experiences does bring about short-term benefits, overpursuing “frictionless” risk plunges brands into the sea of needs and not of love, hurting them in the long term.

Instead of pursuing a complete “frictionless” experience, brands should instead strive to build memorable and purposeful experiences through the clever use of the right friction, the right medium, and involving the customers in the brand experience creation process.

With the acceleration of technology development and harsher competition, how brands create their experiences and interact with customers will become vital to their growth and survival. Plagued with challenges, this new fast pace environment will also create many new opportunities for brand designers and strategists to display their creativity.

What about you? Should brands pursue “frictionless” or “memorable” experiences? And how should brands continue to interact with their customers in the future? It’s your turn to share your ideas.

Published on
October 9, 2022