"Oh-hi-yo-go-za-imas."

If you are flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo, you can learn how to say "how are you" in Japanese. The lesson is provided as part of the JAL in-flight entertainment in four language categories: numbers, dates, words, and dialogue. Other airlines also offer interactive audiovisual language programs, including Virgin Atlantic, Air France, and Singapore Airlines.

It's all part of the trend toward brand engagement, one of the two great trends reshaping branding today and tossing such tired, 30-year-old theories like "positioning" to the dustbin of marketing history. (The other related trend is wikification, which says that brands are defined by customers—not companies—based on their own and others' interactions).

Engagement, a broad term encompassing everything from sampling to product placement to personal service, is the process of forming an emotional or rational attachment to a brand by using it or viewing it in a personally relevant context.

Most brand-engagement activities today revolve around enhancing experience. Companies race to make their online experience compelling. Apple and Sony make experiences, not products, the centerpiece of their stores. Lexus doesn't merely sell cars; it sells the experience of being a Lexus customer.

But as JAL and other airlines understand, another important aspect of engagement is brand education, which takes two forms: education about the offering and its usage; contextual education relevant to the brand.

Companies are generally doing a terrible job at brand-usage education and are getting better at contextual education. But a new element of brand engagement is just emerging and will force companies to take a new look at brand education.

No brand experience can be positive if a feature is misunderstood or information can't be found, or worse, read. Yet companies do a terrible job with their manuals, product design, and Web sites. How many times have you sought information in a manual, only to find the needed info missing, poorly explained, or depicted by a micron-sized illustration? Or spent time looking for an inaccessible feature? Or tried to decipher a Web site with 10-point gray type on a white background?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Wreden is the author of ProfitBrand: How to Increase the Profitability, Accountability and Sustainability of Brands (named "Best Business Book of 2005" by strategy+business) and FusionBranding: How to Forge Your Brand for the Future. Reach him at nick@fusionbrand.com.