Playing catch up. This has become the familiar rhythm of the marketer’s life, has it not? At the end of 2020, an unprecedented year globally, commentators of all kinds gave their predictions for 2021. A hopeful normalisation of the times but within a tenser geopolitical environment and acknowledgement of cracks in our social infrastructures and systems. There was a sense that soon we would return to – maybe not the same – but certainly close to life as it had been previously.
As 2021 unfolded, it became apparent how wrong we were. And December last year, there we were all again, making predictions for 2022. And how wrong we were. If 2023 is as convulsive as the previous three years, it will certainly set the tone for the remainder of the decade (now there’s a prediction!).
The intent here is not to set up a negative narrative, but to highlight the new reality of the marketer’s life as we move into 2023. We don’t know what 2023 will bring. Brands are transforming by the minute, accommodating and coping with non-stop upheaval. The rhythm is now one of perpetual transformation and evolution. Actively and continually evolving the brand and swift transformation for a brand to survive market turbulence, is now a core KPI of the marketer’s life. Marketers are now Brand Evolutionaries!
We have seen that repeatedly throughout the year, from government agencies to airlines: we can all name a few examples off the top of our heads. When a crisis hits the headlines, marketers spring into action with their leadership and communications departments, enacting brand repair whilst swiftly evolving the brand and it’s messaging, proactively putting in place risk mitigation defences against potential future crises.
So as brand managers and marketers morph into an evolutionary mindset, flexible to whatever is about to come their way, we understand the futility of 2023 predictions. But one thing we know; only continual, swift and impactful brand evolution will provide competitive advantage in 2023.
Lessons from 2022 for the Brand Evolutionary
- Bring positivity to continual brand transformation and evolution
Times will remain convulsive, so bringing a positive mindset towards continual evolution will help marketers be flexible and nimble. This may challenge entrenched views where brand is seen as a constant; immoveable and inflexible. This means an openness to changing direction and approach when required, bringing contingencies to existing marketing plans and strategies, and ensuring the bodies with responsibility over brand (Boards, steering committees) also have the same positive mindset of flexibility. Continual brand evolution should be seen as a key health metric by which a brand is governed.
- Let business purpose drive brand
As the anchor for both leadership and employees, business purpose is the single source of truth for businesses seeking to maintain their culture to drive business health and employee wellbeing. Over the past 12 months, we cannot stress enough how critical an authentic business purpose has been for many of our clients, for giving their employees aspirations or principles to believe in, that their efforts are contributing to a greater commercial, personal and collective benefit. Unto itself, a purpose is also not a constant, but can evolve as well. Click here to see six critical steps in activating purpose.
- Evolution as the strategy, incrementalism as the tactic
With marketing budgets squeezed and approval for budget-by-exception becoming a scarcer commodity, incrementally updating a brand is one of the easiest ways to build in currency and sustainable relevancy. Smart incremental changes can include updates to brand pillars, tone of voice or refinements to visual identity, or a recalibration of business purpose around a brand manifesto. Of course, the updates need to feel substantive enough to warrant doing and must be obvious for stakeholders and targets. But constant, small changes mean building flexibility into the brand, a rhythm of nimbleness which can only benefit as market challenges unfold.
- Act like everyone is looking
Well they’re not, but journalists are. There are so many examples from the past 12 months – the Bureau of Meteorology is but one recent and prominent example – where missteps by brands have been highlighted by the media, a topic now high on the editorial desirability list, and rightly or wrongly, given excessive amounts of news time. We have seen an old truism play out again and again in 2022 – that is takes years to build a brand and only a day to damage it.
The Brand Evolutionary’s Checklist
The internal value proposition for marketers is clear: Leading the collaboration effort with leadership, legal, recruitment, HR and communications teams in driving continual evolution of a brand to maintain brand health in turbulent times.
- Identify potential, evolution paths
What market changes are foreseeable in the short and medium term? What crises could bring the brand into disrepute or become newsworthy? Creating a brand decision tree will assist calm and rational decision making when markets and competitors move.
- Proactively prepare key internal stakeholders
Best not to be caught in a panic when reacting to immediate market or media concerns. That will only make interactions with senior stakeholders fraught. Whether through steering committees or brand/marketing sponsors on the Board, keep key stakeholder groups informed of potential evolutions the brand may need to take.
- Benchmark the brand using brand tracking
The easiest mechanism to determine shifts in target and market sentiment is through brand tracking. Media commentary may indicate one view, but actually engaging customers and targets may provide a different view of the peaks and troughs of an organisation’s brand equity. It is through their drivers, attitudes and perceptions that brands can clearly see how to best service the changing needs of their clients.
- Review periodically
Like any marketing or business plan, the brand evolution plan will require updating periodically to accommodate shifts in the market, environment and business position.
One 2023 prediction we can make
As we close out 2022, the intent here is not to imply that marketers need to armour up for battle. But rather to emphasise the shifting role of the marketer as our period of uncertainty and change continues unabated. Perhaps one day we will see a Chief Evolution Officer? But for now, it’s the role of brand and marketing to drive forward the perpetual evolutions of brand. Our skill set has needed to expand; our focus has needed to widen; our sixth sense needs to be tapped into. That’s one prediction we can confidently make for 2023!
For a conversation about to tackle 2023, contact us here.