2022 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®

Prophet asked more than 13,500 consumers in the U.S. about the brands that matter most in their lives today. We measure their relationship to 293 brands in 27 categories, looking closely at 16 attributes. A new pattern of relevance emerged in this research: Brands are finding success in our new normal by connecting with us as humans—by appealing to the head and the heart.

“Brands are finding success in our new normal by connecting with us as humans—by appealing to the head and the heart.”

Download the Index.


How to Use Brand Humor for More Than a Laugh

Deadpan? Absurdist? Irreverent? To land laughs, know what kind of funny suits your brand and your audience.

Do you know what’s funny? When you try your hand at brand humor or humorous advertising but it lands with all the grace of a herd of wildebeests. Oof. But it’s not all bad gnus. (Womp.) With a few pointers, you can break out with more mirthful marketing—whether that’s funny copywriting, playful brand storytelling or funny ads—and there’s good reason to. You won’t just crack your audience up by using humor effectively; you’ll crack open more engagement, conversions, recall, brand equity and more, and this applies to both B2C to B2B.

(One brand is laughing all the way to the bank with conversions leaping to nearly 200% when they used humor in copywriting. We’ll get to that in a minute.) But first…why did humor even evolve in humans?

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Humanity

“Homo sapiens” is Latin for “wise man.” But maybe “wise guy” is a better fit. Because, from snickering at the back of the cave to snickering in the back of a movie theater, we’ve been finding things funny for a long time—like 35,000 years now. (Talk about a running joke!)

And while scientists still haven’t completely figured out the biological imperative for humor (and its attendant physiological response: laughter), they have some compelling theories. These are mostly around humor as a kind of social glue, from facilitating bonding to masking nervousness to dampening aggression to showing superiority to attracting partners. Laughter itself seems to have evolved from heavier breathing during play like play fighting or tickling.

Another intriguing theory is that humor enhances cognitive strategies by revealing incongruities. The idea is that our brains constantly make assumptions about what we’ll experience next or who other humans might be—and reward us with amusement when we realize our assumptions weren’t correct. It’s a little nuanced but still rooted in social connection.

Strike Paydirt When You Strike Them as Funny

That social connection is the true power of using humor effectively in marketing, verbal branding, or advertising; it links your humanity to your audience. It helps you find common ground, surprise and delight, diffuse tension and be relatable to your key customers or stakeholders.

But that’s not all. Being funny can lead to serious business results, improving everything from purchase intent, evaluation, and recall (turns out, people remember funny sentences more), to reach, engagement, and brand advocacy.

Take Wendy’s, for example. They’ve been roasting people on social media so hilariously that people now volunteer to get sent up in a #NationalRoastDay tweet. It’s a badge of honor at this point, and a great example of humor amping engagement and affinity.

“You won’t just crack your audience up by using humor effectively; you’ll crack open more engagement, conversions, recall, brand equity and more.”

Or consider Dollar Shave Club. That one funny breakout video? It cost only about $4,500—but generated more than 11 million views and massive media coverage. It also works for brands like Manly Bands, a wedding ring retailer who saw conversions jump to 93% (the conversion rate for one ring in particular increased to almost 200%!) when they traded boring for funny in their brand copywriting. And there are all kinds of success stories of using humor in advertising, from underwear to underarms.

But Don’t Save All Your Chuckles for Consumer Brands

B2B audiences would love more pop in their procurement—in fact, one Google study found B2B buyers are more emotionally connected to their vendors than consumers are to theirs, and nearly 50% likelier to buy when there’s a personal, emotional connection.

And again, funny campaigns boost recall, persistent behaviors and engagement for these buyers, too. But there’s another reason to dust off your comedic chops: not a lot of B2B brands are doing it, creating a massive opportunity to differentiate on top of all those other benefits.

Who could forget MailChimp’s FailChips? Or LinkedIn’s ridiculously relatable gifs for marketers? What about iStock by Getty’s hilarious take on over-posed stock images? Adobe Marketing Cloud even found a way to send up the mean streets of pay-per-click advertising.

What’s So Funny, Anyway?

It mostly comes down to incongruity. It’s about an unexpected reversal or left turn, usually near the end of a sentence, like, “I’m sorry I’m late. I got here as soon as I felt like it.” Ba-dum tss!

But there’s an art to using humor in marketing and branding. Done wrong, humor can distract from your message, weaken your credibility, and alienate or, worse, offend your audiences. This usually happens when:

  • Making fun of a specific group of people
  • Being ham-handed with a sensitive topic
  • Cracking a joke at an inopportune time (like a natural disaster or PR crisis)
  • Using a kind of humor that’s at complete odds with your brand
  • Attempting to wield humor without truly understanding its subtext (something you’ll find out fast if you get it wrong)

Three Principles to Land Your Punchline

With a few pointers, you can reap the benefits of using humor in content marketing, from emphasizing brand or product benefits to enhancing brand storytelling, to building emotional connections, to engendering support (and funds) for societal issues, to generating explosive engagement on social.

1. Know Your Audience, Industry and Topic

It’s pretty table stakes for general branding and marketing but glossing over this can really kill your comedic campaign. You need to truly understand the personas in your target audience segments before you try to roll out a humorous ad or funny product video.

And you’ll want to go beyond typical demographics and go deep into psychographic segmentation to uncover things like beliefs, values, personality traits, lifestyles and hobbies so you can tailor your humor accordingly. There are two reasons: 1) you need to know what your audience responds to and 2) how not to alienate them. Zoomer humor, for example, is incredibly nuanced and increasingly meta-ironic or post-ironic—use either incorrectly at your peril.

So, find out what makes your audience tick. Are they impassioned social activists that appreciate pot-shots at the status quo? Stressed-out shoppers with a penchant for sarcasm? Extremely online intellectuals who like a bit of irony? Stay-at-home parents, who prefer deadpan to dad jokes? Knowing their likely personality profile will help you figure out what they might find funny, how far you can take it and what they could find offensive.

You also have to know your brand’s unique value proposition, product benefit, service offering, customer pain points, any product or brand weaknesses, and the context in which you operate—and know it inside and out—to know what’s funny about it. Try brainstorming your brand’s attributes, benefits, product use cases, industry quirks, even your product weaknesses—and then see if you can make unexpected and comical connections between them and your audience, competitors, recent trends, adjacent industries—get creative! You can use any of these elements to craft chuckle-worthy content.

Canned Laughter? No, Cannes Lions.

For instance, Zendesk, a customer service software provider, used a common customer service pain point—annoying support agent calls—as the basis for their funny “Sh*t Support Agents Say” video.

Love Cheetos but not orange-stained fingers? Same. But you can even poke fun at your own product limitations like these. In fact, doing so won Cheetos a 2021 Cannes Lion for their digital, social and out-of-home campaign that was based on exactly that: the (now iconic?) orange powder stain. You could say they created campaign success that was hard to…touch.

Even if you represent a more typically “dry” industry like materials engineering or healthcare, you can still generate solid results with humorous campaigns. In one study, a funny and a non-funny healthcare ad went head to head in a split test—and the funny one won, increasing time spent, credibility and message recall, no joke.

2. Know Your Form of Funny

But which kind of humor will work best for your brand? Because there are different ways to be funny in marketing—to different effects. Let’s take a look at some of them, with examples.

Light Humor – Sometimes a chuckle is just as good as a guffaw when it comes to making an emotional connection and delighting your audience. Light humor is more about being playful in your tone as opposed to landing a zinger of a punchline, like Bank of America’s “Can’t Stop Banking” video that poked gentle fun at the phenomenon of being on our phones.

Deadpan – Using deadpan humor can create a doozy of an impact. It’s a dry-wit display of emotional neutrality, usually contrasting a highly emotional moment—like Allstate’s Mayhem campaign (unleashing untold mayhem for competitors trying to keep up, no doubt). That Dollar Shave Club video mentioned earlier? Also deadpan.

Observational – This is when you make fun of a recent trend, larger human condition or current event. It’s delivered as a kind of conspiratorial, winking aside that tells the audience you get it, you relate and you’re both on the inside of that joke, whether it’s Apple poking fun at “the whole work-from-home thing” or Wendy’s roasting women’s razor maker Gillette Venus with their cheeky tweet, “You’re going to love our new pink straw. It’s an extra $2.50.” Pow! Take that, pink tax!

Absurdist or Surreal (and sometimes even downright impenetrable) – This humor is about being completely illogical to make people laugh and, generally, the weirder the funnier. It works as a foil to common, everyday situations where no one expects you to go off the rails (incongruity, remember?). Think: Skittles’ exhorting you to “Contract the rainbow!” or the Old Spice guy instructing you to, “Look down, back up, where are you? You’re on a boat with the man your man could smell like” before suddenly being on a horse.

Irreverent – A close cousin of the absurd is irreverent humor. This kind of funny lacks even a smidge of decorum or seriousness, instead favoring a brash, #nofilter and deliciously disrespectful breed of comedy designed to get attention and make you remember it, damn it. It’s about being bold and unflinchingly funny, like the consumer budgeting app, Cleo, which tells you, “If you don’t love Cleo, it’s probably you.” Or Manscaped, a men’s grooming brand that sells “tools for the family jewels.

3. Know Your Moment

We haven’t even scratched the surface of all the ways you can be funny. But there are just too many kinds of humor to mention—which makes for a great segue into the problem of too much humor (see what I did there?). And, incredible, I know, but there really is a limit to making people laugh, as I’ve proven (that was meta-irony, by the way).

Indeed, one Twitter study found that 50% of people surveyed think that over-reliance on humor comes off as outdated. So it’s important to find moments for strategic levity, such as a singular campaign or a single asset like a video, banner ad or landing page—or even just a single component of those assets, like a hilarious headline, asinine aside, cheeky CTA or funny footnote. You can even have just an amusing brand name without the rest of your content is particularly comical. Remember, your mission is to surprise and delight—and you can’t do that if every line is a zinger.

Even if your verbal branding strategy is based on a uniquely hilarious brand voice, be judicious in its expression and the frequency of the funny so you don’t lose focus, attention, credibility…or your audience. Video is an ideal place to start. In fact, funny videos are the likeliest to go viral, like when had hellishly good fun with their “When Satan Met 2020” video (absurdist meets observational for those following along)—and generated some heavenly results, like 6.7 million views.

You Don’t Need a Ladder to Reach Funnier Heights…or Do You?

And, as we’ve seen, funny videos don’t just work for industries like online dating, which, okay, some might say is low-hanging fruit. Murphy Ladder isn’t an overtly funny brand…all the time. But they found a way (not to mention the most irresistibly irreverent actor) to make a product video literally hit you in the face with funny instead of beating you over the head with bland brand messaging.

Speaking of brand messaging, again—you can build an entire verbal brand strategy around humor. You’ve seen all the great reasons to do so. But before you do, you’ll need to apply rigor and a methodical approach (seriously, get downright pedantic) to defining your brand of humor, its expression, the principles underpinning it, and its guidelines, so your brand copywriters and communicators know exactly how to be funny while being firmly on-brand and on-strategy.


Get the Last Laugh!

Not sure? Start small and run simple A/B tests, try some focus groups, or run qualitative and, hell, even quantitative studies to understand what’s working and why. And whatever you do, commit to it—the only thing worse than being un-funny is Frankenstein-ing a campaign or piece of content with half-baked humor. Now, get out there and make people smile!

Given how effective humor is, it’s funny more marketers don’t use it. If you’re afraid—don’t be. Literally half of your customers want you to give them funny ads. All it takes is a super deep understanding of your audience, your brand of humor and your moment.


How Brand-Demand Love Wins Across the Marketing Lifecycle

The second post of a series about integrating brand and demand marketing capabilities to win in a complex and dynamic landscape, based on our conversations with CMOs across industries.

As we highlighted in the first post in our Brand-Demand Love series, we think it’s time for a more integrated and complementary relationship between brand and demand-gen marketing. Why? Because the current separation isn’t aligned to the dynamic purchase behaviors of consumers across an increasingly complex landscape. As Karla Davis, VP of Marketing at Ulta Beauty, told us:

“What is brand, and what is demand? That’s a little gray now.”

Karla Davis, VP of Marketing at Ulta Beauty

When accomplished senior marketers question the validity and usefulness of the traditional brand-demand paradigm – and many do – then surely, it’s time for a new model. After all, the effective coordination of brand and demand-gen activation strategies represents an integrated and agile marketing capability – the gold standard amongst marketing pros.

Feeling the Brand-Demand Love Across the Marketing Lifecycle

Brand and demand-gen activation cannot be viewed as separate or competing functions, but rather as interdependent and mutually reinforcing capabilities that comprise the core of the overall customer experience.

Each set of tactics has a significant role in attracting buyers and strengthening relationships at every step of the customer journey and across the entire lifecycle. But, taking the perspective of marketers, it’s easy to see why the brand-demand balance is fluid. When considering marketing activation investments, companies might adjust their orientation as:

  • Brand-led
  • Demand-led
  • Balanced

As business objectives evolve and companies navigate distinct phases of maturity, the optimal marketing approach will vary. For instance, a brand needing to differentiate from a competitive pack may need to be brand-led to generate awareness and consideration, while a business undergoing a portfolio launch, expansion or refresh may have more balanced brand-demand priorities.

For businesses focused on customer acquisition or market share gains, demand-led models will serve their immediate priorities in tandem with brand campaigns. Many direct-to-consumer brands, unique in their offerings, initially focused on acquisition only to shift towards brand marketing as their category became crowded. Mature organizations that find themselves at a point of market saturation and businesses without fully defined offers will both rely on brand-led marketing efforts to develop, sustain and enhance customer relationships.

Learning from Airbnb

Airbnb’s decision to cease all demand generation activities coming out of the pandemic suggests just how much the brand-demand pendulum can swing. When the pandemic shut down all travel, the company eliminated its marketing activation spend, which totaled $1.62 billion in 2019. As lockdown restrictions eased, Airbnb saw most of its traffic return to pre-pandemic levels, prior to re-investing in marketing activation campaigns.

“I don’t anticipate doing a lot of incentives because we have a huge amount of demand for the service already,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told CNBC. “We are never going to spend the amount of money on [demand] marketing as a percentage of revenue as we did before the pandemic [because] our brand’s incredibly strong.”

Not every brand is Airbnb, of course, and it’s far more common for brand marketing spending to get in the crosshairs of budget cutters. The brand-demand mix is fluid for large and small marketing organizations. Other companies will find they need a different balance at different moments within their growth curves and maturity cycles.

External factors also play a role in defining the right balance at the right time. Social issues, including diversity and inclusion and climate change, are leading some companies to deploy brand spending to align with important causes.  Ashley Laporte, director at the communications firm RALLY explained her company’s approach as “Less about cause marketing, and more about helping companies take part in driving systemic change.” Taking positions that consumers support may lead to some increase in demand, but it will be hard to attribute sales directly to, say, thought leadership regarding a company’s commitment to net-zero admissions.

Another CMO in the manufacturing industry said she wanted “credit from business leaders, the board and institutional investors” for effectively positioning the brand relative to these issues, especially since it made the business more attractive to rising generations of workers.  An industry analyst told us, “Brands are being tortured with the cultural and societal unrest that’s out there,” and not just because investments related to these tricky issues are extraordinarily hard to measure.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Mastering the brand-demand mix means being flexible and committing to making necessary adjustments over time, like those that take place across the course of loving relationships. One partner’s needs may take precedence during a certain phase of life, but afterward, things rebalance as conditions change. It’s never exactly 50-50 (or 60-40 as in the famous Binet & Field model for budget allocation, which we’ll explore in more detail in a future post). Such a rigid formula may cause opportunities to be missed and doesn’t match the real world, where marketers must continuously adjust based on changing market conditions and business needs.

The new research report, “Brand and Demand: A Love Story” is here! Learn how today’s Brand and Demand Generation leaders are bringing their functions together to drive greater impact.
Download today!


We suggest speaking the “language of love” to business leaders and other stakeholders who struggle to see beyond the numbers in evaluating the merits of brand investments. The key is to connect business objectives to the power and resonance of brand. Marketers that can bring empathy and emotional intelligence to these conversations will be more likely to find supportive partners – and isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

In our next post, we look more closely at proven principles for shaping effective go-to-market strategies – the “vows of the brand-demand marriage.”

Get in touch today if you’d like to learn how to bring brand and demand together to win across the full marketing lifecycle.


Into the Metaverse: How Should Brands Engage Today?

It’s not quite here. But brands need to know whether they intend to tiptoe, dabble or dive right into Web 3.0.

Many of us have been living in a world that feels a bit like Microsoft’s metaverse for the past two years. From Outlook and Teams to LinkedIn and Xbox, Microsoft has built a growing network of digital experiences that keep many of us in its ecosystem throughout much of daily life.

While the experiences don’t yet connect to form the fully immersive digital world deemed a “metaverse” it’s clear they are well-positioned to become a key player. Recently, this ecosystem got a monumental reinforcement in the form of the biggest acquisition in the company’s history: A near $70B acquisition of Activision Blizzard, one of the largest video game developers and publishers in the world. Through this move, the embattled Activision Blizzard will receive a lifeline from Microsoft in exchange for the developer’s hits, including “Call of Duty,” “World of Warcraft” and “Candy Crush.”

Microsoft is not the first tech firm to make a significant move toward the metaverse, with digital players increasingly positioning for this future. From Facebook rebranding their parent company to Meta, to Snap acquiring a host of augmented reality companies, many digital companies see the metaverse as the next frontier.

These companies are recognizing the significant shift in how consumers are engaging with digital platforms and are placing huge value on the impact these platforms can have with Gen Z and beyond. But with the metaverse arms race accelerating and the benefits of digital engagements clear, how can brands win in these new worlds as they continue to develop?

Brands Building Digital DNA

As the metaverse continues to unfold, brands shouldn’t wait to start engaging. Early adopters will earn an advantage by diving in with the platforms today, building native credibility in a market skeptical of brands, while gaining a competitive edge on brands that are slower to adopt this next frontier.

Brands that wait until the platform reaches consumer saturation will not drive incremental benefit beyond that of an additional ad channel – the opportunity in the metaverse is much more significant. There is no better way to prepare your brand for the future than to jump in now and refine your digital strategy and presence as you go.

To help with this transition, Prophet has identified three key brand strategy questions to consider:

How Can Your Brand Meet a Need in Consumers’ Digital Lives?

Brands entering these virtual worlds shed their physical limitations and have an opportunity to rethink the value they provide to their consumers. The companies that win in this space are the ones that create experiences to meet a need within this digital ecosystem while reinforcing the brand equity strengths carried through from the physical world.

Nike was able to answer this question in preparation for the introduction of NIKELAND on Roblox, clearly identifying that they would be able to support consumers in digitally expressing themselves, both in lifestyle and clothing.

How Might Your Brand Come to Life Within a New Digital Environment?

The metaverse creates immersive opportunities for brands to build relationships in real-time, beyond the bounds of the sequential conversations that dominate social media. In the metaverse, brands must be wholly authentic and dynamically engaging – and the ones able to strategically translate their voice, imagery and experiences into this context will earn new levels of consumer favor.

While AI-based conversational technology is yet to be widely utilized by brands, we can look to advanced virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Samsung’s Bixby for inspiration on how brands will soon be capable of continuous, real-time conversations with consumers. These dynamic and infinite touchpoints will demand continuous on-strategy voice and tone to build brands within these new platforms.

Ultimately, How is Your Brand Going to Commercialize the Metaverse?

Commercialization in these digital spaces goes beyond anything possible today. It’s more than just selling products – digital engagements provide an unparalleled opportunity for collaborations and completely immersive branded experiences on platforms where creators have the most power.

As augmented reality blurs the lines between reality and technology, brands will have unprecedented context for consumers’ daily lives and will need to commercialize themselves in ways that feel authentic and value-added. When brands overstep their bounds or present themselves in overly commercialized or sales-focused contexts, consumers will perceive the integrations as creepy and reject the offerings entirely.

“The companies that win in this space are the ones that create experiences to meet a need within this digital ecosystem while reinforcing the brand equity strengths carried through from the physical world.”


Metaverse-defining moves like Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard will only accelerate as both big tech incumbents and forward-thinking startups converge in this next evolution of our internet.

Prophet’s Technology, Media and Telecom team has partnered with metaverse pioneers, and we’d love to help you think through these key questions as you consider your brand’s strategy within these new worlds. Whether you’re a traditionally analog brand looking to connect with Gen Z or a digitally native brand accelerating growth through new channels, let’s chat about how you can become a leader in this next phase of digital consumption.


Coming Soon: Winners in our 2022 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®

Get ready for a shakeup. Consumer post-pandemic perceptions are redefining relevance.

Mark your calendars, brand watchers. We are getting ready to release our seventh edition of the Prophet Brand Relevance Index®, and it’s full of surprises. Without giving too much away, we can tell you that we have 96 new brands in the study this year, many of which landed in our top 50 brands. And as we’ve seen in previous years, relevance continues to be a key driver of growth – with the top brands outpacing the average growth rate in the S&P 500.

The new crop of winners shows that while relevance has always been a moving target, two years of seismic shifts in consumer behavior have solidified the way people adopt and abandon brands. And these changes go far beyond the obvious. Of course, digital matters more than ever. And we can see brands that have made intelligent moves to meet these cultural moments are those making the biggest gains.

For the second year in a row, that’s meant honoring how much time people are spending at home. It’s not just where the heart is—it is where the head is, where the body is, where everything is. And so, it is no surprise that every single brand in our top twenty-five represents an aspect of our home life. And a number of brands in the top 50 show that as the pandemic evolves and confidence builds, people are itching to come out of hibernation.

But more importantly, our brand thought leaders discovered that new patterns of relevance are emerging. The team includes:

“We’ve found that the four components underpinning our relevance research are as meaningful as ever,” says Mulvihill. “Brands still derive their relevance from customer obsession, ruthless pragmatism, pervasive innovation and distinctive inspiration. Yet as we continue to refine the science of relevance and interpret post-pandemic changes, these components express themselves in new ways.” Based on responses from 13,500+ U.S. consumers, we looked at 293 brands in 27 categories. We’ve discovered that brands are finding success in our new normal by connecting with us through three distinct avenues.

Brands that solve life’s frustrating problems are leading the first path to relevance. These ruthlessly pragmatic, pervasively innovative brands stand out by fueling the current need for self-reliance and DIY confidence. As we recalibrate our routines through this increasingly digital life, we choose only the best support staff. We want appliances, products and services that are smart enough to enable a new reality spent mostly at home.

“Brands that solve life’s frustrating problems are leading the first path to relevance.”

Others win us over almost by magic, increasing relevance by speaking more to people’s hearts than their heads. Customer obsessed and distinctively inspired, these are the names that turn customers into fans, loyalists and collectors. Devotion and demand like this are born from experiences that make people feel good about themselves, whether by providing easy access to escape or luxury that makes us feel alive and special.

Then there are those relentlessly relevant all-stars that somehow do both, hitting us simultaneously in the head and the heart. It’s because they are easily personalized, making us feel like they actually know us. They connect us to our families, work and the world. They help us discover communities of others who share the same passions. They fill our intimate spaces with stories and sounds from the outside. They help us fulfill our goals to find happiness and strength. These are the brands brightening the world, every single day.


“In this year’s Index we not only wanted to understand what brands are most relevant but how these brands connect with people in different ways to become indispensables,” says Brandt Jones. “By looking at the data this way we were able to uncover fascinating truths about why we make the choices we make, not only because of the pandemic’s at-home reality but because of the role different brands fill in our lives.

Want to learn more about how the most relevant brands are tapping into our heads and hearts to win over consumers? Sign up now to be the first to receive a copy of the 2022 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®.


A Guide for New CMOs

For a crash course in what to do first, plan your listening tour and ask the right questions.

Are you in a new role as chief marketer, or perhaps new to your category? This simple guide offers straightforward ideas and insights that can help you succeed.

To start, think about what you need to do in your first 100 days. It is important to consider:

  • Do I need to develop a transformation agenda?
  • Can I create a more compelling go-to-market strategy?
  • How can I make our brand more relevant to customers?
  • Are there foundational tools to put in place, such as a documented customer journey or a marketing plan?

Given the rapid change in marketing and the greater need to prove immediate impact, we help new CMOs flex the most impactful levers including content, data and digital marketing, as well as reimagine their marketing organization for the modern era of growth engine marketing.

Here’s a quick guide of what to ask, what to do and where to look in the first 100 days.

What to Ask

Asking the right questions up front can help craft the right agenda, identify potential initiatives and create an actionable roadmap. Below are six questions you should explore with your team, colleagues, and agency partners.

  1. How relevant is/are your brand(s) to your most important customers and stakeholders? How relentlessly focused on the customer are insights, strategies and tactics?
  2. Is the marketing strategy aligned to the business strategy? What is marketing’s contribution to the enterprise? How do the rest of the C-suite and the board see marketing’s role?
  3. Are brand and demand priorities clear and integrated—or in competition and at odds? Is there a portfolio marketing strategy in place or is the strategy purely product-focused?
  4. How are you going to engage and empower the sales, communications and product teams? Is there a shared end-to-end customer journey? What culture of collaboration exists or doesn’t exist?
  5. What is the maturity level within the marketing organization for key digital capabilities such as customer data, content, personalization and attribution?
  6. Is your marketing team organized in the most efficient way possible and around your business priorities? How might you set up your operating model?


What to Do

Here are some recommended actions passed on from other leaders, proven to get you on solid footing and off to a smart start.

1. Schedule your listening tour

Meet with your direct reports and colleagues across the organization, and ask these questions: What do you want me to create? What do you need me to protect? What do you need me to prioritize? Be sure to share back the results and your plan.

2. Create these CMO assets

  • Introduce Yourself Presentation: Prepare a “top 10 list” presentation that addresses these questions: Who are you? Why are you here? What kind of change initiative are you leading? What do you believe about marketing? What do you value? How do you like to work with others? What are your top priorities? What are key milestones for your first six months? What do you expect from your team? What can they expect from you?
  • Vision, Agenda and Roadmap: These are often created in a workshop over a few weeks with a suite of collaborations They should include a description in which the brand can fulfill the business potential, and the springboards, or starting places, that exist now. One key artifact to create is a dashboard to help track progress.
  • Growth Era Marketing Plan: This plan is a modern replacement for the integrated marketing plan and has many of the conventional elements updated for marketing’s new role as a growth engine for the enterprise. Topics include business vision, opportunities, strategies and tactics, customer data strategy, calendar, investment, and key enablers (e.g. content, technology, people, partners).

3. Work in outcomes

Translate your priority initiatives from marketing objectives to business impact. For example:

  • Reducing cost: Investing in a content strategy that leads to search engine optimization will, for the business, reduce the cost of digital marketing that may need to be done.
  • Increasing revenue: Engaging in brand and marketing campaigns that increase customer loyalty can, for the business, increase the share of wallet and customer lifetime value.
  • Improving efficiency: Improving digital experiences can be a reason for a prospective client to work with you, therefore improving the volume of incoming leads, lead quality, conversion rates and retention.
  • Product innovation: Customer insights gleaned from marketing activities and shared with product management can optimize product performance and uncover new opportunities.

Ask your teams to quantify and report their work against broader business impact, not only marketing KPIs. A dashboard that integrates marketing KPIs and business performance can help sustain that conversation and connection.

“When asked business questions (e.g. what have you delivered for the business?), don’t give marketing answers (e.g. NPS).”

Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Mastercard

Where to Look

Prophet helps new and tenured CMOs set an agenda and transform their marketing inside and out. Talk to David Novak, Mat Zucker, Marisa Mulvihill and our brand and marketing strategy teams. Here are some additional resources which might be helpful:


  • The Next CMO: A Guide to Marketing Operational Excellence, Peter Mahoney, Scott Todaro and Dan Faulkner (2020)
  • Lies, Damned Lies and Marketing: Separating Fact from Fiction and Drive Growth, Atul Minocha (2021)
  • Chief Marketing Officers at Work, Josh Steimle (2016)
  • CMO Manifesto, John Ellett (2012)
  • Owning Game-Changing Sub-Categories, David Aaker (2020)
  • Creating Signature Stories, David Aaker (2018)

Articles & Speeches



The Chief Marketing Officer is a C-suite role that can lead, shape, and help deliver uncommon growth for the organization. Marketing is evolving fast, and every leader—new or tenured—needs the mindset and toolset to stay in front.

Reach out to our brand and marketing experts for advice and support on getting started with your agenda.  Have a resource we should mention? Let us know.


Brand and Demand Marketing: A Love Story

Marketing has always been shaped by shifts in consumer behavior, expectations and technology advancements, as well as its contribution to the enterprise. As the scope and speed of such changes expand and accelerate, it is more difficult for brands to know which types of campaigns and media work best, and the growth to which marketing can contribute.  

They must make hard tradeoffs in deciding where to invest finite resources, how to differentiate amongst competitors and how ambitious they need to be as a growth engine. Are the tradeoffs—and competition between forces—helpful or harmful? 

Today’s marketing industry feels different, according to our recent candid conversations with a dozen senior marketing leaders across industries. Customers are harder to reach and engage, even though we have vastly more data and insights about them and stronger personalization tools. Budgets are tighter and internal stakeholders more demanding. Tried-and-true best practices no longer apply. There’s a sense that rules are being rewritten in real-time. The once useful “marketing funnel” concept seems less relevant given that consumer behavior changes constantly and paths to purchase are increasingly non-linear.  

As a result, many marketing organizations experience significant tension between brand marketing and demand generation – a tension we believe undercuts growth and harms performance. Brand marketing typically describes long-term efforts to drive awareness of and preference for a company, product or service, while demand marketing seeks to get audiences to take action immediately (e.g., click on an offer, sign up for a newsletter).  

“This topic is one of the things that we’ve [been] trying to understand – where in the funnel do we need to spend our dollars in order to really drive business results and drive growth.”

– TD Bank, CMO

As the CMO of a challenger consumer goods brand told us, “Brand is about growing awareness and affinity over time,” while the primary objective for demand, or performance marketing, is “driving short-term conversion.”  

The “either-or” bifurcation of marketing into these categories presents huge challenges as marketers seek to optimize budget allocation, track performance and structure their teams and operations to drive uncommon growth. The worst part, the split between brand and demand generation isn’t aligned with consumers’ consumption patterns in today’s world.  

As a senior industry analyst told us, “Consumers have zero separation between the brand being communicated and their experience. In finding the right investment for brand and demand, it’s both, not versus.”  

Stop the fighting and find the love.

This article, the first in a series, is based on our recent market research with senior marketing executives and focused on the specific internal and external challenges CMOs face today related to brand and demand. These marketers also highlighted the levers they have at their disposal to create effective and integrated brand and demand strategies.  

Every marketing executive we talked to confirmed the importance of finding the right balance between brand and demand. We also heard repeatedly what a difficult balance it is to strike; everyone agrees that brand and demand efforts must be coordinated and synchronized. However, how to do this is much less clear. Despite the interdependence of brand and demand marketing, many tricky questions remain: 

  • How much impact does brand marketing have on conversion?
  • How does customer acquisition efforts influence brand perception?
  • What’s the optimal level of investment across brand and demand?
  • How can brand and demand show up most effectively across channels?

“This topic comes up all the time, in the B2B context, the brand piece is a hard sell because our team doesn’t understand why it’s important.”

– Trane Technologies, SVP of Marketing

In our brand and demand blog series, we explore this important conversation with a modern lens, examining how marketers can embrace the brand-demand love. Specifically, we’ll cover:  

  • The seasons of love: Understand why brand and demand are meant to be together and how they can overcome obstacles to love across the marketing lifecycle – we’re playing a long game 
  • Writing the vows: Set a strong strategic foundation, because every brand-demand marriage needs a rock-solid foundation of what it stands for and how it will approach the market – when to say “I do” and when “I don’t” 
  • Shared finances: Create shared goals and an investment agenda, define smarter metrics for allocating the shared pocketbook, or budget, and track the performance of those shared investments – brand and demand should not fight about money 
  • Setting up the household: Determine how to organize teams and build the right capabilities – brand and demand need a comfortable nest 

The new research report, “Brand and Demand: A Love Story” is here! Learn how today’s Brand and Demand Generation leaders are bringing their functions together to drive greater impact.
Download today!


We think it’s time for brand and demand to stop thinking of themselves as competing interests fighting for the same precious resources. Rather, they must be complementary companions with a shared agenda and intertwined goals. We believe it’s time for brand and demand to fall in love because together, they are the ultimate power couple to build relevance and unlock uncommon growth.   

Get in touch today if you’d like to learn how to bring brand and demand together to unleash the full power of your business.


Brand Breakthroughs: What to Expect in 2022

As brand spending makes a comeback, we think the branding discipline is in for a big, big year.

Get ready, brand strategists – 2022 is going to be your year. The last 18 months have been packed with plot twists, creating new opportunities for better brand activations and experiences. And it’s not just the progression of the pandemic, supply-chain challenges, rising inflation or ever-more-digital consumers that’s caused this shift.

It’s that authenticity matters more as people struggle to absorb all those changes. They’re switching buying behaviors and brands at an unprecedented level. One recent study finds that 75% of consumers have shopped in a new way, with 36% trying a new brand.

To keep customers and attract new ones, companies need to prove they support the greater good in a way that’s unique to their brand. That’s terrible news for brands not actively building and delivering against an authentic purpose that consumers can believe and relate to. But this approach offers wide-open growth avenues for those that can find better ways to connect with customers. We expect the savviest brands to lean hard into these five trends in 2022:

Brand Spending Makes a Comeback

Companies are increasingly aware that they can’t earn customer loyalty without a clear brand identity. There’s just too much noise in the market, and too many options for consumers to choose from.

Clear communication about what a company stands for requires investing in a well-defined brand identity and awareness. How can companies expect to make connections if their target audience is unclear about what they are? We expect to see a greater focus on brand with more dollars shifting –often from the demanding budget – into brand building. Additional resources will allow marketers to ensure brand efforts are clear, inspirational and delivered with energy.

We even think brand and demand may stop fighting and find love, as the two resolve tensions and work together in harmony. CMOs will develop integrated models where brand –the long-term efforts to drive awareness –and demand – which seeks to get audiences to act immediately – are synchronized with shared agendas and intertwined goals.

Got Purpose? Prove it, and Make Sure it Benefits the Planet

For years, we’ve known that consumers are increasingly choosing brands with a higher-order purpose – they want to buy from companies that make a difference in the world. This year, they’ll expect brands to put their money where their mouth is. They’ll want action, like Lush leaving social media because it’s become toxic for their customers, or Nike, investing tens of millions in countering systemic racism.

Sustainability and environmental concerns are especially important. Too often, companies isolate ESG and DEI policies, but they need to become central to brand purpose – a golden thread that winds through every aspect of the organization. ESG and DEI aren’t just about mitigating risks. These efforts add value to everything the company does.

“To keep customers and attract new ones, companies need to prove they support the greater good in a way that’s unique to their brand.”

Whether companies like it or not, protecting the planet is the No. 1 concern for both Gen Z and millennial audiences. Led by firebrands like 18-year-old environmentalist Greta Thunberg and 21-year-old gun-control activist David Hogg many see themselves as warriors acting to protect the planet. These young consumers can spot green or virtue-washing efforts from miles away and will punish companies that get it wrong.

All Digital? Nope. Never

Once upon a time, the business world envied those digitally native direct-to-consumer brands and the way they dinged the dinosaurs who shopped in brick-and-mortar stores. But with the defeat of Casper in the public markets, it’s clear omnichannel rules, and those D2C darlings have stampeded toward the mall. Warby Parker, Glossier, Allbirds and Wayfair are all proving that ­humans like to look, touch and feel what they’re buying.

Led by companies like Apple, Lululemon, Nike and Samsung, this trend toward experiential retail is already strong and will continue to grow. Levi Strauss & Co., for example, is opening 100 new stores this year, and Lego intends to open 174 new locations.

While people know they don’t need actual stores to transact, they do need them for experiences – especially as consumers long for post-pandemic connections. People have spent the last 18 months re-evaluating many priorities. They’ve learned that they love digital for cutting down on the drudgery in their lives, like grocery shopping and banking, so they can focus on the experiences that mean the most to them.

They do, however, want to experience products before purchasing, especially in certain categories, and we expect to see more brands open physical spaces.

The Decline of the Mega Brand

After decades of consolidation, conglomerates are starting to see the benefits of breaking up. With a CEO openly mocking the myth of synergy, GE is leading the way, followed by Johnson & Johnson and Toshiba Corp. More will follow as companies increasingly challenge the belief that one brand can work in many markets, and that bigger is always better.

Companies are asking themselves the hard questions: Can we continue to use a single brand, expecting it to be equally meaningful among different verticals, markets and customers? Is that one brand universally credible? And if not, when is time to switch that strategy?

Facebook’s recent decision to become Meta, illustrates another facet of this trend: More brands may increase a company’s agility, allowing it to pivot in more precise (and perhaps even more affordable) ways.

Midlife Crises Spark Unicorn Reinvention

Remember all those companies we admired back when BlackBerry dominated the market? Twitter (founded in 2006), Airbnb (2008), Pinterest (2009) and Instagram (2010) are all middle-aged now. No longer the cool kids, they need a refresher course in disruption. As they revisit purpose, they need to better understand empowered consumers and find new growth channels. How and where can they innovate as they face younger rivals?

To keep up, they’ll need creative Web 3.0 pivots. We’re already used to watching elderly unicorns struggle. Google used its transition to Alphabet to age gracefully, but once-huge tech brands, such as Jawbone, GoPro and Groupon, have languished from lost relevance. We expect plenty of big news and at least a few missteps as these almost-old digital natives reinvent themselves.


With all the disruption of the last few years, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that brands can’t sit on their laurels. They need to be actively thinking about their next move. To stay relevant with consumers and drive new growth opportunities, brands must be thinking about the future and be prepared to reinvent themselves to meet the moment.

Get in touch to learn more about we help our clients achieve uncommon growth through brand-driven transformation.


Brand Equity vs. Brand Value: What’s the Difference?

Each offers a different way to increase loyalty, but require different metrics.

  • Brand equity refers to the importance of a brand in the customer’s eyes, while brand value is the financial significance the brand carries. Both brand equity and brand value are educated estimates of how much a brand is worth.

What’s the Difference Between Brand Equity & Brand Value?

Brand equity and brand value are similar, but not the same. Oftentimes, there is confusion around how each differs so let’s look at exactly what each means:

Brand Equity

Brand equity is a set of assets or liabilities in the form of brand visibility, brand associations and customer loyalty that add or subtract from the value of a current or potential product or service driven by the brand. It is a key construct in the management of not only marketing but also business strategy.

In the late 1980s, brand equity helped create and support the explosive idea that brands are assets that drive business performance over time. That idea altered perceptions of what marketing does, who does it, and what role it plays in business strategy.

Brand equity also altered the perception of brand value by demonstrating that a brand is not only a tactical aid to generate short-term sales, but also strategic support to a business strategy that will add long-term value to the organization.

Brand Value

Brand value, on the other hand, is the financial worth of the brand. To determine brand value, businesses need to estimate how much the brand is worth in the market – in other words, how much would someone purchasing the brand pay?

It is important to note that a positive brand value does not automatically equal positive brand equity.

How Should Brand Equity & Brand Value Be Measured?

While measuring brand value is fairly straightforward, the process for brand equity is not quite so simple. Brand equity is a set of assets or liabilities in the form of brand visibility, brand associations and customer loyalty that add or subtract from the value of a current or potential product or service driven by the brand. Here we’ll dive into each.

Brand Visibility

This means that the brand has awareness and credibility with respect to a particular customer need—it is relevant. If a customer is searching for a buying option and the brand does not come to mind, or if there is some reason that the brand is perceived to be unable to deliver adequately, the brand will not be relevant and not be considered.

Brand Associations

Brand associations involve anything that created a positive or negative relationship with or feelings toward the brand. It can be based on functional benefits but also a brand personality, organizational values, self-expressive benefits, emotional benefits or social benefits.

Customer Loyalty

Customer loyalty provides a flow of business for current and potential products from customers that believe in the value of the brand’s offerings and will not spend time evaluating options with lower prices. The inclusion of loyalty in the conceptualization of brand equity allows marketers to justify giving loyalty priority in the brand-building budget.

Driving Brand Value in the Short Term

The value of a brand represents its impact on the short-run and long-run flow of profits that it can generate. With respect to short-term profitability, the problem is that programs that are very good at driving short-run products – like price promotions – can damage brands.

Looking at the ways a brand can help drive short-term financial performance can help mitigate this tendency:

Brand Loyalty

  • Reduced Marketing Costs
  • Trade Leverage
  • Attracting New Customers via Awareness & Reassurance
  • Time to Respond to Competitive Threats

Brand Visibility

  • Anchor to Which Other Associations Can Be Attached
  • Familiarity Which Leads to Liking
  • Visibility That Helps Gain Consideration
  • Signal of Substance/Commitment

Brand Associations

  • Helps Communicate Information
  • Differentiate/Position
  • Reason-to-Buy
  • Create Positive Attitude/Feelings
  • Basis for Extensions

Improving Brand Value in the Long-Run

One of the ongoing challenges of brand equity proponents is to demonstrate that there is long-term value in creating brand equity. The basic problems are that brand is only one driver of profits, completive actions intervene, and strategic decisions cannot wait for years.

There are, however, some perspectives that can be employed to understand and measure the long-term value of brand equity:

Brand Value Approach #1: Estimate the Brand’s Role in Business

One approach is to estimate the brand’s role in a business. The value of a business in a product market such as the Ford Fiesta in the UK market is estimated based on discounting future earnings. The tangible and intangible assets are identified and the relative role of the brand is subjectively estimated by a group of knowledgeable people, taking into account the business model and any information about the brand in terms of its relative visibility, associations and customer loyalty.

The value of the brand is then aggregated over products and markets countries to determine a value for the brand.  It can range from 10 percent for B2B brands to over 60 percent for brands like Jack Daniel’s or Coca-Cola.

Brand Value Approach #2: Observe Investments in Brand Equity

A second approach is to observe that, on average, investments in brand equity increase stock return, the ultimate measure of a long-term return on assets. Evidence comes from a series of studies I conducted with Professor Robert Jacobson of the University of Washington, using time series data which included information on accounting-based return-on-investment (ROI) and models that sorted out the direction of causation.

The consistent finding was that the impact of increasing brand equity on stock return was nearly as great as that of an ROI change, about 70 percent as much. In contrast, advertising, also tested, had no impact on stock return except that which was captured by brand equity.

Brand Value Approach #3: Reflect on Other Valuable Brands

A third approach is to look at case studies of brands that have created enormous value. Consider, for example, the power of the Apple personality and innovation reputation, BMW’s self-expressive benefits connected to the “ultimate driving machine,” and the ability of the Whole Foods Market brand to define an entire subcategory.

Or, the fact that from 1989 to 1997 two cars were made in the same plant using the same design and materials and marketing under two brand names, Toyota Corolla and Chevrolet (GEO) Prism. The Corolla brand was priced 10% higher, had less depreciation over time, and had sales many times more than the Prizm. And consumers and experts both gave it higher ratings. The same car! Only the brand was different.

Brand Value Approach #4: Consider the Conceptual Model

It’s important to consider the conceptual model surrounding a business strategy. What is the business strategy? What is the strategic role of the brand in supporting that strategy? How critical is it? Is price competition the alternative to creating and leveraging brand equity? What impact will that have on profit streams going forward? Management guru Tom Peters said it well:

“In an increasingly crowded marketplace, fools will compete on price. Winners will find a way to create lasting value in the customer’s mind.”


Brand equity continues to be a driver of much of marketing, indeed business strategy. For it to work, it needs to be understood conceptually and operationally. And it is important that it be tied to brand value in credible ways.

Discover how Prophet helps companies establish a brand strategy that drives business growth.


How Verbal Branding Can Amplify Your Transformation

Story-telling, innovation and personalization all help differentiate, deliver and win in the market.

With rising customer expectations, companies across industries are investing in innovative experiences, digital marketing capabilities, and organizational change to attract and retain talent. But with fast-moving timelines and competing demands, they can’t always invest in storytelling, a key component in influencing and driving change.

Verbal branding—or the strategic deployment of language through tools like voice, messaging, content strategy and copy—plays a key role in optimizing the return on these investments, ensuring companies make thoughtful choices about their communications in these high-impact moments.

In this article, we offer three imperatives for organizations to consider when using their verbal branding to differentiate, deliver their promise, and win in the market.

Meet Customers’ Expectations for Personalized, Connected Communications

More and more, customers expect a consistent experience across channels – from mentioning a brand on Twitter to calling customer service. They expect their interactions to be seamless, with one channel easily picking up a conversation started in another (for example, starting in a chatbot and following up by phone—these two interactions use different systems but are ideally connected by a centralized customer data platform to create a unified customer picture). In short, customers want brands to recognize them as the same person across different channels and interactions.

While these channels and interactions have different formats, functions and requirements, they need to feel creatively and strategically cohesive. The implication for brands is ensuring that all these channels—whether automated or human-enabled—are on-voice and on-message.

But cohesive doesn’t necessarily mean uniform. The best service interactions modulate based on user sentiment. They can sense excitement, frustration, confusion, and adapt as needed. This can be achieved through both human and digital capability.

For example, it can be as simple as empowering call center reps with cues on how to identify customer archetypes based on emotion and providing discrete service journeys and scripts for them. This is particularly important for industries that customers approach with sensitivity or trepidation, such as financial services or healthcare.

“Verbal branding plays a key role in optimizing the return on these investments, ensuring companies make thoughtful choices about their communications in these high-impact moments.”

At the same time, brands using natural language processing tools, such as in-chatbot experiences, can similarly “train” their Natural Language Processing (NLP) tool to not only identify the customer’s desired “job to be done,” but to detect underlying emotion and adapt responses accordingly. For example, a chatbot that can sense a customer’s frustration about a delayed order, offer sympathy and quickly route them to live chat support, can help repair the customer’s brand perception in a tenuous moment.

Invest in Innovation—and its Expression

While many companies prioritize investing in new products and experiences, sometimes they don’t consider the importance of the words used to guide their audiences through them.

Rather than viewing product and expression as separate steps in the process, they should be developed in tandem as complementary assets, working together to shape how customers interact with and perceive the brand. Effective verbal expression (in this case, UX writing) bridges the gap between the layout and usability of the product.

Regardless of how brilliantly developed the product is, without clear and engaging written cues, the audience (customers or employees) may struggle to use or navigate it. More broadly, however, approaching innovation solely through a product lens misses an opportunity to embody the brand’s verbal identity. Effective copy can help a brand make a human connection with users that’s often not possible through design alone.

Brands should develop on-voice UX writing that has clear user goals in mind and reflects the likely emotional mindset of customers at various stages of their journey. Using this approach, copy can help drive self-progression or clarify complex topics in an engaging, on-brand manner—without disrupting the experience.

Brands that harness the strategic prowess of UX writing will excel at forming closer bonds with customers over brands who merely prioritize function in their innovations.

Use Storytelling to Galvanize Employees Around a Shared Vision, Meet Mandates and Drive Retention

The “Big Quit” is upon us. In an increasingly competitive talent market following a year that has upended what work looks like, employee expectations are rapidly changing. To meet this upheaval, impactful verbal expression can play a vital role in shaping experiences that respond to employee needs and catapult desired organizational change.

From crafting a meaningful shared vision to galvanizing employee sentiment, retaining key talent and attracting prospective candidates, transformational organization change requires a comprehensive accompanying voice and messaging strategy.

For example, how might we excite employees about new innovations? Inspire employees to care about new internal initiatives? Bring new hires into the corporate culture and values? Present a compelling case for change?

Like customers, employees are not a monolith. Different customer segments have different needs and respond to different ways of messaging. Companies with robust customer segmentation strategies can take the same approach with their employees, creating targeted messaging to meet specific employee audience group needs.

Taking a strategic messaging approach allows brands to connect external brand ambition to internal employee communication and experience, ultimately aligning the organization behind shared ambition, values, and purpose.


Words shape how we see and experience the world. Now more than ever, verbal branding can play a crucial role in driving and amplifying transformational change. To capitalize on this opportunity, brands should prioritize verbal expression when shaping service and support channels, developing new product experiences and engaging employees along the way.


2021 Brand Winners and Losers: From Taylor Swift to Billionaires in Space

Colleagues helped me name seven brands that won the year, and five brands that simply blew it.

Just a year ago, I talked about how 2020 was unprecedented for so many reasons. And 2021 seems to be a “rinse and repeat” of the same themes, relative to the brands that showed up to surprise and delight us, as well those that failed or disappointed us. Once again, I turned to my 500 Prophet colleagues around the globe to help decide which brands won and which lost.

There was a lot to chew on. In a year when Square turned into a Block, Facebook became Meta and the Cleveland Indians transformed into the Guardians, the debates got intense.

For instance, last year’s clear-cut winner, Peloton, got votes on both sides. Is it a winner because people still love it? Or a loser since it just slashed its annual sales forecast by $1 billion, as more consumers head back to the gym? Zoom, another of last year’s winners, continues to be as integral to people’s workday as that second cup of coffee–and is on its way to becoming a leading tech sector brand.

Many mentioned the streaming wars, which rose to a whole new level. There’s the introduction of Paramount Plus. HBO Max is taking a gamble, streaming new theatrical releases, like “The Many Saints of Newark.” And then there’s Netflix, which may have seen new subscriptions levels drop but also saw “Squid Games” become the most popular show in its history, pulling in an astonishing 1.65 billion hours of viewing in just 28 days.

Some of our favorite ‘new’ everyday brands went public, including Sweetgreen, Roblox, ZipRecruiter and Instacart, while many crypto brands saw their market value aspire toward FANG territory, only to correct themselves dramatically.  Every year, we think we’ve reached the apex of DTC brands, only to have us see another set of stellar performers. This year, those stars include Away, the ever-expanding Bombas, weight loss king Noom and the “lit” cosmetic world of ColourPop and Glossier.

And while everyone wants to pounce on Facebook renaming itself as Meta (and this would be an easy one to put on our brand loser list) as a colossal misstep, we do think the jury’s still out and want to revisit this a year from now. It’s a strategy that’s worked well for Alphabet and Google and, if they pull off the idea of taking us all into the next digital era, exploring augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies, while working deeply on the many issues facing the brand, this could be a different story a year from now

“Every year, we think we’ve reached the apex of DTC brands, only to have us see another set of stellar performers.”

We also took a close look at the sports betting business. While it’s currently dominated by FanDuel, followed by DraftKings, newcomer Caesars Sportsbook is also making a splash, vowing to spend $1 billion to build its fan base. That includes a deal putting its logo on the jerseys of the NHL’s Washington Capitals. Speaking of sports, we still embrace our love/hate relationship with Tom Brady as both the GOAT/Sports Illustrated Person of the Year, as well as becoming an increasingly influential commercial representative…see his star turn in Hertz’s new Tesla ads.

Finally, we still love our LEGO as it continues to lead the way in reducing gender bias and increasing inclusive play. We also love Target for putting the permanent kibosh on Black Friday, starting on Thanksgiving. Rarely do airlines get a mention, but three cheers to United Airlines for becoming the first to make vaccines mandatory, the first to fly passengers using 100% sustainable aviation fuel and the first to ensure that 50% of its flight school students are women or people of color. We also have to give kudos to Sesame Street, one of my favorite clients from a few decades ago, in continuing to give us all timely lessons on how to deal with racial challenges, inclusivity, diversity and empathy. It’s a brand that is as ageless as it is wise.

Now that we are done with the warmup act, let’s get into the winners and losers for 2021.

The Brand Winners

Moderna and Pfizer

It’s no surprise that Merriam-Webster named “vaccination” as the word of the year, injecting people everywhere with much-needed hope. Moderna and Pfizer top our list. (Johnson & Johnson misses, both because it was later for approval and because while its one-dose advantage could have been a game-changer, it suffered by being perceived as less effective.) With more than 8 billion jabs given, experts say vaccines are still our best shot at stemming the ongoing global health crisis and these two brands continue to lead the charge.


TikTok is now so much more than the 1 billion monthly users who vibe with its dance challenges or laugh with its happy pranksters or wiseass dachshunds. TikTok directly influences all forms of entertainment, all forms of business and pretty much everything in between. Just a few years removed from Lil Nas X and his Old Town Road becoming the O.G. for viral musical successes, TikTok creators used Adele’s Easy On Me in almost one million videos in the first month after its release, helping it go viral on the app alone. To say that TikTok has become the No. 1 global influencing platform would be the understatement of the year.

Feeding America

I’ve never put a nonprofit on the list of winners. But Feeding America continues to astound us with its rapid growth, canny corporate partnerships and ability to connect people even in these divisive times. It’s grim, but the U.S. is finally hunger woke, recognizing that 38 million people, including 12 million children, are food insecure. Feeding America’s brand makes it easier to help and, potentially, see an end to hunger at some point in our lifetime.

Tesla (again)

In a year when many automakers saw sales decline due to supply-chain shortages, Tesla sales hit new records. And with revenues and profits that are beating analysts’ expectations, its soaring market value shows just how deeply people love the house that Elon built. Even more amazing? While Tesla’s cars still rank nearly last in reliability surveys, it sped past Mercedes-Benz to become the third most popular luxury ride in the U.S. (Lookout, Lexus and BMW. It’s gaining.)


Think of it as the anti-Nike, with the determination to move in on Lululemon and the athleisure market. This Gap-owned retailer welcomed high-profile athletes like runner Allyson Felix and gymnast Simone Biles, who publicly broke with Nike over its treatment of women athletes. And, with the Power of She campaign, it’s winning with teens–and well on its way to becoming a $2 billion brand by 2023.

Taylor Swift

Demonstrating that she’s one of the best marketers in the business, the singer struck back against the music machine by re-engineering 2012’s “Red” album, igniting her fan base and winning new admirers. The centerpiece is a 10-minute version of the heartbreaking “All Too Well,” which became the longest song ever to reach Billboard’s No. 1. (Adios, “American Pie.”) We’ll just quote Ms. Magazine here on Swift’s feminist tour de force: “Taylor Swift didn’t just re-record an album—she reclaimed her humanity.”


Yes, Bitcoin and cryptocurrency prices have fallen sharply recently, wiping out almost $500 million worth of value from the overall crypto market in just a few days. But cryptocurrency still had a breakout year, moving towards the mainstream. Celebrity endorsers are all in, with Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen telling us, “I’m getting into crypto with FTX. You in?” And Matt Damon is representing, which is also the new name of the Staples Center. Like electric cars and Tesla, Bitcoin still dominates any conversation about crypto.

The Brand Losers


Some of the most disturbing allegations from Facebook whistleblowing centered on Instagram. Turns out the company has known for some time how toxic the platform can be to the teens who love it, with 32% of teens saying that when they feel bad about their bodies, Instagram makes them feel worse. Concealing that, in our book, is downright shameful. With just over a billion active users, it’s not going away anytime soon. The reports are damning enough that Lush, the body care products company, recently shut down its social media accounts, saying they risk customers’ mental health.

Billionaires in Space

I’m as eager as the next person to boldly go where no human has gone before, but companies like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin show they’ve got the wrong stuff. At a time when tension between the haves the have-nots keep growing, especially within Bezos Amazon world, these ego-boosting launches are about little more than celebs in space.


We’ve always wanted to love the Chevrolet Bolt. Not only is it the second-best-selling EV brand in the U.S., but it also beat No. 1 Tesla with a genuinely mass-market EV. And its vow to be all-electric by 2035 got our attention. Then came the massive recalls for defective batteries, with severe design concerns that shut production down for weeks. Then Bolt owners got more bad news when GM advised them to park at least 50 feet away from other cars to reduce the risk that a spontaneous fire could spread.


Robinhood started as an exciting brand, promising to democratize investing. With no fees, it’s tempted 19 million new investors into the stock market, gathering $95 billion in assets under custody. But with the GameStop frenzy, it closed trading, earning the enmity of both regulators and the Reddit bros that are its customer base, with a backlash that’s still generating contempt. The move was anything but customer-centric and now the brand is paying for it.


For years, branding experts (even us, sometimes) loved the way Casper, a DTC upstart, vowed to “own” sleep, with showrooms offering complimentary naps and ancillary products. But a year after its disastrous public offering and mounting losses, it’s gone private again. Besides illustrating its operational immaturity and brand braggadocio, it underscores the DTC dilemma. Acquiring new customers is expensive. And really, people don’t buy new mattresses all that often.


Three Branding Trends to Know for 2022

Launching products and services in new subcategories is increasing, fueled by AI and social commerce.

This year presented new challenges and unexpected surprises for brands. After 2020, companies were pushed to become more innovative to meet raised consumer expectations and behaviors around digital experiences. In 2021, consumers began to travel again, brick and mortar retailers, restaurants, entertainment venues and in-person businesses “opened up” with new rules and regulations, and employers sought creative ways to keep their employees happy amidst the “Great Resignation.” Some brands have navigated this tumultuous time better than others. Over the past year, I’ve observed three accelerating branding trends that are affecting nearly every business. The brand leaders of tomorrow are going to be riding these waves rather than swimming against them.

To make a splash in 2022, you’ll need to know these three branding trends:

1) Subcategory Competition

There is a growing trend of organizations realizing that real growth will almost always have to involve disruptive innovation, the creation of a set of “must-haves” that will define a new subcategory competition for which competitors will struggle to be relevant. It’s hard to find examples of growth surges that were not driven by subcategory creations. Consider the Prius, Tesla, Dollar Shave Club, Airbnb, Amazon Alexa, and so many more that created and leveraged new subcategories.

This trend has been put on steroids by the digital world. The emergence of IoT and AI provides new avenues for subcategory creation. The presence of social media, websites and digital communication means that the introduction of a new subcategory no longer needs expensive advertising with a long lead time. And e-commerce options avoid the need for getting a retail presence or creating or accessing a salesforce. As a result, new subcategories are now more frequent, scale faster and have a higher impact than ever before.

Implications for brands:

  • Shift some investments from incremental innovation to “big” innovations
  • Enhance your organization’s ability to recognize what is a “must-have” in the marketplace, what is not and then to act when disruptive opportunities arise
  • Understand the role of branding and build strategies to be the exemplar for the subcategory, using that brand to position, scale and build barriers to competitors

2) Higher Purpose

More and more organizations are elevating higher purposes driven by environmental and social programs, now often labeled ESG programs (social, environmental and governance). Examples are everywhere. Starbucks’ quest to inspire and nurture the human spirit “one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time” provides a way to connect that means something to customers. Patagonia, known for having environmental considerations in their heritage, in their products and in their programs, attracts customer loyalty among those that share their values.

The visibility of society problems such as global warming, inequality, unhealthy eating and living, unequal education opportunities and more have made this trend turn social efforts from “nice to haves” to strategic imperatives.

There is increased pressure from stakeholders for leaders to think beyond financials and instead prioritize creating meaningful help and shaping society. Employees, especially the younger set, have shown that they are reluctant to join or stay with organizations that lack an inspiring higher purpose. Segments of customers are looking for a relationship with brands they respect and admire for their higher purpose. Even a significant part of the investor class has “changed sides” and now evaluates the higher purpose programs as part of their investment choices.

Implications for brands:

  • Revisit your organization’s mission, purpose, values, and priorities and modify or supplement them so ESG programs can thrive
  • Develop impactful and implementable ESG programs that resonate with your organizational culture. A higher purpose cannot be empty words. To impact internally and externally, it needs to be and feel genuine with substance behind it
  • Become an active rather than passive partner in the development, implementation and measurement of the strategic communication plan
  • Facilitate the ability of the ESG program to enhance the business brand to support a long-term commitment to the social program

3) New Communication Programs

There is a growing shift from communicating facts about a brand’s offerings or programs using conventional media to finding other ways to communicate and, more generally, connect with stakeholders. Among the forces driving this trend is the reality of information overload, media clutter, disinterested audiences, and the growth of social and digital communication.

The tragic reality is that people are not interested in brand facts. They are just not. An alternative is to use research to discover what they are interested in, what activities occupy them, what they talk about and what their passions are. I call the attitudinal data the customer “sweet spot.” Find or develop content or programs around this data on interest areas with the brand as an involved partner.

Implications for brands:

Create brand communities: groups that share values, interests and activities with each other and a brand. This becomes a way to engage customers and others with the brand in a context in which the brand is not in a “selling” role. One example is the activities and social experiences of the Peloton community.

Develop a content strategy that prioritizes compelling storytelling. Stories gain attention, are remembered and avoid counterarguing. As a result, they break through the clutter and communicate in an age of major information overload.

“The future of your brand hinges on the decisions you make today.”


The future of your brand hinges on the decisions you make today. The world is evolving and changing rapidly, including how people interact with the brands around them. By prioritizing subcategory competition marketing strategies, integrating higher purpose programs into business objectives, and creating powerful stories and brand communities that communicate these efforts can help you stay ahead of the curve as we move into 2022.

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