In the Art of the Possible podcast, Peter Dixon discusses how his journey from an engineer to Chief Creative Officer helped him discover the importance of branding through art. By using the art of the possible, companies can create meaningful customer experiences.
Listen here to learn how brands can use the art of the possible to create meaningful customer experiences.
Branded Customer Experience: Three Steps to Higher Impact
The right positioning, experience principles and design parameters reinforce what is unique about your brand.
Companies have become hyper-focused on delivering frictionless customer experiences, often stripped down to the simplest elements, that brand identity has become an afterthought. With many brands using the same technology platforms and focused on the same goals of “ease” and “speed,” the experiences often begin to fade into a sea of sameness. Too often, the three clicks customers used to book a luxurious escape to a high-end resort, feels exactly the same as that of an overnight at a roadside motel.
Branded experiences remind consumers why they prefer some brands over others and reinforce unique company positioning while encouraging ongoing brand loyalty. Yes, they should be streamlined and seamless. But simple doesn’t have to mean bland. When everyone is offering speed and convenience, companies must find ways to be memorable. That’s because each customer experience, no matter what channel, is a valuable chance to gain relevance. When businesses offer experiences that feel generic, they miss opportunities to deepen connections with customers.
“Simple doesn’t have to mean bland.”
Some companies excel. No one thinks of Costco as just another supermarket – they remember all the times an enthusiastic employee has offered them a tasty free sample or satisfied their cranky toddler with a $1.50 hot dog. And who doesn’t love the way Disney’s magic band allows beloved park characters to know your child’s name without asking?
But when experiences are off-brand, they are destructive. Ask anyone who has recently flown an airline that promised safety but then crams passengers together or has shopped a fitness brand that focuses on self-care but shames larger body sizes.
Critical Connections for High-Impact Experiences
When companies produce unremarkable customer experiences, we typically find the same cause: marketing, product and experience don’t come together early enough. Instead, each group works in their individual silo and by the time they meet to “collaborate,” they’re already entrenched in less-than-ideal solutions. While all three teams are focused on customers, the internal dynamics need to align to provide more clarity on the role each plays.
To be effective, companies need to spell out:
Brand positioning: The brand strategy is the foundation of customer experience. It is what encircles every aspect of how customers meet your brand. Brand positioning delineates a brand’s purpose, promise and principles and should be internalized by employees and resonate with customers.
Experience principles: Overseen by the experience team, these carefully developed standards explain how a company delivers its brand through user experiences and categories of interactions. Experience principles are inspired by brand principles and act as a filter for what differentiates the branded customer experience from its competitors. They guide the team as they develop experience concepts and signature brand moments.
Design parameters: These are the nitty-gritty details that ensure experiences are both helpful to customers and offer genuine moments of brand connection. They guide audience-specific touchpoints, such as products, channels and service. They reflect the brand and experience at the most precise moments, like when a Chick-Fil-A employee says, “My pleasure” instead of “You’re welcome.”
These three components make up the tenets of success. When teams use them to develop projects they are no longer just functional moments —they become branded building blocks that drive emotional responses from consumers. Each parameter clicks into a growing universe of interactions, deliberately reinforcing the brand’s relevance in people’s lives.
3 Tenets of Branded Experience Design
The Three-Step Secret to Powerful Customer Experiences
There are three moves organizations can make to immediately enrich customer experiences.
Come to a High-Level Agreement on the Value of Branded Experiences: Once companies understand that these are a critical component of brand relevance, it’s easier to break down silos. Organizations can avoid tensions and increase productivity when their goal — to create memorable moments of engagement — is aligned from the beginning.
Infuse Brand Strategy in Each Step: It’s important to make the distinction that brand is not more valuable than customer experience. Though brand positioning should be considered at every level of decision-making, encouraging brand police is also not the answer. To do this, the brand team must work harder to distill and communicate a positioning strategy that is most helpful to the experience and product teams. They should also check in with one another early and often, to make sure brand identity isn’t compromised.
Prioritize the Branded Moments That Matter Most: In an ideal world, there would be enough time and money to make every touchpoint perfect. But for most companies, certain moments matter more. Using the experience principles and journey maps will illuminate areas where your brand can best delight customers and differentiate itself from that sea of sameness.
By identifying these areas, teams can focus on what we call signature moments. Signature moments are proof points for customers, embodying the brand’s promise. They aim to elicit specific, positive emotions that relate to the brand’s positioning. Signature moments deepen the relationship with customers, reminding them of what the brand stands for and why they’ve made the right choice. Whether it’s Spotify’s Year in Review, Nike’s self-driven in-store digital exploration or BMW’s driver experiences (including on-ice training in Austria), these connect with customers in ways that are much larger than a single transaction.
Companies need to bring brand, product and experience teams together early on to create branded customer experiences that stand out in a sea of sameness. Not only does early collaboration result in powerful signature moments, but it also paves the way for a smoother experience evolution as market needs and consumer expectations remain ever-changing.
Looking for ways to help your organization create branded customer experiences that lead to growth? Contact our team today.
Why fans love Amy’s powerful and clear purpose, consistent quality and commitment to yummy innovation.
In a year full of disruptions, the latest Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI) reflects the many ways U.S. consumers changed their relationship with brands. Amy’s Kitchen is a stand-out example of the power of brand relevance: Last year it became so beloved on a national scale, that many consumers consider it to be more indispensable than larger names including Nintendo, Trader Joe’s and Tesla.
“When people craved healthy choices, honesty and companies that stood for something more, Amy’s soared, acing many components of our Index, allowing it to not only make our list for the first time but also land the #21 spot,” says Scott Davis, Prophet’s chief growth officer.
Prophet’s research measures how well brands perform on four key drivers of brand relevance. First, the brand must be customer-obsessed, demonstrating empathy and offering compelling solutions. Next, it must be ruthlessly pragmatic, showing up for consumers when and where it’s needed. Third, it is required to demonstrate that it is pervasively innovative, finding creative solutions to adapt to this disrupted environment. And finally, it needs to be distinctively inspired, with a brand purpose that connects to consumers in ways that are both current and meaningful.
Amy’s Kitchen didn’t develop this relevance by accident. Here’s how it keeps growing its hungry customer base.
Making People Happy
A good meal makes most people smile, and amid pandemic fears, it makes sense that Amy’s wholesome meals would score well. But its high marks on our “Makes me happy” attribute reflects far beyond its fantastic General Tso’s Bowl.
Amy’s is a feel-good brand, and it emphasizes its wholesome roots in many ways. The Petaluma, California-based company understands that customers intensely value where their food comes from, both in terms of organic sourcing of ingredients and the companies that put it all together. “We are still family-owned and have always been committed to quality organic and vegetarian ingredients,” says Andy Berliner, Amy’s Founder and CEO. “Because we are independent, we can put the needs of our consumers first, and focus on making a positive impact, without cutting corners along the way.”
But there’s a core yumminess factor too. In a year where comfort food meant so much more, Amy’s entrees – soups, burritos and that ever-popular Chili Mac –soothed people. Treating yourself to a quick and healthy single-serve meal became an important form of self-care.
Quality Customers Count on
One of Amy’s best scores came in “Lives up to its promises,” where it ranks within the Top 10.
Amy’s team isn’t surprised by that. It carefully cultivates consumer trust in its chief promise – to use high-quality organic ingredients that are responsibly sourced, and carefully prepared and cooked for best taste. Its consumers, who are environmentally aware, health-conscious, savvy label-readers reward the brand with loyalty and repeat purchases. And last year, Amy’s won over many new fans, as well, many of whom got a taste, enjoyed it so much, they continued to return for more.
“Amy’s is a company not just focused on the bottom line but using its business as force for good.”
The “promises” attribute falls under our umbrella of ruthless pragmatism. However, Amy’s also outperforms on two other attributes here: “Makes my life easier” and “Delivers a consistent experience.” While these have been true of the brand since its 1987 launch, it took on new importance over the last year. Stressed-out parents desperately needed all the convenience they could find. And during a time when nothing seemed reliable, a frozen pizza that consistently satisfied the whole family meant even more.
Amy’s relies on constant experimentation and its new offers impact the way customers see the brand. Gluten-free, vegan and dairy-free options all reflect changing dietary preferences. And while it’s long been vegetarian, Amy’s food offerings took on new resonance as consumers sought out more plant-based options.
The pandemic taught the company a lot about its innovative muscle. As with many brands, supply chain issues became a problem, making it difficult to get products into freezer cases. And since Amy’s assembles many meals by hand rather than automation, social-distancing practices required an overhaul of production processes to find safe ways to stretch pizza dough and roll burritos in its kitchens.
Stand for Something Bigger
Finally, where Amy’s shines brightest is in its purpose, an attribute we measure as a brand’s ability to distinctively inspire. When ranked by “Has a set of beliefs and values that align with my own,” it earned the #6 spot, outscoring companies like Patagonia and LEGO.
Amy’s purpose, “to make it easy and enjoyable for everyone to eat well,” rings true to its customers and functions as the company’s North Star. “It is the lens we use for all our business decisions,” says Berliner.
Amy’s demonstrates that commitment by improving the accessibility and equitability of organic agriculture, and by making meals that cater to a variety of dietary needs and restrictions, like gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan. The company is also committed to decreasing food waste and improving operations to ultimately “heal the planet” through its business.
Consumers will soon recognize those values expressed even more explicitly. Amy’s just achieved coveted B Corp status, awarded only to companies following the highest social and environmental performance standards. The B Corp seal signifies to consumers that Amy’s is a company not just focused on the bottom line but using its business as a force for good.
“It’s apparent that consumers are gravitating towards authentic, purpose-led brands more than ever,” says Davis. “As an early adapter, Amy’s Kitchen is truly built around a purpose that has defined its success for decades. Standing for something it believes in and staying true to its roots undoubtedly helped land it in this year’s Brand Relevance Index®. As Amy’s grows its loyal customer base, expect to see new and exciting things from this increasingly relevant brand.”
Four Ways Social Programs Yield Employee Engagement
Social efforts boost retention, aid in recruiting and increase energy and engagement at work.
Employees need a higher purpose in today’s world. Increasing sales and profits and getting a paycheck are not enough. Even building great products or delivering exemplary service may not give an adequate answer to the “Why?” question employees ask when they sit down to do their work. Having an authentic, substantive set of social programs and compelling social purpose can be an answer for business leaders seeking to motivate and engage their employees.
Employees, including executives, want their jobs to have meaning in their professional lives. Employees motivated by a social purpose will be more likely to join a firm, turn their back on opportunities to leave the firm, and work effectively and enthusiastically toward the firm’s goals. They will be engaged.
Consider social programs like Lifebuoy’s “Help a Child Reach 5,” Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, Barclays’ Digital Eagles or Salesforce’s 1-1-1 Philanthropic Model. They are not about a commercial offering. These firms are no longer in business solely to deliver functional benefits and provide stockholders and others with the benefits that flow from generating sales and making profits. They now have a social purpose with substance. And that changes their relationship with employees in four ways.
Four Reasons Why Social Programs Will Help Engage Employees
1. Garners brand respect, even inspiration
One driver of employee engagement is simply to garner an employee’s respect and admiration for the firm’s brand. Take Lifebuoy and its “Help a Child Reach 5” program: it aims to reduce the number of kids that die from contaminated water by changing hand-washing habits using multiple initiatives including in-school programs. If an employee respects such a program because of its purpose, that respect will be transferred to the firm behind it. The ultimate connection will come when a social program brand not only impresses but inspires and this feeling of inspiration becomes embedded in the relationship an employee has with his or her employer.
2. Produces self-expressive benefits
The values and priorities of employees are not communicated by telling people but by the people they chose to associate with, the activities they pursue and, most importantly, the firm they work for. “Where do you work?” and “What do you do?” are common “get to know you” questions. Working for a firm that has developed social programs that are creative and impactful will reflect on the employee. They will represent his or her values and priorities. For example, one role of Dove’s Self-Esteem Program is to provide self-expressive benefits to the Unilever workforce. They are proud to represent a program that empowers self-confidence in young girls and to be a part of a firm that is willing to make such a program successful.
3. Creates opportunities for involvement
To address a trust crisis in 2011, Barclays empowered employees to develop social programs. A group of 17 employees started the Digital Eagles to create a set of social programs to teach the public about thriving in the digital world. Among its programs are informal “Tea and Teach” sessions for digital skill-building and Digital Wings, an online series of courses that advanced people from newbies to experts. The effort grew to involve over 17,000 employees. The result was a strong sense of community and an enhanced employee experience that is based on shared involvement in a program in which there is both individual and collective pride.
4. Provides natural talking points
What do employees talk about when they get asked about their job especially when the firm is unknown or when there has been negative publicity? How do they describe their firm? Social programs give employees a vehicle to describe an organization they are proud of because of its values, priorities and ability to make the world a better place. While talking about offerings and operations can be dull and uninspiring, a social program can be enlightening and perhaps intriguing. Of course, that which makes an employee’s firm more interesting and appealing will reflect positively on him or her and could even lead to business opportunities. Think of Salesforce’s unique 1-1-1 commitment and challenge, which invites companies to join them in committing 1% of employees’ work time to volunteer, donating 1% of their product to people in need and giving 1% of their equity to a nonprofit. It’s been accepted by some 10,000 firms, providing a meaningful way for employees to share the core values of Salesforce.
“Employees motivated by a social purpose will be more likely to join a firm, turn their back on opportunities to leave the firm, and work effectively and enthusiastically toward the firm’s goals. They will be engaged.”
If you’re a business leader hoping to make an impact on the world today, you’ll need your employees to believe in your organization’s purpose. In Prophet’s Human-Centered Transformation Model, the firm’s DNA, which is comprised of purpose, brand and values, is at the center of employee engagement strategies, and it’s going to be even more powerful when a social program is a part of the business model.
Expert Panel: Building Brand Relevance in China in the Era of Restlessness
How Colgate, COLMO, Alibaba and Vogue Business are navigating changing regional consumer sentiment.
Brand relevance is the most important element in determining the long-term success of a brand.
In his book, Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant, David Aaker, the “Father of Modern Branding,” describes his strategic theory on brand relevance for the first time. Aaker emphasizes: “Instead of promoting the superiority of the brand, consider framing a subcategory such that competitors are excluded or placed at a disadvantage. Ensuring that the subcategory wins is a route to brand growth.”
But as a brand marketer, are you sure of how to build and grow brand relevance in today’s rapidly changing business landscape?
In recent years, the China market, in particular, has proven to be especially “restless.” Growing capital sources coupled with hypergrowth e-commerce platforms have lowered the barriers to entry to an increasingly sophisticated and demanding consumer market. Brands must compete to capture consumers’ screentime and customer data through constant innovation, in terms of both products and marketing & sales tactics. But to win in the long-term under these conditions, brands must also focus on relevance now more than ever.
“Instead of promoting the superiority of the brand, consider framing a subcategory such that competitors are excluded or placed at a disadvantage. Ensuring that the subcategory wins is a route to brand growth.”
With the launch of the 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®, we invited four senior experts in consumer brands, e-commerce, and media to sit down with Tom Zhang, senior engagement manager at Prophet. Together they discussed how to effectively establish brand relevance in China, along with key trends, opportunities, and challenges they anticipate.
These four experts shared thoughtful perspectives on brand building in the China market. Despite the diversity in their thinking and experience, we found some common themes.
Three Core Principles for Brand Marketers Seeking to Drive Relevance
1. A Customer-Centric Approach to Meet Multi-Layered Needs
There’s no question that a brand must be clear about its target consumers as well as their needs and preferences. However, the new generation of consumers is increasingly complex. Information channels are highly fragmented leading to content that is more diverse. The result is a multitude of consumer preferences and values that translates into more nuanced and multi-layered needs. Cenran Hu, Strategy Director at Tmall Fashion, who has been closely tracking the evolution of consumer trends from the platform side, pointed out:
“Chinese consumers are very open to new things, but they can also be quite uncompromising. They have wants, needs and interests. Therefore, brands must take into account these many layers and continually find ways to surprise and delight them.”
— Cenran Hu, Strategy Director of Tmall Fashion (Alibaba Group)
Cenran also added that the high expectations of Chinese consumers mean that brands cannot become “one-trick ponies” and need to constantly create surprises. In this regard, Starbucks is a strong example, as it continues to boldly explore opportunities for product innovation and new digital experiences in the China market. Cenran gave the example of beverage brand Yuanqi Forest (元气森林). In less than 5 years, Yuanqi Forest has grown to become a sought-after 6 billion USD company. The success of Yuanqi Forest is undeniably linked to its ability to redefine its subcategory – sparkling water – from multiple dimensions, including a healthy lifestyle (0 sugar, 0 fat, 0 calories), unique taste and trendy design. Compared to traditional brands such as Perrier, Yuanqi Forest is more in line with Chinese consumers’ demand for differentiated products that meet multi-layered needs.
Colgate’s Core Brands Marketing Director, Vicky, shares these same views. Colgate believes that increasingly sophisticated young Chinese consumers will force brands to dig deep into pain points to create relevance. A prototypical example is the launch of Colgate’s Miracle Repair toothpaste, which is made with concentrated amino acids. The product was specifically designed to meet the deeper oral care needs of young consumers (anti-premature-aging) as well as their expectations for new offerings.
“Brands must provide tangible benefits to solve practical problems and pain points in consumers’ lives. At the same time, they must inspire when it comes to appearance, design, and experience so that consumers are willing to share and recommend.”
— Vicky Hu, Marketing Director, China Brand Marketing, Core Brands of Colgate China
2. Balancing Functional & Emotional to Capture the Minds & Hearts
Functional benefits can help brands quickly seize subcategories, and emotional resonance can help them further secure their place in the hearts of consumers.
In 2018, Midea Group launched its AI-powered home appliance premium sub-brand COLMO, with a clearly defined brand essence – “Simply Extraordinary.” Based on this positioning, the name, visual identity and experience all highlight the concept of “keep climbing,” allowing the brand to have an emotional connection with the target consumer. Arlen, Director of Brand Marketing at COLMO, noted:
“When a brand enters a subcategory, it must achieve a balance between functional and emotional values. Even if the brand defines a new functional subcategory, it must lay the groundwork for emotional resonance in order to establish a higher degree of brand relevance.”
Denni, Senior Editor at Vogue Business, shared her observations on the fashion industry. Denni believes that in addition to distinctive styles, fashion brands also need to amplify the story behind the design (e.g., designer crossovers, sustainability). Moreover, offline retail and brand experiences play a crucial role in creating emotional connections.
“Brands need to ‘iconize’ their own styles and ideas to lead the market, creating communities like missionaries, thus inspiring consumers and creating deep resonance.”
— Denni Hu, Senior Editor, Vogue Business
3. Playing Offense & Defense in a Restless Era
To take advantage of growing e-commerce platforms and new sources of capital, countless new brands continue to emerge in the China market. For both emerging brands and mature brands, it is increasingly difficult to gain traction in a market that is fiercely competitive and constantly changing.
Today’s restless era and high-stakes environment require brand marketers to maintain both “courage” and “consistency.” While disrupting the status quo through trending hashtags, creative products and maximized traffic, it is also critical not to lose sight of the “core” of brand building. A clear and compelling positioning should serve as the North Star of marketing and innovation; only then can the brand maintain long-term relevance and build brand equity.
“Emerging brands need to be repeatedly refined in order to establish a positioning that is both clear and malleable. Consumers need constant surprises. However, if the core of the brand is not strong, the initial surprises will eventually be short-lived.”
— Cenran Hu, Strategy Director of Tmall Fashion (Alibaba Group)
“In today’s world, to build a strong brand, you must balance ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ tactics – not only leveraging traffic and hot-selling products, but also continuously strengthening the brand ‘moat.’ Companies with multiple brands should proactively find ways to adjust their brand and product mix according to market segments and industry trends, define the role of each brand, and balance sales maximization and brand development.”
— Vicky Hu, Marketing Director, China Brand Marketing, Core Brands of Colgate China
We are delighted to see emerging brands in the China market leveraging e-commerce and social media are creating many new spaces for brands to play in. But as mentioned above, despite the gains from the “speeding up” of traffic and capital, it is particularly important for brands to “slow down.” Brands must be guided by consumer needs, emotionally resonant and clearly positioned in order to ensure brand relevance.
After clarifying these core principles, how can companies effectively measure and improve brand relevance? To learn more about the application of these dimensions, download our 2021 Brand Relevance Index®.
Play is Back. What’s Next for Toy and Gaming Brands?
As people look for more and better ways to play–on their own and with their kids–innovation is essential.
PLAY had a break-out year in 2020. While the world dealt with the pandemic, people sought ways to distract and entertain themselves. They craved escape from what felt like nonstop bad news and needed a little joy while staying at home. As a result, the brands that came out to play rose to the top of the 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®. For the first time, five toy and gaming brands– LEGO, PlayStation, Fisher-Price, Xbox and American Girl–rose to the top 20 brands.
But it wasn’t just kids looking to find joy through play. Adults picked up puzzles, got their endorphin kicks from Peloton and connected with others on video games. And for their children, it meant stocking up on nostalgic classics, like Hasbro’s Monopoly and Mattel’s Barbie, as well as toys and activities that encourage learning and creativity.
It’s easy to say these gains in relevance for top toy and gaming brands are simply due to the pandemic. And yes, COVID-19 has undoubtedly been the catalyst, bumping game night back into living rooms and with so many more people saying, “I can’t imagine my life without this brand”. But there’s a deeper change happening. These toys and games aren’t just ways to pass time. They bring joy, comfort and ease into people’s lives–and they’ll want to hang on to that.
And while toy brands saw a bump in engagement over the last year, not every brand will maintain consumer interest. Toy and gaming brands need to find new strategies to build on sales momentum as the pandemic eases. With family life slowly shifting away from home, brands must find new ways to engage.
Four Clear Paths to Growing Brand Relevance (Even as the Pandemic Subsides)
As the world moved toward digital everything, staying connected–especially when it came to play–became more critical. Digital gaming had its best year ever in the BRI. Besides PlayStation (No. 9) and Xbox (No. 19), Nintendo, Blizzard, Minecraft and Fortnite all made the Top 100, beating hundreds of other brands.
Roblox, which has been generating buzz because of its recent IPO, is winning with the 9-to-13 set by creating an entirely new category, which it calls “Human co-experience.” In many of its games, like MeepCity, kids don’t compete at all–they cooperate and simply hang out.
And Animal Crossing: New Horizon, which launched in March of 2020, isn’t just a lockdown obsession that propelled Nintendo to $1 billion in profits. Its simple whimsy enabled new ways of connecting with others. Public personalities, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, played, engaging millions of followers. It even infiltrated the NFL, with the Detroit Lions using the game to reveal its 2020 schedule.
These digital gaming brands are changing conversations in their communities. As part of the growing Black Lives Matter movement, PlayStation and Xbox took on hate speech in a way that resonated with gamers around the world – proving that brand relevance can come from outside of the core business.
Genuine conversations between players also fuel the success of LEGO. Yes, it’s beloved because of the tactile nature of building–and the way kids yearn to create. But it does so well in the digital realm because its free content sparks online invention in new (and safe) ways. And its “Build & Talk” initiative, gives parents the tools they need to raise better digital citizens.
Reinvent the Flywheel
Kids hear about toys in new ways, so it’s important to be where your customers are. Many brands are embracing YouTube, using tactics those in other categories haven’t quite cracked. Due to the soaring popularity of “unboxing” videos, the most potent demand drivers are grade-school millionaires: Anastasia “Nastya” Radzinskaya, 6, has 67 million YouTube followers and is worth $20 million–and a deal with IMG to develop her own product line. Ryan (“Ryan’s World”) Kaj, with 28 million followers and an estimated net worth of $32 million. He also sells his own toys, working with Pocket.watch, a company pioneering this YouTube-to-toy shelf strategy.
Toy brands have become more reliant on these influencers. And there is also an opportunity to build authentic content. Taken together, content, community and commerce form a powerful trifecta for direct-to-consumer growth.
Ecosystems are expanding based on intellectual properties that can lead to mega franchises. Disney continues to master the cycle of media-to-toy merchandising. Still, older brands like Barbie and LEGO, and newer ones, such as PAW Patrol, continue to grow via the toy-to-entertainment route. What matters is that they are all finding avenues that are both authentic to the brand and create growth opportunities.
Lean Into Purpose
When it comes to measures of inspiration and purpose, toy and gaming brands did exceedingly well in our Index. To a degree, nostalgia is driving this admiration. American Girl ranks No. 4 in “Has a set of beliefs and values that align with my own”–only Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic and Peloton did better. LEGO and Fisher-Price also scored in the Top 20 on this metric. When parents can say, “I had one of those when I was a kid,” it’s easier for them to get excited about sharing a safe and familiar experience.
But nostalgia isn’t enough, and young consumers also demand pervasive innovation to be considered a relevant brand. For years, Barbie couldn’t quite shake off her controversial image as Ken’s girlfriend. But thanks to multi-media engagements, Mattel has resurrected her as an enduring role model, with multiple career paths–and creative content–that appeals to millennial moms as much as to little kids. Barbie, old enough to collect Social Security, is taking a stand on everything from white privilege to running for office to mental health, including a partnership with Headspace, the meditation app.
But best of all, Barbie is fun again. In 2020, Mattel says it sold a new Barbie Dream House every single minute not because of its past, but because it’s loaded with details that enchant kids right now.
Find Bigger Playgrounds
Adults want to play, too, and it’s important to understand just how fierce that longing is. The NPD Group reports that 79% of U.S. consumers have played video games during the pandemic. The fastest-growing audiences are people between 45 and 54 (up 59% for the year) and those 65 and older (up 48%.)
Grown-ups also crave a creative release, powering a surge in adult coloring books and a resurgence of paint-by-numbers kits. They snapped up extra-difficult jigsaw puzzles. And LEGO is targeting adults with new art projects and a Botanical Collection.
A year of play has reminded many adults how much they love to stretch their imaginations. The classic Dungeons & Dragons, a role-playing game that has been around since the 1970s, had its best year ever, with more than 40 million active players, an estimated 60% are 25 and older.
Toy and gaming brands that can help adults find new ways to relax, create, compete and blow off steam will stay connected, even when people begin to socialize more in person.
“Toy and gaming brands that can help adults find new ways to relax, create, compete and blow off steam will stay connected, even when people begin to socialize more in person.”
While top toys and gaming brands gained relevance during the pandemic, maintaining that close bond with customers will require new strategies. To continue to achieve uncommon growth, they’ll need to stay better connected, following consumers as they make their way back to schools, work and in-person social events.
Have you found a clear path to driving brand relevance? We can help – reach out today.
Creating Brand Relevance Through a Direct-to-Consumer Approach
Other brands can learn plenty from Peloton’s commitment to content, community and commerce.
In the 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI), we witnessed a major rise from a direct-to-consumer (DTC) fitness brand that has been slowly moving up the ranks over the past few years. The most relevant DTC brands in today’s market are those that have a seamless orchestration of content, community and commerce. In most cases, content is what drives community which then propels commerce. However, in the case of this brand, their nurturing of community actually generated content (both native and UGC), which drove sales. As we think about the DTC trifecta (content, community, and commerce), we cannot find a brand in this year’s BRI that has been more successful in delivering on all three components. This has led to undeniable brand relevance, along with dazzling financial performance.
Our winner began 2020 off to a rough start with an ill-executed advertisement where the intent did not match the perception of the audience. However, in the months following, the brand found its stride, reaching such a level of demand that they were forced to halt advertising until their supply chain could catch up. If you haven’t guessed it just yet, we’re talking about Peloton, which started out with the Peloton bike but has quickly expanded into other offers (e.g., at-home treadmill or online yoga classes). Even if you don’t have a bike yourself, you’re likely to know someone who likes to talk about theirs and how it has changed their life.
Let’s dig into why Peloton is this year’s BRI direct-to-consumer winner, and how it beat out other DTC brands as they adapted during the pandemic.
Building Community in a Time of Isolation
Finding ways to create community became more important than ever in 2020. While Peloton already built its model around community, it truly brought it to life by not only highlighting user stories but also in the experience they delivered. Without the ability to create community organically in a physical space, Peloton supplemented it through key features such as allowing users to send each other virtual high fives, creating and viewing user profiles, and using the video chat function to live chat with friends as they enjoy the same class in the comfort of their homes.
“Peloton continues to innovate its products and services to build a meaningful community.”
Peloton also introduced “tags”, which allow members to filter the thousands of people on the leaderboard into sub-communities of people with similar interests, such as #Vets or #Teachers. With these tags, members can then see what classes others have taken and when they are taking classes, allowing them to ride together. These sub-communities have grown beyond the Peloton platform, through Facebook Groups and other social platforms. Tags are just another example of how Peloton continues to innovate its products and services to build a meaningful community.
Delivering On-Demand, High-Quality Content
Peloton’s community is the gift that keeps on giving, including an explosion of user-generated content. With the goal of becoming the “largest connected fitness platform in the world”, Peloton has aggressively pursued customer acquisition onto the platform. For many DTC brands, the enormous costs of customer acquisition can jeopardize profitability and sustainable growth. Aside from Peloton’s massive library of on-demand, curated fitness classes, Peloton’s user-generated content creates virality and generates earned media. Instructors create themed rides with playlists that become shareable and dance moves that become iconic. Peloton is a case study in how a community of devoted fans and celebrity-like instructors can produce content that works on behalf of the brand.
Fueling a Commercial Pipeline
With a massive increase in brand awareness comes the question of whether the company can convert that interest into a purchase. With bikes starting at $1,895 and treadmills at $4,295, Peloton’s physical products are cost-prohibitive to the average customer. Peloton has navigated this cost barrier through a diversified, commercial model that makes it easy for customers to justify the purchase. Through their app, Peloton acquires customers that might not be able to afford the physical products, while building brand loyalty that helps convert customers to buy the equipment. Most importantly, Peloton has stood out as a reliable brand during the pandemic with clear communication around potential supply chain delays and how to provide installations in a COVID-safe way.
Whether your company is digitally native or B2B, there are still lessons to be gained from Peloton’s success. If you want to think more like a highly relevant, DTC brand, consider asking yourself three questions:
What tactics might we use to build and nurture our community of customers that will lead them to engage with other customers and our brand in authentic ways?
How can we generate content or inspire customers to create their own content that will lead to brand loyalty and earned media?
How can we deliver a frictionless, high-quality experience that will make customers more likely to try our products/services and remain loyal?
At Prophet, we help companies leverage direct-to-consumer practices around content, community, and commerce to drive growth like Peloton. Please reach out if you are interested in learning more about our direct-to-consumer expertise.
Even the smartest strategies need the right creative approach to make impact.
Prophet is a place where creative passion and commitment merge with strategic smarts and intellect. Our clients – across industries – are true partners in our joint pursuits to differentiate brands and reach and attract customers in innovative ways. Digital, strategy, design, verbal, insights, analytics all work together to develop brands that win in the market.
Learn More About the Work Featured in Prophet’s Design Reel
Prophet and Springbox collaborated to create the 50th-anniversary marketing campaign to celebrate Poly and Plantronics’ role in the 1969 Moon Landing. The team ultimately won two Transform Awards for its out-of-this-world work. Read more.
Prophet reimagined Shinsegae Chosun Hotel Group’s brand strategy to successfully revamp its luxury hotel, L’Escape. Praised for its creative differentiation and sophisticated attention to detail, Prophet’s design work earned two gold Transform Awards. Later on, L’Escape was awarded an iF design award for its website design – based on Prophet’s brand concepts and designs. Read more.
Keurig Green Mountain needed a partner to successfully merge its newly merged businesses and accelerate growth. Prophet supported its large-scale transformation – setting the strategic foundation for its marketing organization and clarifying its brand architecture. Read more.
Prophet helped Brockton Capital fill a unique gap in the market for a new type of co-working space – developing a unique and elevated brand experience for sophisticated professionals. FORA became the fastest-growing player in the co-working space, expanding its locations in London and beyond. Read more.
Prophet revitalized Michigan State University’s performing arts center by developing a brand purpose that resonated with the community. The new brand expresses the boldness, courage and diversity of the 300,000 young people that use the space each year. This work received a gold award for key art and a bronze award for print collateral at the 2019 International Design Awards. Read more.
“Our clients – across industries – are true partners in our joint pursuits to differentiate brands and reach and attract customers in innovative ways.”
Prophet developed a compelling visual identity and signature customer experience that differentiated the brand, attracted new customers and sparked interest across the luxury tourism industry. Read more.
Prophet and Springbox partnered with U.S. Women’s National Team players to create a brand and digital experience that captured the essence of the team—both as world-class athletes and as passionate activists. The pro-bono work won two Transform Awards for creative development and audio branding. Read more.
Formula E was having a hard time finding its place in the racing world and beyond, so they partnered with Prophet to reframe the series, create a relevant position, and craft a visual identity. This work was recognized with two Transform Europe awards, two Transform APAC awards and was acknowledged within the Creative Review Annual as one of the best brand identities. Read more.
We developed a brand positioning, verbal identity and visual identity for a new premium home appliance brand COLMO. The big idea captured the philosophy of highly crafted products that are effortlessly simple in delivering an extraordinary user experience. Read more.
We revamped Regal Cinema’s brand identity and digital experience to reflect a modern, ever-evolving theater experience. Our teams also helped strategically think through how the new brand could be activated across touchpoints from the theater façade to concessions and the digital experience. Read more.
Do you need a strategy and design partner to push your brand forward into its next evolution? Reach out today.
How Five European Brands are Winning Over U.S. Consumers
IKEA, LEGO, Dyson, Spotify and BMW keep finding new ways to gain relevance.
The Prophet Brand Relevance Index® ranks hundreds of brands on the characteristics that U.S consumers find most meaningful. And while many of the usual suspects rise to the top, a year of pandemic and political upheaval has caused dramatic shifts. People are embracing and rejecting brands in entirely different ways.
This is the sixth iteration of our ground-breaking research, based on the same core principles of relentless relevance. We measure whether a brand is customer-obsessed, ruthlessly pragmatic, pervasively innovative and distinctively inspired.
Five European brands have risen fast in the relevance stakes, offering lessons that transcend industry and category and apply to any brand trying to compete in the U.S.
LEGO: Providing creative escapes for all generations
Danish brand LEGO has shot up 23 spots into 5th place this year. And while competitive toy brands like Mattel, Fisher-Price and American Girl also saw their relevance scores increase as parents adapted to their unexpected role as home-schoolers, yet LEGO was the brand with the highest marks for innovation. Consumers love that it “engages with [with them] in new and creative ways” and perceive that it has better products, services and experiences than competitors.
Much of LEGO’s purpose is built around its commitment to helping children flex their inner architect. However, it also understands that adults hunger for creative play too, launching such products as LEGO Botanical Collection, which allows grown-ups to build flower bouquets and bonsai trees from its bioplastic components.
Spotify: Hitting those personal sweet spots
Pandemic living is zapping some of the music streaming category’s relevance, with fewer people commuting to work. Yet Swedish music maestro Spotify (#12) sits at the top of all media and entertainment companies, outperforming Pixar and Netflix. It wows in the attributes that drive customer obsession, ranking fourth among all brands in both “connects with me emotionally” and “makes me happy.”
One way it does that is by offering intuitive, adaptive and highly personalized products. It then communicates those advantages with dialed-up marketing. To introduce Spotify Premium Duo, adorable puppets dramatized couples’ challenges in sharing music accounts. And as people scrambled to find productive ways to fill the downtime created by stay-at-home orders, it introduced a digital campaign called “Music, Meet Podcasts.”
Spotify’s real relevance comes from understanding its users’ deeper yearnings. “Listening is Everything,” for example, is a brand platform that continuously reminds people of everything they love about music, doped with personalization and inventive social-media interactions. A sharp marketing effort that truly reaches users’ emotional sweet spots.
Dyson: Limitless capabilities for the ‘Apple of Appliances’
Very few companies can inspire the same sort of brand loyalty and consumer confidence as British brand Dyson. Jumping up to #30 in this year’s ranking, up from #51, its commitment to continuous innovation sees it disrupting markets and outpacing the competition. The brand reimagines mundane domestic appliances – such as vacuum cleaners, air purifiers and hair dryers – to spectacularly enhance their utility. And with more people spending time at home over the past year, appliance-buying has been on the rise.
Respondents rated Dyson highly for being modern and in touch, engineering technology to actively destroy harmful gases in the air and to dry our hands in rapid time – just in time for the world’s obsession with hand hygiene.
But good products alone are not enough to win consumer favor today. Nor is it about innovation for novelty’s sake. Consumers want products and services that align with their personal values and genuinely benefit the greater good too. As a brand built on ‘lean engineering,’ Dyson is devoted to making things more efficient while using less resources – putting sustainability is at the center of its business. Whether they are better for the planet, for people – or both – purchasing a pricey but environmentally responsible Dyson product makes consumers feel good about their buying decisions.
IKEA: Offering initiatives that support a shared sense of purpose
With hundreds of millions of people staying safer-at-home, the living room couch became the center of the universe. So did the need to quickly turn laundry rooms into office nooks, kitchen tables into classrooms and bedrooms into a place to hide from the rest of the family. This was IKEA’s moment in the sun. It sailed into the #42 spot, up from #93, easily passing such companies as the Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wayfair.
For all its practicality and commitment to affordable, functional furniture, its strong suit in the U.S is an inspiration. And it earns its highest scores for “having a set of beliefs and values that align with my own.” IKEA has baked purpose into everything it does since the furniture maker was founded in Sweden in 1943. Initiatives such as #buybackFriday, where the company bought back unwanted IKEA items for Black Friday, demonstrates how the brand’s North Star goes well beyond kitchen cabinets. IKEA extends its trademark warmth to everyone: One advertising effort, “Be someone’s home,” encourages people to accept all sexual orientations and gender identities.
BMW: Linking heritage to innovation
Fastest-rising brand in the automotive category? Look no further than Germany’s very own BMW. Accelerating 45 places to #67 in the BRI, its growing relevance in the U.S. could answer why BMW beat Lexus and Mercedes-Benz as the best-selling luxury car brand in the country in 2020.
With more time to think about cars and road trips, BMW stands out from other brands by aggressively showcasing what it has always stood for: Well-designed vehicles that push the boundaries of what’s expected.
Autophiles are already drooling over the BMW iX, the electric sport utility vehicle that will compete with Tesla, due in the U.S. next year. And it’s making waves with its Remote Software Upgrades. No wonder people give it such high marks for “always finding new ways to meet my needs.”
At the massive U.S. Consumer Electronics Show, BMW released a short film that both mocks and brags about its innovative history, including a car fight between a 20-year-old “Grampa” model with a smart-mouthed all-electric “Whippersnapper.” An artful blend of safety and familiarity in its marketing strategy that builds trust with U.S. consumers while emphasizing design and innovation signals its commitment to continually improving.
“Consumers want products and services that align with their personal values and genuinely benefit the greater good too.”
Of course, we know that the brands that rank highest in the BRI aren’t doing one thing. Those leading relevant brands are pursuing multiple paths.
Here are four key areas on which to focus in order to connect better with customers:
Lead with purpose.
A compelling purpose is a roadmap for change and should drive everything a brand does.
Adopting a mindset of customer obsession.
Focusing on increasing customer understanding so they can invest in delivering products and services that truly meet an important need in their customers’ eyes.
Improving the customer experience.
Making bold steps to delight and drive loyalty. Driving more holistic, targeted and personalized omnichannel marketing efforts.
Innovation is critical.
Without innovation, organizations will not be able to grow and thrive. Many are moving at two speed, introducing products and services to address immediate needs, as well as driving a forward-thinking innovation strategy that paves the way for future business growth and success.
Is a Centralized Creative Team Still the Best Way To Produce Content At Scale?
In their efforts to scale, our research shows many companies are shifting away from centralized content.
For many years, a centralized creative team has been the go-to model for companies producing digital content. But in our latest research report, The 2021 State of Digital Content, we found that companies are shifting to alternative models in order to meet the increasing demands of producing personalized content at scale.
There were pretty good reasons to consolidate content production with a single, central creative team. This internal agency model allowed for better governance, more consistent quality and a quicker production time for digital content. Additionally, as businesses became more digital, they moved on from creating mostly brand-centric content for awareness to more mid-funnel content such as thought leadership or buying guides. These factors were instrumental in companies shifting content production away from external agencies.
Our research shows (FIG 1) that the central model is currently still the most popular way for companies to organize for content production, with 50 percent of survey respondents choosing the model. On the other hand, only 4 percent of respondents use an external agency to produce their content, underscoring the magnitude of this shift.
However, when we asked respondents how they planned to meet the increasing demand for personalized content (FIG 2), we found the majority (32%) were setting up additional content producing centers beyond the central team to serve the unique content demands of different business units or geographies. An additional 18 percent of respondents were also leveraging AI-powered software to automate content creation to further lighten the load on the central team.
These findings show us that using a central creative team to produce all the company’s content is only sustainable to a point. As the number of content “stakeholders” within a business grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to produce content for all of them. Imagine a company with many different brands, product lines or business units, not to mention different geographical markets. With so many different target audiences, coupled with endless variations of the same content for personalization purposes, a central team simply doesn’t have the tools to cope.
“Using a central creative team to produce all the company’s content is only sustainable to a point.”
Rather than embracing the risk of decentralization, where each stakeholder produces content independently, companies are embracing a hybrid model, similar to the “center of excellence” model we’ve seen for digital innovation.
Businesses can retain the central creative team to set much of the overall content strategy, create and enforce editorial guidelines for quality, and own the visual and verbal identity for consistency. They can also own the technology and provide training for processes such as data-based content creation and measuring content success. However, the actual production of content can be outsourced to the different business units or geos, so long as they follow all the guidance set by the central team. In this way, production doesn’t have to be a bottleneck, and the business can still ensure that all the content produced is aligned with the central strategy.
If your company is struggling to meet content demand, it can be tempting to solve the problem with simply increasing the headcount and investing in better software. And in some cases, that might be all you need. But doing the harder job of re-evaluating the organizational structure may be the more effective, and sustainable solution.
Data insights, content modules and standard design systems speed up production and increase impact.
The biggest challenge for today’s content producers is to consistently produce personalized content at a large scale, and credibly have an impact on revenue. Put simply, businesses need to find a way to produce the right content, for the right person, at the right time, on the right channel. The way most companies are set up today makes this a particularly difficult task, one that can’t be tackled by simply adding more employees or investing more money. Our research shows that the teams who are successful in this endeavor have invested in an innovative set of practices that make up an “Agile Content System”. Here are the five most important ones.
Using data to inform content creation
While most content teams have been using some form of analog data to create content (e.g. surveys, demographic studies), accessing the right kind of digital data is what sets the innovative teams apart from the rest. Modern content teams should be able to readily see which content is performing best on each digital channel and adjust creative elements accordingly. Additionally, these teams should also be able to access multi-source customer data to help create content that is tailored specifically to unique audience segments.
“Accessing the right kind of digital data is what sets the innovative teams apart from the rest.”
This kind of repeatable access to data and analytics means investing in platforms that integrate with each other, educating the creative team on how to use data, and most crucially, organizing groups to collaborate in a more efficient way. Additionally, the most sophisticated teams are using the power of AI to generate both insights, as well as create or suggest content variations based on those insights.
Producing content in modules for approval and recombination
There’s a lot of value in breaking up your content into smaller chunks or modules when you’re creating it. For one, it makes it easier to send and receive compliance or legal approval on smaller chunks of content. It also facilitates more personalization, since you can take all those different content modules and recombine them in a variety of ways for different audience segments. Modern AI-powered content systems are now creating a huge number of variations on the same video ad, or blog post or article by automatically recombining different content modules for new end versions.
Centralizing and automating content storage
Digital Asset Management platforms or DAMs have become the best place to store creative content. With cloud storage and easy processes for sharing content drafts for collaboration and approval, DAMs make it a lot easier to produce more quality content and have it serve a variety of functions across the organization. The key to successfully using a DAM is to have it be the central repository for storing and managing content for all content stakeholders, which may include product, sales, marketing and service teams. It also follows that there needs to be a standardized tagging and naming scheme that allows multiple teams to upload and download content efficiently. Again, this is another process that can be greatly enhanced with the use of AI that can automatically scan content, determine its themes and automatically tag/store it in the right location for future use.
Uploading a standard design system
Scaling content means allowing content to be produced in multiple centers, rather than a single group at the center. With so many content-producing groups, it can be difficult to maintain standards in quality, as well as consistency in brand and messaging. Investing in a design system helps solve that problem, and also ensures that any new team members or content producers can start to create and match previously produced content quality much faster than they normally would. While most companies have some set of guidelines and rules for brand consistency and visual elements, the most sophisticated ones have uploaded these as a “design system” that is embedded in all the content platforms. This enables creators to access the rules and criteria in real-time, and in some cases, have the approved visual elements and copy supplied in real-time.
Measuring content effectiveness beyond awareness and engagement
While almost every company tries to measure the success of its content in terms of views and clicks (awareness and engagements), the really innovative ones have found a way to attribute even more value to the content, by tracking how much revenue it generates, how many customers it moves along the funnel, or how much money it saves by replacing service inquiries. This elevates content to a strategic tool used by all teams and functions, rather than a promotional asset to be used only by the marketers.
In our upcoming research report, The 2021 State of Digital Content, we’ll be publishing maturity benchmarks for each of these practices, along with the most pressing challenges, investments and priorities for digital content producing teams. Sign up for our subscriber list below to receive the report as soon as it publishes, along with other insights from the Altimeter team.
Effective content strategies require speed, agility and flexibility. Without these five capabilities–data insights, standard design systems, content modules, centralized storage and effective metrics–companies will find themselves at a disadvantage when compared to nimbler competitors.
Customer Relevance: 5 Ways That B2B Brands Differ From B2C Brands
B2B brands may make it easy for customers to buy, but they disappoint on consistency and emotional connection.
To be the relevant choice, the go-to brand for customers has been shown to drive profitable growth and to help insulate businesses from unexpected shocks such as COVID-19. The sixth annual Prophet Brand Relevance Index®, which studied 228 brands among 13,000 consumers, reveals how brands that rely heavily on serving B2B customers build relevance differently than brands that focus only on B2C customers.
As part of the study, we compared 57 brands with significant B2B businesses such as Amazon, General Electric, FedEx and IBM with 171 pure B2C brands such as Lego, Peloton, Netflix and Etsy. Both cohorts of brands with significant B2B business and the pure B2C brands increased relevance to their customers over the course of 2020. The B2C group had a greater range of high and poor performers with brands such as Peloton, Kitchen Aid and Lego in the top five and Popeye’s, Burger King and Facebook in the bottom three. Technology brands were the best performing in both the B2C and B2B cohorts. Apple led the pack followed closely by Amazon ranked tenth overall.
“The sixth annual Prophet Brand Relevance Index®, which studied 228 brands among 13,000 consumers, reveals how brands that rely heavily on serving B2B customers build relevance differently.”
When we analyzed the drivers of customer centricity and pragmatism, key differences appeared.
When compared to B2C focused brands, B2B reliant brands…
1. Meet Important Needs
On average B2B reliant brands outperform B2C-focused brands on meeting their customers’ important needs by a remarkable 28 percent. 3M for example, is rated 64 percent higher than the average B2B brand on meeting important needs and being a brand the customer cannot live without. That said, it is one of the worst-performing brands in the survey on making the customer happy by connecting with emotion.
2. Make It Easy
B2B reliant brands are 25 percent more likely to make it easier for their customers than B2C-focused brands. Microsoft, for example, performs a bit above the average of B2C brands on consistent performance and being dependable, but excels at making the consumers’ lives easier.
3. Don’t Deliver Consistently
B2B reliant companies are 17 percent less likely to perform as well as B2C companies on “consistent delivery.” GE is a typical example. It ranks in the top one hundred brands with very high customer scores on most dimensions of pragmatism, such as makes it easier and is dependable but ranks only average on consistent delivery.
4.&5. Fail to Connect Emotionally and Don’t Make the Customer Happy
This doesn’t appear to be a surprise as emotion is important for B2C brands but not to the same extent as B2B brands. What is surprising is the size of the difference; a 47 percent difference for happiness between B2B reliant and B2C focused brands. Adobe demonstrates the challenge. It outperforms other technology-oriented B2B companies such as HP and IBM on being a brand customers can’t live without but is rated 75 percent lower on makes the customer happy and connects with emotion.
The key takeaway for B2B reliant brands is to break out of the trap of trading off performance with emotion. Great brands, such as Apple deliver to both B2C and B2B customers, don’t make this tradeoff; so why should Adobe settle for it? The other key takeaway is to focus on technology. The most technologically advanced B2B brands we examined by industry outperformed their peers on meeting important customer needs and making it easy for the customer.
Learn more about brands in your industry
This post provides just a snapshot of the 228 brands evaluated in the 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®. For more insights on this year’s top-performing brands, visit this website.