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.


5 Hallmarks of an Agile Content System

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.


Webinar Replay: The 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®

In our sixth iteration of relevance research, we take a closer look at the pandemic’s impact on brands

55 min

Watch the webinar recording to hear key insights about the top-ranked brands in the Prophet 2021 Brand Relevance Index®.

In this year’s Index, Prophet turned to consumers to find out which brands matter most in their lives today. We surveyed more than 13,000 U.S. consumers to determine which 228 unique brands they simply cannot live without. Visit the BRI site to learn which brands consumers considered the most relevant to their lives.

To speak to someone on our team about how to make your brand more relentlessly relevant, contact us today.

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How Asian Electric Vehicle Brands Can Win in the U.S.

To win with today’s sustainability-focused audience, emotion, innovation and technology all matter.

While the U.S. has long lagged the rest of the world in accepting electric vehicles (E.V.), Prophet’s new research shows that this may finally be changing. It also demonstrates that Asian brands already have clear advantages in the automotive category. But to keep winning, another trend is equally apparent: To be considered indispensable to American consumers, auto companies need to reposition themselves more as tech brands.

“Auto companies need to reposition themselves more as tech brands.”

Findings in the 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI) underscore just how pivotal a moment we are at. It has taken years, but external changes, including government mandates on carbon emission, manufacturers’ promises to move towards all-electric fleets and the increasing acceptance of strong players such as Tesla, Canoo and NIO, have led the auto industry to an inflection point. US consumers are finally changing their expectations towards automobiles. And here is why.

Source: 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®

Reliability Wins the Race

For the first time in the BRI’s six-year history, Honda has leaped into the Top 10. Consumers give it ultra-high scores for dependability and “Lives up to its promises.” Toyota, which is beloved for popularizing hybrid cars, also ranks No. 14, because it excels in these attributes too.

Switching Gear to High Tech

However, the BRI delves beyond practical product factors and gauges how innovative, inspirational and engaging brands are perceived to be by consumers. While heritage brands like Honda and Toyota are highly relevant today, they fall short of other technology brands on these dimensions.

This offers more profound lessons for auto companies. Auto companies have long been injecting more tech into their vehicles and their marketing, but they still act like car companies.

Tech companies have a different way of showing up in the world.

With rapid innovation and deep connections to consumers, they have become pillars of relentless relevance. They earn admiration and respect in ways no other brands today.

Apple is again the No. 1 brand in Prophet’s ranking, as it has been in every single BRI study conducted in the U.S. People love how it makes daily life easier and say it is a top brand they can’t imagine living without. Spotify (No. 12) is another company that has made itself indispensable, artfully weaving itself into people’s routines. The same goes for Netflix (No. 18), recognized for pushing the status quo and helping many through the pandemic. All these technology leaders are building powerful emotional connections with their customers.

And as these tech brands race into the automotive category, traditional automakers are highly vulnerable. Chinese tech giant Baidu saw its stock climb after it announced it was working with automaker Geely (who acquired Volvo) to launch a new E.V. venture. And while less is known about Apple’s plans, it reportedly intends to launch its E.V. in 2024.

Beyond Apple, there are other disruptors emerging in the U.S. include Rivian, a joint venture between Amazon and Ford Motor Co., that has just gone through a massive public offering. And investors are already trading shares of Canoo, an intriguing model that pairs its new E.V.s with a subscription model.

See the Case Study: How Prophet Helped Canoo Jump-start its Electric Vehicle Brand

If traditional auto brands want to hold their own against these emerging tech-auto brands, they’ll need to step up their offerings around innovation and intelligent technology to build stronger emotional ties.

Some are. For instance, Hyundai (No. 28) scores an impressive 90% on both “connects with me emotionally” and “engages with me in new and creative ways.” Despite scoring higher overall, both Honda and Toyota are weaker in those dimensions.

Hyundai is gaining that relevance edge by finding high-impact ways to connect to young car buyers. Its recent launch of the IONIQ brand (E.V./ hybrid model) collaborated with BTS, its global ambassador, to release a new song, gaining 26 million views on Youtube to date. Before that, Hyundai’s beautiful Earth Day campaign video featuring BTS was watched over 105 million times. Such moves undoubtedly build an unparalleled emotional connection with Gen Z consumers.

Next Steps to Build Relevance

E.V.s and AI technology are inevitable, igniting consumer curiosity and consideration in the lucrative U.S. market. Asian auto brands, already well known for dependability and trustworthiness, can’t afford to let this opportunity pass.

Honda is said to have developed industry-leading “level 3” autonomous driving technology that is set to be launched in March. This will be an excellent opportunity for the renowned automaker to evolve its brand positioning to be more aspiring and technology-driven.


We believe an important route to success for Asian auto brands is to learn to think and behave like tech companies. In order to ignite fresh energy in the brand, they must…

  • Lead from the heart, finding new ways to create emotional connections with consumers and deploying marketing strategies that emphasize optimism and aspirations.
  • Leverage the power of global partnerships, both with Asian and Western brands. This is the fastest way to expand a company’s skillset and an important avenue to new customers.
  • Highlight innovations. With so many companies producing new and unexpected approaches to E.V.s, brands must work harder to spotlight their new technology.

Want to learn how your brand can succeed in the U.S. market? Talk to us.


Do My Customers and Employees See the Same Brand?

Turns out the secrets to staying relevant with consumers also attract and retain the best workers.

You’ve invested untold fortunes to create a customer experience that cements loyalty in your brand. You’ve invested a similar fortune building an employee experience to attract the best and brightest and become an employer of choice. But are you telling a consistent story? Do your external and internal brands share the same DNA? Are your customers inspired in the same way as your employees? Or do you feel at risk when your employees talk to customers?

Prophet is in a unique position to answer these questions. Our Prophet Brand Relevance Index ® (BRI), a survey of over 13,000 consumers rating 228 brands across 25 industries, provides a proprietary view of the brands most relevant to consumers’ lives. And at the same time, we’ve leveraged open API data by Glassdoor, the independent authority on employer ratings, to track data for over 750 companies across 50+ industries. Plotted together, they tell a fascinating story.

The Customer – Employer Brand Connection

As you might expect, companies with strong customer brands tend to have strong employer brands. Think Apple and Google. And vice versa: weak customer brands tend to have weak employer brands. Think most convenience retail and quick-serve restaurant brands (although not all).

Arguably the key to Southwest’s success – and 40 straight years of profitability – is how tightly employee purpose is woven into the very fabric of the customer experience. In stark contrast, Uber’s journey in its early days is a cautionary tale: despite owning over 80 percent of the rideshare market, #deleteUBER was born when the company was perceived to be mishandling employee engagement.

We believe a major driver of this relationship is what business columnist David Mattin calls a glass box. Whether it’s by choice or brute force, customers have unprecedented access to a brand’s inner workings – its finances, its operations, its people. And now more than ever consumers are looking for and influenced by, their clear view. In Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer Study, 90 percent of customers agree brands must protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends.

“90 percent of customers agree brands must protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends”

Where Does Your Brand Sit?

We have plotted customer brand strength, as measured by the 2021 Prophet BRI against employer brand strength, as measured by Glassdoor’s overall company rating to produce the chart below.

The model produces four scenarios worth exploring to understand what it might mean if your brand sits in one of these quadrants:

Virtuous Cycle (top right)

These brands have it down. They inspire and deliver. They disrupt, with purpose. Visionaries who never lose sight of what matters. With a focus on delighting customers and employees, from the inside out, it’s no surprise that brands like Apple, Google, Southwest and Lemonade have hit the bullseye of relevance.  

Relevance Challenged (bottom left)  

In the other corner, brands like Dollar General, Walgreens, Popeyes and Burger King are struggling to get points on the board. If there is one thing that healthcare, retail and quick-service restaurant brands have in common, it’s that they seem to be in a constant state of disruption – kicking up a cloud of confusion on all sides. Customers like navigating new user experiences and revolving doors of discounts as much as employees like enforcing them.    

Danger Zone (top left)

While happy customers are the key to a brand’s growth, unsatisfied employees can be its undoing. For companies in this quadrant, there is a fundamental disconnect: what should be a point of pride around customer excitement is not translating into employee excitement. Many of the brands in the danger zone are renowned for innovation, taking risks to accelerate value in the customer experience. But the employee experience has not kept pace, creating extreme risks for brands with high-touch customer interactions.

The Untold Story (bottom right)

Given the recent scrutiny of social media brands, it may seem surprising to see Twitter and Facebook stay strong in the hearts of employees. But despite intense external pressure, employees remain committed to the company’s purpose. We see an opportunity: to uncover what is driving employees; frame that passion for customers and help them see the brand in a new light. When the brand’s story is aligned with a passion in the culture, both employees and customers become brand advocates and vested in the success of the business.


Brands need to have a true purpose that shines through, inspiring customers and employees alike. When employees believe in a company, it translates to trust and relevance for all external stakeholders.

Are you interested in aligning your customer and employer brands and getting the most out of each of them? Our Brand and Culture experts can help, reach out today and hear how we are helping clients just like you.


Why Brands Rise—Lessons from Prophet’s BRI

United Airlines, Charles Schwab, Electrolux and Peloton all offer lessons in customer-centricity.

How do you make your brand advance—really advance? Or how do you avoid seeing your brand decline or even crash? One answer is to look at other brands that have recently experienced a dramatic rise in relevance…and learn from them.

This year’s Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI), surveyed 13,000 U.S. consumers to measure the strength of 228 brands from 25 categories across 16 dimensions. In a year of uncertainty, our findings revealed some of the biggest role model brand risers, which are the brands with the biggest jumps on relevance scores across Prophet’s four pillars of relevance: customer-obsessed, distinctly inspired, ruthlessly pragmatic and pervasively innovative. The research conducted by Prophet includes respondents that were active in the category and familiar with the brand. In other words, unlike other brand surveys, the affinity toward the brand is represented rather than distribution scope and awareness levels.

Brands with Rising Equity

There were six brands that increased their overall relevance score significantly during the last two years. Each has a story.

Electrolux had a meaningful brand uptick to reach No. 85 in the BRI rankings. While still lagging behind brands like KitchenAid (No. 3), Keurig (No. 34) and Dyson (No. 30), its rise was due in part to its increase on the innovation scales, likely driven by its new smart appliance products. Its name itself communicates a high-tech connotation in an increasingly digital-savvy era. Electrolux specifically enjoyed a notable increase in “Customer Obsession” or, let’s call it, brand loyalty. The introduction of a sustainability program and the announcement of a vacuum cleaner made out of recycled material most certainly played a key role. As the brand continues to expand in the U.S. market, expect to see more bold moves from Electrolux and growing relevance among consumers in the future.

While Charles Schwab (No. 114) trailed several category leaders—Vanguard (No.27), Fidelity (No. 56) and Robinhood (No. 50)—it still moved comfortably ahead of nine of the 15 financial services brands, increasing its marks on all dimensions. The Schwab appeal to “make managing money as easy as shopping on Amazon” probably felt right to people dealing with the pandemic. The brand played a leader role in mobile-first technology and integrating Google voice commands. Imagine saying, “Hey Google, check my Charles Schwab portfolio.” That’s a win for financial services.

USA Today (No. 214) rose from a bottom position to join the six mainstream media brands such as The New York Times (No. 125) and The Wall Street Journal (No. 201), both of which also rose. While still trailing far behind NPR, it gained impressive ground on “customer-obsessed” and “pervasively innovative.” The pandemic environment may have advanced its accessible and easy-to-read content and contributed to increased downloads of the USA Today mobile app.

“Success creates energy as well.”

United Airlines (No. 211) moved sharply up in 2020, even more so than other airline brands like Delta (No. 146) and American Airlines (No. 180), an interesting trend given our limited ability to travel during the pandemic. While still trailing Jet Blue, Southwest and Alaska, United earned consumers’ trust by partnering with Cleveland Clinic and Clorox to provide CleanPlus protection, offering in-airport COVID testing and much more.

Lemonade (No. 76) jumped to the top with USAA amongst the seven-brand insurance sector with advances in being “customer-obsessed” and “distinctly inspired.” With all the chaos of 2020, consumers no longer consider insurance an annoyance but rather an indispensable partner. The “new brand” has shaken up the industry by introducing an AI model that uses big data to offer a low price, a novel brand image that delights instead of scares, and a big heart that donates up to 49% of unclaimed premiums to nonprofits. These efforts help the brand become more visible, attractive and successful. Success creates energy as well.

Peloton vaulted to the No. 2 position behind Apple, edging out KitchenAid (No. 3) and Mayo Clinic (No. 4) in part based on large increases in being “customer-obsessed” and “ruthlessly pragmatic.” In a year when gyms shut down, Peloton moved quickly to set up instructors to lead classes from home and offered a 90-day free trial, all while delivering more than just an exercise platform, but rather a way to connect to a community that people desperately missed. In some ways, Peloton was in the right place at the right time with the right product, but they also hit the mark by being agile and innovative to quickly meet customers’ needs.


Learnings from the biggest risers in the 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®:

  1. It’s clear that innovation is important. When innovation includes digital and mobile-first strategy, it makes it more impactful and sometimes more visible.
  2. Having a clear and authentic social purpose and social programs can elevate a brand.
  3. Excellence in creating strategy and implementing matters.

Want to learn more about the most relevant brands? Download the 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index® today.


The 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®

Brand Equity – Brand Value_1_A


Building Relevance Through Relationship-Driven Marketing

Right-now thinking, content marketing and nimble messaging nurture customer bonds.

The 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI), recently launched and as we sift through the top performers, it’s clear to us that relationship-driven marketing strategies are powering the strongest companies.

Now in its sixth iteration, the BRI is based on four core principles of relentless relevance, measuring whether a brand is customer-obsessed, ruthlessly pragmatic, pervasively innovative and distinctively inspired. But a year of pandemic, social unrest, political upheaval and economic uncertainty is causing some brands to soar and pushing others entirely out of the conversation.

To understand how consumers measure the most relevant brands, we closely study the specific relevance dimensions in the top-ranked brands. We see three clear consumer marketing trends executives can tap into, regardless of industry and category.

The “right now” consumer need: Lean into how you can help, then execute relationship-driven marketing

Organizations that are confident enough to jump into a pressing need, solve it fast, and communicate effectively are among the year’s biggest gainers. Top brands demonstrated an embracement of the relationship-driven marketing mindset.

Johns Hopkins Medicine, No. 8, vaults into the Index for the first time, primarily due to the creation of its widely-used COVID-19 dashboard. Launched in late January last year, when many people felt they weren’t getting the answers they needed from the government or media sources,  it quickly became not just a trusted data provider, but also a source of daily contact.

As Black Lives Matter protests swept the world, many companies did little more than slapping a black box into their Instagram accounts. But Xbox, No. 19 and one of the Index’s biggest gainers, responded differently. It tightened rules around hate speech, sparking meaningful conversations among gamers worldwide.

And to pass the time during the pandemic, millions of consumers turn to KitchenAid, No. 3. It increases adoration by leveraging its Yummly food platform, with 26 million users and more than 2 million recipes, it elevates fans from mere cooks to domestic divas.

“Right now” thinking also includes launching new products and services that speak directly to the moment. These new offers go well beyond features and functionality. They address important emotive needs–and consumers reward that thoughtfulness. Chick-fil-A, No.39, is the only restaurant in the top 50. That’s a credit to compassionate introductions like family meal kits, well outside its quick-serve wheelhouse.

Content marketing: Keep your audiences engaged with core products & services

The most relevant brands are content juggernauts, using new agile processes, techniques and channels to create sprawling ecosystems. And these ever-growing hubs reach well beyond their central customer base, finding unexpected avenues to acquire new and potential customers. In doing so, they don’t just remain top of mind: They become constant companions.

“The best marketing and sales organizations have been focusing on speed skills for years now, reengineering both organization and culture to add more flexibility.”

Peloton, No. 2, isn’t only relevant because of its bikes, treadmills and the fact that – as gyms and fitness studios closed – people needed digital sweat sessions more than ever before. Its incredible rise started long before the pandemic and is directly linked to a smart, relationship-driven and agile content strategy, providing a constant stream of workouts, a “virtuous cycle,” built into a system that allows them to constantly retouch the content. With its commitment to supporting content throughout its lifecycle, its classes by now welcome millions of at-home meditators, yogis and weightlifters over and over again.  

Coming in at No. 5 LEGO recognized the pandemic’s effect on adult’s normal social and leisure activities, the creative outlet brand for kids introduced several grown-up art projects, including Andy Warhol style murals and the Botanical Collection… LEGO also leads by creating an entire digital content ecosystem around its products, from movies to minimovie series and microsites designed around LEGO storylines, innovative tools and processes to drive customer-generated content.

Message molding: Shape the conversation

The best marketing and sales organizations have been focusing on speed skills for years now, reengineering both organization and culture to add more flexibility.

These brands entered 2020 more agile than their competitors. But as events unfolded, it became clear just how essential this is. Our BRI is filled with examples of brands as nimble as ninjas, continually updating their messages and flexing their agile muscles.

Take Sephora. It rises 36 places to land at No. 33, an astonishing gain in a year where industrywide, makeup sales plunged 19 percent. Few nights out give consumers little reason to buy cosmetics, however, Sephora keeps gaining relevance, with messages focusing on beauty as a key part of self-care.

Amazon, No. 10, offers a different example. Its sales are skyrocketing, reflecting the surge in e-commerce. Yet it recognizes that many consumers question its lack of transparency around employee health. So, it’s running an extensive ad campaign explaining the many ways it is working to protect its front-line workers.


Even amid intense upheaval in consumer behavior, marketing and selling strategies can help brands increase relevance–and revenues. To achieve uncommon growth, organizations must look for ways to deepen their relationship-driven marketing capabilities. This will help each respond to new needs and opportunities as quickly as they arise, invest in content that expands the brand’s universe and find ways to update messaging to meet the moment.

You can learn more brand implications and business insights by downloading the 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index®.

If you’re particularly interested in driving relevance within your marketing & sales organization, please reach out.


How Innovation Is Powering the Most Relevant Experiences

Costco, LEGO and Peloton prove that the stickiest engagements build the strongest fan base.

Prophet’s 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index® ranks hundreds of U.S. brands on the characteristics that consumers care about the most. In the sixth edition of our ground-breaking research, we measured brands’ relevancy based on how customer-obsessed, ruthlessly pragmatic, pervasively innovative and distinctively inspired they were.

After a year of global economic and social upheaval, it’s no surprise that the rankings have shifted dramatically. Our world’s abrupt transition from physical to digital, high degrees of consumer uncertainty and an increased need for human connection have all impacted how strongly brands across all industries showed up for consumers and continued to deliver innovative experiences.

Here are three brands that led the way in the innovation stakes over the past year:

1. Peloton: Improving virtual experiences through real-time data immersion

Its bike may be stationary, but the Peloton brand wasn’t, cruising in at No.2 in our Index, up 33 spots. The pandemic’s closure of workout studios and gyms definitely helped boost its brand relevance, but to get customers paying a premium for at-home sweat sessions, a fine-tuned experience was core to success. Peloton’s personalized workouts, digitally connected community and relentless in-category innovation delivered experiential excellence by enabling customers to be in unparalleled control of their health.

Peloton now has over 3.6 million users, with the average Connected Fitness subscription user clocking in 20.7 workouts a month. The brand has innovated its product line by expanding from bikes to treadmills and even commercial fitness equipment, all while establishing itself as an on-demand content powerhouse with over 10,000 classes in its digital library. Users can track every joule generated and calorie burned – and Peloton’s UX acts as a personal trainer, providing personalized “power zones” and class recommendations to optimize individual performance.

On our Index, Peloton scored highest on providing emotional connection and meeting new user needs. We see these attributes inextricably linked with the powerful, data-powered experience it consistently delivers. For consumers looking for sanctuary in a time of record uncertainty and atrophy, Peloton doesn’t just sell exercise equipment or even a good workout – it sells motivation.

Takeaway: Truly innovative brands are the ones pushing the status quo by finding new ways to engage customers in experiences that most matter to them.

2. LEGO: Blurring the lines between physical and digital experiences

LEGO zipped into 5th place, rising from No.28. As the pandemic shut schools and corralled an entire generation into at-home classrooms, LEGO unleashed countless experiences that combined play and education. Its ability to blend the digital with the physical, collaborate with innovative out-of-category players and craft experiences that make consumers feel safe and connected all helped the brand stack up high on our experience & innovation winners list.

With some 90 percent of children outside their usual learning environments, the Danish toymaker launched digital initiatives like “Let’s Build Together,” which produced thousands of hours of online content for kids. It also maintained a strong product design offensive with new toys like LEGO VIDIYO, which is AR-enabled and comes with an app to build music videos in a modular fashion.

LEGO was also unafraid to explore collaborations in verticals like fashion and multimedia, recognizing that entertainment has fewer bounds today than ever before. At the same time, it also catered to a clear consumer desire for online safety by creating kid-safe digital ecosystems through its LEGO Life App.

With these innovative pushes, it’s no wonder LEGO received top scores on the Prophet Brand Relevance Index for “engages with me in new and different ways” and “has better products, services and experiences than competitors​.”

Takeaway: Innovation winners are extending their lead by finding new ways to inspire their customers, especially with innovative out-of-category partnerships.

3. Costco: Keeping the customer experience fresh

Grocery stores got plenty of attention in 2020, but Costco made the biggest strides in relevance, rising to No. 6 from No.15. Even more impressively, it’s the first time any retailer (except Apple and Amazon) has ever appeared in the Top 10. Beyond a nice categorical boost, Costco’s north star of fair pricing, membership-based business model and simplified product matrix helped it excel in its customer experience strategy.

“Simplifying choice amidst chaos and focusing on quality products is, in an age of information overload, a revolutionary act..”

Costco is a bit of a dark horse among its peers – a low-tech, brick-and-mortar play in the age of e-commerce and grocery aisle robots. Last year, it held back on curbside pickup despite many other retailers doing so and has kept its retail experience famously streamlined, with utilitarian signage, bulk bins and nary an external ad to be seen. Yet the brand boasts a 90 percent member retention rate, thanks to its ability to double-down on the right customer segments and make each warehouse trip a satisfying haul.

Costco understands the psychology of their target consumer to a tee, enabling the brand to deliver a consistently excellent experience. Simplifying choice amidst chaos and focusing on quality products is, in an age of information overload, a revolutionary act. As a result, Costco scored highly on our Index for “lives up to its promises” and “is a brand I trust.”

Takeaway: Stay true to your brand experience “north star”, consistently delivering against this matters most to your customers.


While the end of the pandemic appears in sight, people’s expectations of brand experiences have changed for good. Brands must be more diligent than ever by crafting strategic consumer experiences and infusing continuous innovation into their business portfolio. Those that develop more connected, emotionally compelling and pragmatic experiences will win the race to relevance, generating greater revenues – and uncommon growth.

Learn more about the brands that stood out in this year’s Prophet Brand Relevance Index®. And if you’re looking to build and maintain the capacity to innovate then our Experience & Innovation practice can help, get in touch today.


Brands Are Sitting Out the Super Bowl: Is This an Inflection Point for Marketers?

How companies are recalculating the complex math of advertising during the Big Game. It’s riskier than ever.

The Super Bowl LV is right around the corner. The Kansas City Chiefs will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and this year’s match-up is all about legacy vs. new. The duel of Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes. Will Tom Brady be able to win another Super Bowl and retain his GOAT status? Or will the 25-year-old star outperform him on a national stage? It will be a fascinating game to watch.

Off the field, we also see the duel of legacy vs. new as we look at the much-ballyhooed ad spots surrounding the Super Bowl. Several legacy brands that traditionally bought ad spots are sitting out this year: Budweiser, Pepsi, Coke. While other brands like Chipotle, DoorDash and Indeed are willing to get in the game and spend $5M+ for 30 seconds of airtime. Even amidst the criticism against the NFL for their lackluster response to Black Lives Matter, the controversy of physical audiences during the pandemic and viewership ratings once again on the decline, the Super Bowl is still considered the quintessential placement for U.S. advertisers.

“The Super Bowl is still considered the quintessential placement for U.S. advertisers.”

In addition to navigating these ongoing challenges, this year’s Super Bowl also brings the duel of advertising on legacy television vs. digital video to a head. Brands are increasingly aware that coveted eyeballs are turning off the television while the reach and engagement on YouTube, Twitch and other digital platforms are becoming the new prestige play. CMOs today are seeing digital video advertising deliver results and brand awareness is also functioning as a direct response.

We believe this interesting match-up of legacy vs. new highlights 3 shifts in how CMOs decide where and how they invest their marketing dollars:

1. From Static to Dynamic

CMOs are increasingly under pressure to move the needle and do it fast. Their mandate has expanded from the top of the funnel down to acquiring customers. As a result, they are continuously experimenting with ways and channels to optimize the return of their marketing investment – often challenging practices that have been considered “tried and true.” For the first time in decades, Anheuser-Busch announced that the iconic Budweiser brand is sitting this Super Bowl out. We can still expect to see ads from BudLight and the first-ever corporate spot. Regardless, this still came as a big surprise to many.

2. From Reach to Relevance

The pandemic has shifted consumer behavior. Consumers have become more open to trying new brands – even new players – forcing brands to defend their positions. As a result, CMOs are changing their approach from maximizing reach to proactively finding ways to embed their brands in consumers’ lives. This year, for some consumers, the Super Bowl will not be as important as in prior years, given social distancing. Budweiser understands this and is reportedly reallocating its Super Bowl budget to a topic that is more relevant to its audience: COVID relief in the form of coronavirus vaccination awareness efforts.

3. From Opportunistic to Authentic

Shifting marketing strategy and execution depending on context or market conditions is not new. The best marketers have done it to raise the bar and set the standard on how to engage consumers (remember the “dunk in the dark” tweet from Oreo in 2013?). Today this is increasingly difficult as consumers expect and demand brands to be authentic. Consumers are quick to call out anything that looks and feels different or “off-brand.” With the ease and speed of social media, brands have to answer to their customers. It will be interesting to track how Budweiser executes on the COVID-19 efforts now and into the future from an authenticity perspective, at the risk of exposing the brand and hindering the return of their investments.


Investing in a Super Bowl ad is a big decision for any marketer. Sometimes the decision is clear and compelling: by showing up to where consumers are, on the right platforms, in the right context and with authentic engagement, marketers have a better shot at maximizing the return of their investments.

But the case is not always clear and yet organizations continue to invest.  Why? The culture within organizations is slow to change. Successful marketers go beyond the data to focus on aligning the mindsets and behaviors of their organizations to ensure they make the right decisions, not the decisions that have “worked” in the past.  It’s a tall order.


Make Purpose Work Harder: Lessons from Business Leaders

Our research finds that companies struggle to carve out a purpose that’s both authentic and actionable.

Businesses have been using purpose-driven strategies for years, but recent events are testing those missions like never before. Between the pandemic, political polarization and all-new virtual connections, organizations see that just having a purpose is not enough. They need one that is durable, flexible and completely human. And they realize that leading with purpose, an all-important North Star, is their best chance to stay relevant to customers and employees.

Prophet’s Purpose Diagnostic enables companies to assess the strength of their purpose in four critical dimensions, measuring whether it is…

  • Authentic (how does it tie to what you do?)
  • Inspiring (how does it connect with employees and customers emotionally?)
  • Shared (how does it create connection and build community?)
  • Actionable (how do you live your purpose every day?)

We analyzed the diagnostic results, which now include responses from over 150 leaders in more than 20 countries, and discovered common pain points where companies are falling behind. These insights also highlight the best ways to close gaps, so companies can focus on strengthening purpose in ways that engage stakeholders, build relevance and unlock uncommon growth.

The Biggest Challenge? Putting Purpose to Work

The toughest element to get right is making purpose actionable–bringing it to life in steady, meaningful ways. Overall, 28 percent of leaders reported this as the most problematic. But authenticity and the ability to share purpose are close behind.

Action is critical. If organizations can’t deliver on purpose, it doesn’t matter how inspiring, authentic or shared it is. It just becomes another empty promise. When companies fail to act, organizations lose the trust of customers and employees looking to brands to play a critical role in addressing social challenges. Purpose must be integrated into all aspects of how companies do business. It’s the way they show up in the world. This was especially true at the director, vice president and managerial level, and lower rungs in the organization. That makes sense: Those with the most accountability for how well their purpose is put into action, within a specific business area, are most likely to acknowledge weaknesses.

“If organizations can’t deliver on purpose, it doesn’t matter how inspiring, authentic or shared it is. It just becomes another empty promise.”

But developing an authentic purpose, one that feels uniquely it’s own rather than generic, is also daunting. That is particularly true in the C-suite. These executives are most likely to say their purpose lacks authenticity. They believe purpose feels less connected to their business and isn’t specific enough to their company.

And those in manager-level positions and below are most likely to say their purpose isn’t shared, likely because they have the closest understanding of how the broader organization experiences the purpose. To them, this inability to communicate purpose is as problematic as making it actionable.

C-Suite execs worry most about authenticity

Directors and VPs struggle to put purpose in action

For the rank-and-file, it’s hardest to share purpose, and put it into action

Overcoming Stumbling Blocks

There are no short cuts to strengthen and deepen an enterprise’s purpose. To function as a true North Star, a beacon that rallies all stakeholders and sparks exceptional growth, companies must continually nurture and manage their purpose. But our findings do point to specific steps to bolster each dimension.

If a company’s purpose needs to be more…


Companies must act on purpose and measure the impact of those actions. The biggest failing among our respondents is the lack of metrics. They say they don’t have direct, or even indirect, ways to measure whether they deliver. Without such a measurement, it’s difficult to assess progress.

  • To improve:
    • Develop performance metrics aligned to the purpose to hold leaders accountable
    • Lead by example, using purpose to guide decision-making and taking action in the market
    • Tie purpose to employee behaviors and competencies, and make sure they are visible to all


When purpose lacks authenticity, the biggest challenge leaders face is differentiating themselves from competitors. “Our purpose is unique to our company” received the lowest score of all authenticity measures. Leaders need to drive greater relevance with their customers and employees: What does this brand do that others don’t? How does it add value to peoples’ lives? The more specific the purpose, the more relevant and authentic it is to the company.

  • To improve:
    • Determine what sets the company apart and creates a unique value. Make sure those differences anchor the purpose
    • Make the company’s purpose reflect cultural strengths


When a purpose is genuinely shared, it’s easier to build bridges and start conversations. Whether it’s with shareholders, employees or customers, the right purpose forges a common bond. It fosters connection and demonstrates a clear understanding of what employees and customers need. Our research uncovered two fundamental weaknesses in this domain, with “Employees at all levels are familiar with the purpose” and “Our purpose cultivates a community and creates a dialogue” earning the lowest scores.

  • To improve:
    • Listen to what customers are saying and deliver value in ways that align
    • Weave purpose into rituals and communications with employees
    • Link it to employee’s day-to-day experiences
    • Make sure messages to shareholders and community partners reflect purpose-related efforts


Purpose-led businesses aim to make a difference in the world.  And they need to elevate the stories that demonstrate how they help society. Without consistent reinforcements of a company’s impact, employees and customers can forget what it stands for and why it matters. While just 20% of respondents said this was the most problematic area, all brands need to question whether their purpose is bold enough. Otherwise, it can’t inspire the storytelling required to spread the word. In our research, the ability to mobilize stories to demonstrate a lived purpose was identified as a key challenge.

  • To improve:
    • Tell signature stories that bring purpose to life, and share them regularly with employees and customers
    • Link environmental, social, and corporate efforts directly to purpose


How strong is your purpose? Take the diagnostic today to understand where your organization may be faltering. The right purpose, used in the most effective ways, can increase loyalty and drive revenue gains. But most importantly, it leads to the future. Purpose doesn’t just help businesses decide what to do. It guides them in the best ways to do it.

Interested in strengthening your purpose and overall brand strategy? Let’s connect to see how you can unlock growth.