2020 Trends: Achieving Growth in the Digital Age

Prophet’s consultants around the world forecast what’s ahead in the coming year.

The pace of disruption continues to accelerate and redefine how companies drive growth in the digital age. Read our 2020 predictions to learn what trends we believe will drive measurable business impact this year and beyond.

Our global team shared their insights across several key focus areas to highlight the trends we expect to see in 2020:

Download the full report below.

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Owning Game-Changing Subcategories



The only way to grow (with rare exceptions) is with “must-haves” that define game-changing subcategories. These subcategories must offer new or markedly superior customer experiences or brand relationships, an exemplar brand that positions the subcategory and creates barriers to competitors.

Subcategory-driven growth has exploded in the digital era because of technological advances and the fast, inexpensive market access made possible by e-commerce and digital communication.

The alternative, “my brand is better than your brand” competition, rarely generates growth because markets are so stable and difficult to disrupt. The book includes case studies from numerous companies including Airbnb, Etsy, Warby Parker, Prius and Muji to illustrate how subcategory creation has led to uncommon growth.


  • Explanation of why growth almost always involves “must-haves” defining new subcategories, earning exemplar brand status, and creating competitor barriers
  • Tips for finding “must-haves” and examples with case studies featuring notable leading brands
  • Deep dive into how digital tech trends like e-commerce, the Internet of Things, brand communities and more that drive growth through subcategory formation


I really LOVE this book!! It is so right for organizations looking to drive growth. Through compelling insights, Aaker shows how to employ the Digital Revolution to create and own  Subcategories highly relevant to customers. A MUST READ book for our Digital times!

Joe Tripodi
Former CMO of Coca-Cola, Allstate, MasterCard, and Subway

David Aaker uses economics and case studies to show how growth comes from inspired breakthroughs that create new subcategories and not from expanding market programs.  Use the 20 takeaways to find your own subcategory breakthrough.

Philip Kotler
The Father of Modern Marketing

David Aaker teaches us how to grow in the digital era by harnessing the power of subcategories. A must have for all business leaders.

Yong-Jin Chung
Vice Chairman, Shinsegae Group (Korea’s Largest  Retailer)


“From Brand to Subcategory Competition” in European Journal of Marketing, Fall 2018

“Winning in the Sharing Economy—Six Keys to Airbnb’s Success, ‘ Journal of Brand Strategy, February, 2019.

About the Author

David Aaker, is the author of more than one hundred articles and 17 books on marketing, business strategy, and branding that have sold over one million copies. A recognized global authority on branding, he has developed concepts and methods on brand building that are used by organizations around the world.


Want to interview Dave or feature him on your next podcast? Please connect with us or David Aaker directly.

Explore how David Aaker and Prophet can help your business create game-changing brands that resonate with both your customers and employees.


Webinar: Lessons on Leading Business Transformation

Knowing where to start transformations is important. So is knowing how and when to course-correct.

59 min

Culture is a key lever driving transformation and unlocking uncommon growth for organizations today.

Hear first-hand from Prophet’s Chief Transformation Officer, Paul Greenall, and Senior Strategic Advisor, Bill Margaritis, as they sit down with Tyler Durham to share how they have both successfully navigated the challenges faced during business transformations within Fortune 50 companies.

Thank you for your interest in our webinar.

If you’d like help identifying a clearer path to transformation and how to best use culture as a key lever to drive that change then please get in touch today.

For further reading, be sure to take a look at our latest global research report: Catalysts: Cultural Levers of Growth in the Digital Era – referenced in the webinar, it outlines the key fundamentals you need to prioritize now in order to drive impactful change from the inside out.

Related Videos

The Future of Healthcare & Consumer-Centricity

The Future of Healthcare & Consumer-Centricity

The Future of Healthcare & Consumer-Centricity


6 Actions to Build an Insurance Service Strategy that Drives Growth

Our research finds that consumers expect more, and want products combined with services.

Over the past several years insurance companies have faced increased product commoditization due to ubiquitous online presence, more sophisticated aggregators and the increased availability of insurance products. They are faced with the challenge of driving growth while managing their risk profiles to be less capital-intensive. In a market with heightened expectations for digital experiences – which the COVID-19 pandemic raised even more – the likes of Oscar, Lemonade and other new DTC market entrants are raising consumer expectations, spurring companies to develop more experience-led strategies to drive engagement and value. Then there’s other players like American Express and Chase making their play.

Where should insurers look to drive growth?

Against this backdrop, Life, Health and P&C insurers are turning to new services to drive growth and engagement. Services create more compelling and differentiated solutions that focus on customer needs, going above and beyond basic insurance coverages. This enables insurers to identify new streams of less capital-intensive revenue and increase demand for existing products – especially in a category that has historically struggled to drive engagement at moments outside of the core product moments (e.g., purchase, premium payment and claim).

Based on our extensive experience and research within the industry, integrating a services strategy also translates into impactful business outcomes for insurers globally – from initial purchase intent to long-term customer retention. The results speak for themselves:

  1. Customers were twice as interested in an insurance product when sold with relevant services (Source: Prophet Insurer Research)
  2. The presence of services impacts broker interest with three-quarters of brokers stating that services are critical to their choice of provider when recommending to clients (Source: Prophet Insurer Research)
  3. Insurers who offer three or more services on top of the core product see NPS increases between 20-40 points.

When it comes to services, who is doing it well?

Insurers are already recognizing the value services can bring both to their customers and their business. However, as many insurers do not have exclusive relationships with services providers, avoiding services replication across the industry is key. Insurers are therefore partnering and acquiring across the services ecosystem to uniquely deliver new customer value.

P&C providers are already seeing strong integration of services into their offers given their ability to utilize customer tracking and connected devices, not only providing product discounts but also additional services on-top. For example, Progressive Insurance has partnered with TrueMotion to launch Snapshot, a service that monitors and measures driver data through either their smartphones or a plug-in device. This enables customers to understand their driving habits and generate personal discounts. Progressive is continuing to explore expansions to the program and invest in partnerships to combat distracted driving.

“Integrating a services strategy also translates into impactful business outcomes for insurers globally – from initial purchase intent to long-term customer retention.”

Health and Life are also now capitalizing upon the opportunity to integrate services into their portfolios by exploring the way they can utilize health tracking to adjust premiums through improved health. From a global standpoint, Vitality is one example of a brand that has developed a personalized customer health and wellness tracking and support platform. In the U.S. specifically, John Hancock has partnered with Vitality to provide discounts and tailored recommendations to their customers based on their health tracking. While in Asia, AIA has made a focused push to expand the solutions they offer to customer across the region.

Health insurers also are exploring the role of partnerships with preventative health start-ups to help customers manage chronic illnesses. For example, Cigna has partnered with Omada Health to offer customers a personalized preventative health solution to mitigate risk against diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Six actions for insurers to create impact and drive growth through services

We believe there are six actions insurers take to develop a winning services strategy:

  1. Understand what customers want. What is the foundational understanding of customer wants and needs to guide services development?
  2. Identify the business opportunity. What role could and should services play for your business and what business objectives should your services strategy inform (i.e., acquisition, incremental revenue, retention, efficiency)?
  3. Prioritize unique and relevant services. What are the set of unique services most relevant to your customer base that you will prioritize developing?
  4. Drive engagement. Where and when within the journey do customers become aware of services and how do we improve interest for them?
  5. Improve the experience of access and use. What is the right experience behind driving easier services access and use to deliver greater customer value?
  6. Identify the right internal owners. Who within the organization is responsible for funding, building and managing our services strategy?


Insurers are falling short on delivering value to customers. A well-defined services strategy can nurture customer relationships and earn loyalty to fuel growth.

If you’d like to learn more about the role of services and how we have helped leading insurance companies execute experience-led strategies that drive impact and engagement, get in touch.


M&A Portfolios: Are You Thinking Like a Digital Native?

Companies need radical flexibility, not “house of brands” hang-ups.

After several quarters of near-frenzy pace, global deal-making is starting to slow. But for those in charge of managing portfolio and architecture strategy, the recent mergers and acquisition binge is creating something of a mess.

Many of the decisions about customers, brands and marketing have been addressed too quickly as deals were coming together. And once the integration process starts, those initial plans unravel. As the financial and operations teams that finalized deals hand them off to those responsible for taking new assets to market, tangles of false assumptions and the sub-optimal use of brand assets emerge; the value creation logic of the deal never gets out of the spreadsheet. And with $1.24 trillion in deals already on the books this year, that confusion presents material risk for shareholders.

Increasingly, clients are coming to us for help figuring out the best ways to organize and manage new, post-deal asset bases. Often, they start by asking: “Should we be a house of brands? Or a branded house?”

“Should we be a house of brands? Or a branded house?”

We’re not afraid to say that’s simply the wrong question. Digitally-focused companies can’t afford to think that way. The modern approach to architecture and portfolio strategy, and the one inherently chosen by digital natives, is radical flexibility.

Older companies are coming to understand this, too, focusing on customers earlier in the M&A process, aware that integration management offices are often working with incomplete data.

In order to get this right and maximize the value of today’s deals, we believe the best post-merger decisions come down to answering three essential questions.

Three Essential Questions For the Best M&A Portfolio Strategy

1. Are we customer-obsessed?

Our research on brand relevance offers compelling evidence that companies that are obsessed with customers significantly outperform others. It’s no surprise that the names that dominate the top of the Prophet Brand Relevance Index® are digital-first, including Apple, Amazon and Netflix. And those at the top of the list consistently outperformed the S&P 500 by 3x in revenue and 205x in profit in the last decade. These companies constantly ask themselves: Are we putting customer-use cases and environments first? All decisions are filtered through the perspective of customers and prospects.

When considering customers first—the buyers, the deciders–it’s easy to see how easily a company like Procter & Gamble and Schick might be outflanked. Direct-to-consumer brands like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s have devoted themselves to changing and improving the razor shopping experience, rather than focusing on promotions and product features.

In post-M&A environments, brand portfolios should be built around key customer use cases, balancing the desire for efficiency with a customer-centric model that leverages the strongest brand for each use case. When J.P. Morgan & Co. and The Chase Manhattan Bank merged, they prioritized efficiency over customers and created a brand mash-up that weakened both brands. After a couple of years of brand value degradation, a new strategy that led with customer needs was founded with a powerful institutional brand, J.P. Morgan, and a powerful retail brand, Chase. This approach allows for effective targeting of clearly defined customer segments with separate brands and tailored offerings, and is paying off for JPMorgan Chase, with a five-year gain in brand value of 53%.

2. Can we find max value?

When M&A deals fail to generate revenue synergies, there is usually a lack of early focus on customer, marketing and branding issues. Playbooks often don’t include these steps and when they do, the discussions are qualitative and overly reliant on opinion and emotion.

The solution is in this key question: Are we deploying our assets to maximize customer use cases?

Companies can find significant incremental deal value when they integrate customer and marketing analytics in pre-close analysis and the integration management office. We studied one deal that doubled the final price of a $5 billion global asset by modeling the financial impact of future (post close) brand use cases. Another estimated market-share gains between 2 and 3% on a $60 billion deal through brand portfolio economic analysis. And on the cost side, we are helping companies lower post-merger migration costs between 15 and 40% by using cost-optimization analysis.

3. Are we serving up the right offer?

The best way to achieve this optimization is to constantly elevate the right offer for each person, on the right device and at the perfect time. Companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and SAP are experts at this kind of hyper-responsiveness, with nearly-infinite capabilities for personalization, depending on the needs of each customer. They continually ask: Do we have an adaptive brand architecture? To win with today’s digitally demanding customers, companies need to maximize all the flexibility available through digital tools, making sure offers are as adaptive and individualized as possible.

Amazon remains a perfect example. Rather than being a monolithic Amazon or a fragmented collection of sub-brands, the brand adapts to its audience, use case or environment. Do you listen to a book at 9 p.m. each night? If so, it’s likely Amazon will push an Audible brand message just before. Recently ordered paper towels? Alexa will check-in to see if you need a refill. Context is king in our world, and successful companies will deliver an adaptive architecture that ensures maximum relevance.


Older companies don’t have to cede their future to those that came of age as digital natives. Moving forward, all companies–and all brands­–can benefit from a modern portfolio and architecture strategy. And while all companies acknowledge that the future is digital, we’re convinced that those that win are those that also understand that the digital’s primary power is in better serving customers.

For more information on capturing greater value in the M&A, please contact us today.


Healthcare Transformation: How Do We Get There?

On the Healthcare Rap podcast, Jeff Gourdji, co-author of the new book Making the Healthcare Shift, breaks down the 5 necessary shifts for becoming consumer-centric, and how marketing and technology are involved. All that, plus an inside look at launching his book and a shout-out to little moments that make a big difference.

Listen here


How Gatorade Fueled Its Business Growth with Customer Insights

To regain relevance, this brand learned the power of unbiased listening, increasing annual sales by 15%.

While the key to unprecedented business growth is sometimes hidden, you can find it if you know where to look: consumer data.

Gatorade Finds the Key to Unlocking Business Growth

Once a leader of the $6BN sports hydration category, in 2006 Gatorade faced a double-digit volume decline. The brand needed a growth strategy that would allow them to reignite consumers’ relationship with the brand, reach new consumers and ultimately drive revenue.

To accomplish this, Gatorade partnered with Prophet on an extensive consumer research project to understand where the opportunities for growth existed. This research uncovered two extremely valuable insights:

1. Gatorade’s Brand Positioning was Losing Relevance

The brand transitioned its marketplace position away from its former status as a “science of hydration” brand toward a lifestyle brand. While this shift was intentional, it turned off key audience groups like competitive athletes and teen athletes – who no longer perceived the brand to offer significant performance benefits beyond thirst quench. Direct competitors like Powerade and Powerade Zero, and other low calories “lifestyle waters,” such as Vitamin Water and SoBe life water were encroaching the market share and relevance within targeted segments of consumers.

2. A Glaring Gap in the Market Existed

The former insight led to the realization that no brand satisfied the whole spectrum of athletes’ nutritional needs. Athletes sought a product that provided benefits from hydration to energy to recovery – and Gatorade presented highly stretchable brand equity into the adjacent sports nutrition category, pre-, during, post-acute sports events and surrounding more foundational athletic occasions.

Building a New Growth Strategy for Gatorade

These insights lead to the development of a two-pronged strategy to drive growth. The approach included:

Prong 1: Reclaim Hydration Leadership

The master brand, Gatorade, needed to be re-positioned back to its foundation in hydration. To reclaim its leadership of the hydration space, it needed to move beyond “thirst-quenching” to “performance hydration.”  As part of its bid to reclaim leadership in hydration among competitive athletes, Gatorade launched G-Series – Prime, Perform and Recover. This transformed the brand from a generic all-athletic-occasion drink that came in different flavors to a packaged solution covering specific athletic occasions with tailored nutrition ingredients, thus opening the doors to the sports fuel market.

Prong 2: Elevate the Brand from Hydration to Sports Fuel

Anchored on the occasion-specific benefits desired by athletes, the brand was poised to elevate itself beyond the $6BN sports hydration category and into the $72BN sports fuel space; moving from “science and soul of hydration” to “fuel to help athletes win from within”. This was actualized through creating a lineup of products targeting both the hydration and nutrition needs surrounding intensive athletic occasions, across the moments before, during, and after these occasions.

We developed a brand portfolio and architecture to align with other target athlete segments; with clear value propositions for each sub-brand. This led to the launch of G Series Pro – an intense sports fuel targeting endurance athletes. In 2010, it also launched G Series Fit, targeting low-calorie consumption occasions for passionate exercisers.

The Impact of Gatorade’s New Growth Strategy

Due to this strategy, the double-digit declines the brand had been experiencing were reversed to 15 percent growth in just one year. Since its inception, Gatorade has seen over $2 billion dollars in franchise revenue increases and is now the fastest-growing brand in the PepsiCo portfolio (and its only double-digit growth brand for over five years).


Breakthrough Insights Hold the Key to Breakthrough Growth

Identifying consumer insights that have breakthrough growth potential like this example with Gatorade is a tough but rewarding task. To uncover such insights, analysts need to keep a few things in mind:

  1. The market doesn’t lie, and analysts should be bold. When we first introduced the idea for T-mobile’s Uncarrier strategy; it was met with some apprehension, just as when we first talked about nutrition to Gatorade. A bold strategy anchored in solid customer insights is just what an organization needs to ignite its next wave of growth and success. It takes guts to point out (and stick to) a category pain point, but it’s these pain points that lead to breakthrough growth.
  2. Analysts need to understand what’s most important to the business by getting into the minds of the executive team – what keeps them up at night? How do they form their hypotheses? How can we make this data meaningful to them? Fishing outside of this context is futile and irrelevant.
  3. Be an anonymous, unbiased power listener who is tuned into the trends of the market. The challenge nowadays is too much data that still requires human processing and integration.


Successful Business Growth Strategies: 5 Key Components

Long-term thinking builds relevance and improves experience.

Growing a business is easier said than done. Companies of every size face challenges that suppress their growth. A company might have a great product or service but no business growth strategy to help it define, articulate and communicate where it is going.

A growth strategy is different from an annual plan and can be difficult to develop if you’re unfamiliar with what it is, why you need it and how to create it. Below we examine how to develop a business growth strategy that is dynamic and effective.

What is a Business Growth Strategy & Why is it Important?

Instead, a growth strategy addresses how your company is going to evolve to meet the challenges of today and in the future. A growth strategy gives your company purpose, and it answers questions about your long-term plans.

Growth strategies usually starts by identifying and accessing opportunities within your market. They go beyond your business and marketing plans, which detail how you’re going to meet specific business targets. Growth strategies are important because they keep your company working towards goals that go beyond what’s happening in the market today. They keep both leaders and employees focused and aligned, and they compel you to think long-term. Bad decisions often happen when you make decisions based on today, instead of an emerging tomorrow.

Components for Developing a Successful Business Growth Strategy

Developing a growth strategy demands coordination among a cross-functional group of stakeholders; it can’t be just a few people in a room with a whiteboard. Everyone involved should understand what they’re working towards and why, as well as what they’re expected to bring to the process.

To be successful in your strategy, you need to consider what will significantly impact business growth. Let’s take a look at a few:

1. Value Propositions and Business Growth Steps

For a company to expand, it needs to increase its reach with existing target customers and acquire new ones. To do this, the company must design a value proposition that clearly states what it does and why customers need it. Then it must create a growth strategy that provides the steps (i.e. growth moves) the company is going to make to take new things to market.

When T-Mobile U.S. came to us because there was dissatisfaction among its customers, we knew they needed a powerful new value proposition and go-to-market strategy. Through extensive market research, we identified a the opportunity for a wireless carrier who didn’t act like one – the “Un-carrier.”

2. Brand Relevance and Customer Experience

Even the most recognized brands in the world started from scratch at some point. So how did they become some of the biggest names in the market? By building relevance with customers and delivering a distinctive and integrated customer experience. Building a brand is much more than a logo and a color palette (although those things are important for brand recognition). Your brand should be recognized by its values and by how customers experience you – both of which should be highlighted in your growth strategy.

Olive Garden was already an industry leader when they came to us looking for a new way to achieve relevance with both their current customers and new ones. What was the key? Breadsticks and family.

The development of Breadstick Nation saw the brand’s success surge as it launched new breadstick products and experiences. And with a strategic focus on family, a new customer experience for children was created both in the restaurant and online.

3. Thinking Long Term Business Growth

Being focused solely on the present and making snap decisions about the future is never a good idea. Your organization needs to invest time and energy in thinking about where the world is going and what it means for your customers, partners, employees, etc. Your growth strategy will help you make good decisions for the future of your business, even though it might seem uncomfortable to place bets when even the present seems uncertain.

4. Expanding into the New – Markets, Categories, Customer Segments…

Your company’s core business needs to be solid before you make big expansion moves. However, outlining longer-term goals will help you to determine the steps you need to take and measure your progress along the way. Think of it like a road map. Quick wins and small successes can be mile markers guiding you toward the long-term goal of expanding into other markets, categories and/or segments.

Furrion is a brand that was a leader in the manufacture of audiovisual equipment, appliances and power solutions for specialty vehicles, luxury RVs, yachts and consumer industries.

With this strength behind them, they were focused on entering the home appliance market. Prophet worked with Furrion to identify the brand purpose principles that would capture growth in this new market, including a new visual identity, which was unveiled with great success.

5. Growing at a Pace You Can Handle

We’ve all seen it before, and we’ll see it again – companies that grow too fast and then fail because they can’t keep up. A growth strategy will help you develop at the right pace for organization. The last thing you want to do is overextend yourself to secure short-term gains that will eventually put too much strain on your business and your people. It can be hard to make trade-offs, sometimes sacrificing the exciting for the sensible, but it is sometimes necessary for the overall health of your company. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take risks, but the risks you do take need to make sense in context of the big picture.

How to Overcome the Challenges of Developing a Business Growth Strategy

Developing a growth strategy is demanding and time-consuming because it is a bespoke process. That said, some of the most common challenges in developing a growth strategy are:

  • Opportunity and impact
    • Defining your target customer segment(s), their needs and their pain points
    • Evaluating the projected impact of the strategic growth moves you want to make
    • Understanding the feasibility of the business growth moves (i.e. time, capabilities, resources)
  • Alignment and prioritization
    • Aligning leadership around a narrow set of well-defined goals
    • Involving the right people and managing stakeholder expectations
    • Setting priorities and sequencing growth moves in a timeframe that makes sense
    • Not approaching it as a one-time task, instead of a continuous journey
  • And most importantly…
    • Not thinking big enough about what business you want to be in

Before you embark on creating your business growth strategy you should consider how you’re going to tackle these challenges.


A dynamic growth strategy guides you and your team towards the future of your company. When you know what you want and have a way to get there, you’ll avoid the pitfalls of making hasty decisions that cost you in the long run. If you’re thinking about how to create or refine your growth strategy, Prophet can help.


The Secret to Creating Growth Moves

Beef up the value proposition, tap into a new audience and find fresh promotions.

We’ve previously explored how to drive growth in a pragmatic way through the development of a strong customer value proposition. Now we’re looking at how to develop the actionable initiatives needed to bring that value proposition to market.

We call these initiatives and steps “growth moves” and their goal is to push a company’s thinking forward and create new ideas that can disrupt the category or challenge a competitor’s strategy.

The Secret to Successful Business Growth

The secret to creating these moves is a combination of art and science. On the one hand, they need to answer a business need that has been identified in the value proposition and make sense financially. (We recommend creating a business plan per growth move.) On the other hand, they must be a creative solution that resonates with the target customer and reflects their attitudes, behaviors and needs.

3 Actionable Steps for Achievable Business Growth

We’ve outlined a few examples below to help you get a better understanding of growth moves that have proven successful in the past. Some of these could likely be applied to your own growth initiatives.

1. Access A New Industry Type

In the previous article, we talked about our insurance client in Latin America for which we developed a channel strategy that would allow them to penetrate a new industry type – employers. In order to bring this growth strategy to life, we generated specific growth moves.

Some mid-size companies needed support in managing their employee base, so we put together an ambitious plan to educate and provide tools for employee management in small to medium-sized companies to build the notion of a partnership with the insurer, and provide access to their employee base.

“We call these initiatives and steps “growth moves” and their goal is to push a company’s thinking forward.”

2. Supporting Value Proposition

When we launched the T- Mobile “Un-carrier” strategy we helped them develop a set of moves that would support the new value proposition during the first month, including growth moves like no contracts, or the device-updating approach “JUMP” which had a massive commercial impact and made the value proposition real to customers.

3. Reignite Promotion

But growth moves don’t have to be complex. A great example is the “Breadstick Nation” concept we developed with Olive Garden, Darden Restaurant’s largest brand, which found itself in a highly competitive environment.

The restaurant chain needed to reignite its promotion strategy in a way that would increase guest reconsideration, particularly during weekday lunches. We had to develop “quick hit” promotions that could be launched almost immediately. Breadstick Nation launched to wild success, with Darden Restaurants’ stock surging 15% and hitting a new all-time high in the weeks following the #breadsticknation launch.


When developing growth moves, it is easy to get lost in the excitement of idea generation, so it is important to be pragmatic. Make sure that the growth moves answer the following questions:

  • What’s the customer insight / need we’re addressing?
  • How does the concept work?
  • What are concrete next steps?
  • Who’s responsible for execution?

When growth moves are developed with specific consumer needs in mind, they will break through the noise and give consumers clear reasons to choose your company over competitors.

Next, it’s time to explore the best way to pilot these growth moves to quickly demonstrate real business impact.

If you’re thinking about where to look for your next wave of growth, Prophet can work with you to develop growth moves that drive brand growth.


Building Relevance in Financial Services – It’s All About Customer Experience

People crave the kind of holistic experiences that can only come from cross-collaboration and plenty of data.

We believe relevance—how meaningful brands are in people’s daily lives—is the single biggest determining factor of a brand’s long-term success. It’s what makes companies like Amazon, Android and Netflix, which are at the top of Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index™ (BRI), successful. They have made themselves so indispensable that their fans can’t imagine a day without them. But relevance is a currency most financial brands just don’t have. Only three financial services companies crack our top 50: PayPal, TurboTax and Visa. And the bottom of the list is a different story – it is jammed with banks, insurance companies and wealth-management firms that struggle to achieve meaningful engagement with their customers.

The Pragmatism of Financial Brands

The BRI, which is based on a survey of 15,000 U.S. consumers, measures what we believe are the four drivers of relevance: customer obsession, distinctive inspiration, pervasive innovation and ruthless pragmatism. Financial brands scored the best in ruthless pragmatism—as they should. Pragmatism is measured by consumer responses to statements like “I know I can depend on this brand,” “it makes my life easier” and “it’s available when and where I need it.” Consumers are sending the message that basics matter: if a bank can’t handle mobile deposits or an insurance company doesn’t pay claims, what good is it?

But this pragmatism doesn’t stand on its own, and for the brands that ranked higher than most,  pragmatism was coupled with high levels of customer obsession. Meaning they took the millions of data points at their disposal and translated them into relevant services, products and experiences that make consumers’ lives run a little more smoothly.

Examples of Successful Financial Customer Experiences

The financial brands that embrace ruthless pragmatism and customer obsession can be just as fiercely beloved as those in other categories. Let’s look at three brand examples:

  1. Most people only turn to TurboTax once a year, but they love how it makes a difficult task in their lives easier. More people in the U.S. said TurboTax “meets an important need in my life” than any of the 300-plus brands we measured.
  2. Visa is an “old reliable” that has become a digital-first thinker.
  3. PayPal, which emerged as a super-dependable way to make online payments when it was still on the eBay platform, is safer and faster than ever.

All three excel in mobile technology. And most of all, they understand that they are not in the business of creating financial products. They know their role is enabling better customer experiences.

Build Experiences, Not Products

In our work with financial companies, we push toward experience-led thinking by asking our clients to reimagine the industry and what their brand would look like if they were starting from scratch today.

It would probably look something like Mint, Intuit’s personal finance software, which lets customers see all their money and expenses in one place.

It would likely include something like Venmo, the PayPal-owned payment app millennials love so much, or SnapCash, the payment platform preferred by Gen Z.

It might even borrow elements from WeChat, which ranks as the second most relevant brand in our Brand Relevance Index in China. (Started as a chat app, WeChat added digital payments, e-commerce, fundraising and microloans.) From this platform, what’s needed next is translating all that information into personalized products, services and experiences.

It’s the Holy Grail. No one has done it yet, and many branding experts can’t believe mainstream financial services companies, with all that marketing muscle, are still so behind the curve.

“Internally, there is no unified view, which makes creating one for their customers very difficult.

That’s a little glib. Those of us working in the industry know that the obstacles are real. For one thing, changing regulations, like the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, have created challenges. For another, unlike start-ups from Silicon Valley that can get away with years of losing money, the investors who own these established companies demand profits, not losses.

But the biggest problem they face is their own organizational structures. Historically, each type of product—retail banking, mortgages, retirement, and various policies—are housed in distinct silos, governed by separate profit-and-loss statements. Internally, there is no unified view, which makes creating one for their customers very difficult. And the reality is that employees are incented to focus on products, not experiences, in order to meet their product sales goals.

Think Holistically About Customer Experience

Solutions can only come from thinking holistically. At companies that are becoming more customer-obsessed, there’s a growing understanding that “brand” isn’t something that comes from the marketing department. It develops and grows in every department—sales, distribution, product, and technology. Similarly, the mindset throughout the organization needs to shift from “what can we sell?” to “what value exchange can we create?” In building long-term relationships with customers, what types of products and services make people say, “This brand isn’t just out to make a quick sale—it really has my back?”

This requires taking giant steps away from “business as usual” thinking. Ford CEO Mark Fields, for example, shook up the automotive world with the announcement that the company is striving to be “a mobility company,” not just a car manufacturer. This has enabled it to develop brand-new approaches to the way today’s consumers think about urban transportation. What will be the equivalent shift in financial services?

The most important step financial companies can take to gain relevance is getting every division on the same page: Improving customer experience and engagement. And that can only come from customer obsession, constantly pushing all departments to work harder to see things from the consumer’s point of view.


Most financial companies aren’t able to do this yet, but they are trying. That’s evident in the widespread acceptance of multichannel offerings, with banks understanding that customers expect to be able to have their needs met no matter where they are or what time it is. And many are closer to making their offerings channel-agnostic, with ultra-pragmatic mobile solutions.

Sometimes, companies ask us about increasing the other drivers of relevance– distinctive inspiration and pervasive innovation. We discourage them unless they are already performing well on more pragmatic measures and customer obsession. If a bank is staffed by surly tellers or brokers who provide confusing statements, even the best performance on other measures can’t help. These may seem like table stakes, but our rankings prove otherwise.

For today’s consumers, relevance requires delivering useful and engaging experiences powered by technology. The only thing that will work is improving the experience at every touchpoint, providing relevant content and taking the broadest view of customers. It’s not about making a better financial product. It’s about making consumers’ lives better. Relevance doesn’t come through branding. It’s built on these rewarding experiences.


3 Brand Naming Strategies for Growth Acceleration

Names that respect both company heritage and customer journey resonate best.

Personalization is becoming increasingly prevalent in categories from shoes to cars to phones. But while appealing, this inundation of choice can overwhelm consumers rather than satisfy their needs.

How can a brand provide the variety of options consumers crave and fulfill the desire for a simple customer experience? The answer lies, in part, in naming. The most successful companies drive relevance and growth in their portfolios by naming – organizing and communicating offerings in a way that prioritizes what customers want and need in each purchase decision.

When done right, naming at the product, version or feature level can simplify and guide prospective shoppers to the relevant offerings for their needs. But when done poorly, it can frustrate customers—and even inhibit them from making a purchase at all.

The 3 Commandments of Brand Naming

1. Consider the customer journey: Brands need to think about the entire customer journey, how (and when) a customer makes decisions, and how to nurture customer loyalty.

2. Ask what requires a name: Not every product, service or feature needs a name. Be selective about what truly requires a name.

3. Keep the DNA of the brand front and center: The personality of a brand should be reflected in each brand name. Use it to gut-check and filter naming decisions. And then name accordingly.

3 Brand Naming Strategies Driving Growth

Looking across categories, we’ve identified three successful brand name strategies to help customers better understand your products and support business growth.

  1. Consider the Customer Journey: Jawbone Focuses on What’s Important

One of the most confusing and challenging naming conventions is tiering, or differentiating similar offerings within a portfolio by their power, capabilities, etc. The challenges companies face with tiering are many. Three of the most difficult are clearly differentiating between offerings, creating a tiering convention that allows the product line to expand into the future and avoiding making the lowest tier sound undesirable.

A strong tiering example comes from the consumer tech and wearables company, Jawbone. They’ve extended the simplicity of their product design to their naming convention and product architecture, choosing to quietly discontinue their line of Bluetooth speakers to focus more fully on fitness trackers.

Jawbone has four models on the market: Upmove (which is, after all, the essence of fitness – getting up and moving), UP2, UP3 and UP4. Each successive model builds on the functionality of the previous one, making the tiers a simple incline in value, rather than random sets of features customers need to understand.

With such simple product tiering and feature names, Jawbone has the freedom to be creative with color and material naming (which are paired together within the product tiers), providing customers with exciting choices like Ruby Cross and Black Gold Twist. In doing so, Jawbone simplifies the most important functional decisions (what to buy, what you need) and lets customers have fun with the more playful—and secondary—decisions.

  1. Ask What Truly Requires a Name: Tesla Builds Meaning Into Naming Conventions

Many technological advancements have opaque names with little explanation as to what they mean (i.e. Star Wars’ C-3PO). Sometimes they’re SKU numbers, sometimes they’re abbreviations and sometimes they stand for the developer’s children’s initials. Whatever they are, they’re rarely understood and have a high likelihood of creating confusion for customers navigating between nuances. (“What’s the difference between the X1300A and the X1301B?”).

“When done right, naming at the product, version or feature level can simplify and guide prospective shoppers to the relevant offerings for their needs.”

In contrast, Tesla’s naming conventions are incredibly simple. Known for its commitment to innovation, Tesla consistently defies expectations, even going so far as to publish a high-level roadmap in the form of its “Master Plan.” Tesla’s Model S P90D has all the bells and whistles, including an impressive and seemingly opaque acronym. But each component has a clear meaning: P denotes that it’s a performance model, 90 is the battery capacity in kilowatt hours and D means that the car has a dual motor. This is complemented with highly descriptive feature naming: Cabin Overheat Protection, Autopark and the famous Autopilot, and each is named for exactly what it does. Of course, this approach is supported by an extremely focused product portfolio. Tesla sells three automobile models, while many of its peers’ offerings are in the dozens.

  1. Keep the DNA of the Brand: IKEA Aligns Product Names to Scandinavian Roots

Unlike Tesla, IKEA has a vast portfolio; the company sells roughly 9,500 products and introduces 2,500 new items per year. Its stores, despite their homey vibe and intuitive layouts, can be overwhelming even to the best-prepared shoppers.

To help IKEA put a strategy in place to guide the creation of all names, which started with its founder, Ingvar Kamprad. Kamprad is dyslexic, making it much more difficult to use the traditional method of long SKU numbers. Instead, IKEA assigned a type of name for each of its product types. True to the company’s heritage, the system is Scandinavia-centric: beds, wardrobes and hallway furniture are named for places in Norway, dining tables and chairs are places in Finland, and upholstered furniture and coffee tables are places in Sweden. Because each type of name can apply to multiple items (for example, Nellie’s apartment features a Hemnes bed, dresser and hall bench), IKEA creates clear signposts that help customers shop the store more comprehensively and connect the dots across their pieces.

While this strategy is less intuitive for non-Scandinavian shoppers, it is inarguably memorable, and makes customers loyal not only to IKEA, but to Malm, Kivik, and of course, Hemnes.


Jawbone, Tesla and IKEA share a common overarching goal in their naming: to help customers understand their products. However, how they do it is distinct, and most importantly authentic to who they are. Jawbone’s naming is sleek and minimalistic, with a splash of fun. Tesla’s naming is efficient and hard-working. And IKEA’s naming is unwaveringly grounded in the company’s roots.


4 Ways Customer Experience Drives Business Growth

New fans matter. But it’s real secret is deepening relationships with its most devoted customers.

How Customer-Led Experiences Drive Business Growth

Customer experience used to have a clear beginning, middle and end. And most customers followed a similar path. But traditional customer journeys no longer exist. Today, these experiences are non-linear, unpredictable, and shared; and only a few companies are taking advantage of this new reality. Most still view customer experience through a traditional lens: What’s wrong, and how can we fix it? But for those willing to widen the aperture and obsessively follow customers in all directions, experience-led thinking is creating new value, revenue growth and profit.

Customer experience (CX) is at a tipping point: The only brands winning love and loyalty are those taking engagement to a deeper, more complex level. In fact, digital has given companies the power to easily add new moments and touches, and remove steps, streamlining the experience. By following customers through the crisscrossing network of real-world, social and digital experiences, organizations find a deeper understanding of people, as well as opportunities to use those insights to create signature moments that drive relevance, word-of-mouth, and loyalty.

With the blending of digital and physical worlds and virtualizing of brands, customer experiences are being transformed while becoming even harder to control.  This means that authenticity has become critical.  As emotional decision-makers, customers are constantly seeking experiences that go beyond function.

Transformation requires seeing customer experience differently. Customer experience is no longer just an output or something brands create and exclusively own. It’s also an input, a valuable conduit. It is a collection of all the moments and interactions that build and shape customer expectations. It is a series of experiences that engage and inspire – strong empathy compels customers to share those experiences with others.

Non-Linear Customer Journey

While experiences may once have been linear, today they are unpredictable. People may stumble across you on their tablet at 3:00 am, dismiss you while reading reviews on their phone, only to rediscover you in an enthusiast’s blog. Customer experience is now the sum–the collection–of all those moments and it is imperative that companies engage and inspire through those moments.

Some experts describe the journey itself as broken, but we prefer to think of it as rerouted—it’s now part helix, part labyrinth, and part maze. People interact with brands across many touchpoints, and they determine their own path to purchase. And whether they are in the pre-purchase, post-purchase or ongoing-use mode, one thing is certain–they are no longer spectators or co-creators. They are in the driver’s seat.

Customers are continually talking with other people about brand experiences–those that thrill and those that disappoint. And they’re doing it publicly, and on social media. Given these shared experiences, the most important part of the experience is fast becoming not just what impacts one particular person, but all the potential customers around them.

Industries that have been the most disrupted by technology seem to understand this better. In travel, for example, airlines are increasingly recognizing that mobile technologies are everything to frazzled travelers. But brand parity has made physical comfort more important than ever—look at Delta’s renovated JFK Terminal, which includes spa services and better food (a Shake Shack, for example), more security lanes, and a lounge luxurious enough to make layovers more bearable.

“Companies that are truly customer obsessed put peoples’ needs and aspirations ahead of technology, business operations and other processes.”

Healthcare is another example. As consumers, providers, hospitals, and insurers have become increasingly disenchanted with the status quo, smart companies are pioneering powerful experiences via patient portals, telemedicine and even virtual doctors.

Four Essentials to Grow the Customer Experience

What successful companies have in common is that they’ve adopted an experience-led mindset that allows customers to lead the way. Reaching this higher level of thinking requires following four principles:

1. Customer obsession

Customer experience efforts are routinely based on insights, but the most successful companies are those that gather intelligence at a ferocious pace, and constantly put customers at the center. They are tireless in their quest to understand and think like their customers. They invest time–lots of time–listening, watching, and interacting with people to plumb their “absolute truths” and build insights.

Sephora, the beauty retailer allows consumers to build in-depth profiles of their skin tones and favorite products – yielding a wealth of intelligence but also allowing them to deliver a seamless transition between online and store.

And Starwood Hotels & Resorts, with intense analysis of its weary business travelers, uses its obsession to create experiences customers didn’t even know they wanted, such as Keyless Entry to streamline getting to the hotel and entering the room

Creating a breakthrough experience starts with the customer. Companies that are truly customer-obsessed put peoples’ needs and aspirations ahead of technology, business operations and other processes. This is not about just conducting customer research­­–it’s about allowing people to co-create and join in the development cycle. Customers are the independent variable that comes first. Everything else comes later.  As obvious a point as it may seem, customer experience is about customers and if you do not understand customers deeply it is hard to achieve successful growth.

2. Ruthless pragmatism

Companies need to stay focused on essential objectives, prioritizing investments that add the most value. It’s important to understand what part of the experience truly matters to customers and then align that to feasibility and operational efficiencies.

“Some experts describe the journey itself as broken, but we prefer to think of it as rerouted.”

This also means adopting a test-and-learn mentality that allows piloting the most promising ideas, as well as metrics to kill initiatives that aren’t working. Google conducts thousands of tests every year, but on very small groups of users. Relatively few go on for additional testing. This hard-nosed thinking is critical to determine where to focus investments: Which areas matter most, and have the greatest impact?

3. On-brand authenticity

Fueled by customer insights, it’s important to shape experiences that are consistent with a brand’s core equities, translating them into signature touches. What are the brand attributes that need to be reflected in every aspect of the experience? Patagonia excels at authenticity, making high-quality, multifunctional clothes that “last a long, long time.” It delivers on its purpose in inspiring ways, from the “Better than New” truck that repairs items, the “Worn Wear” campaign that celebrates the stories “we wear” and by featuring interestingly sourced materials (such as recycled plastic soda bottles) in its products.

Tesla is another, with customer advocacy that extends beyond its interactive, educational showrooms into its hassle-free servicing. With a vow to never have service as a profit center, most repairs are completed remotely through “over the air upgrades.” And when a car does need dealer attention, Tesla provides a loaner, delivered directly to the owners’ doors.

4. A Connected Mindset

This is often the most difficult and involves working across silos, bringing people together around a shared goal in effective cross-functional teams. Aligning incentives and processes allow people to think outside of their functional groups and business units, because to consumers, that’s all irrelevant. Tech companies often have an inherent advantage, simply because they’re newer and less entrenched in their respective silos. From PayPal to Facebook to Amazon, they’re known for pulling together for bold moves.

But any company can learn to work this way. GE Healthcare, a Prophet client, traditionally led from its own engineering prowess. But by working across departments, it switched its focus to the crushing dilemmas of large hospitals. To streamline purchasing and maximize machine use to improve care and lower costs, it allowed its customers to lead it to a new selling focus, one that elevated it from a vendor to a true partner.


To win in today’s competitive marketplace companies must adopt experience-led thinking to drive growth. At Prophet, we’re working with clients every day to make such leaps, and with our ability to leverage brand as a key asset for the company, we are pushing past the basics of customer experience to develop signature moments and enhancing experiences at every possible touchpoint. Customers can lead the way to this expanded mindset if brands are willing to follow them.

If you know you need to focus on customer experience but don’t know where to begin, speak to Prophet who can help you to move your organization forward.