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Brand and Demand: Diego Norris on the State of CPG Marketing

Mat Zucker, Senior Partner at Prophet, speaks with Diego Norris, CMO at Gimme Seaweed, on the evolution of CPG marketing and the impact of AI on marketers.  

Diego Norris is the Chief Marketing Officer at Gimme Seaweed, leading the overall marketing strategy for the number one-selling organic seaweed-based snack.

Norris has over 20 years of experience in various marketing and innovation roles for leading CPG companies, including General Mills, Nestle Nutrition, Red Bull, Pinkberry and Campbell Soup. He has also spent several years in consulting, first at Deloitte, where he started his career, and later at Prophet, where he helped technology and healthcare companies build relentlessly relevant brand strategies. 

Mat Zucker: Given the disruption of the last few years, marketers are often asked to take on greater accountability to demonstrate immediate impact and ROI of marketing investment while creating tighter alignment with the business outcomes. Has that been your experience? If so, how have you shifted your strategy to show impact? 

Diego Norris: The push for Marketing to demonstrate immediate impact has increased significantly in recent years. However, this shift isn’t merely a response to increased demands from leadership, board members or shareholders. Developing high-performance programs that are tightly aligned with business objectives is also necessary. 

In this context, the role of marketing data and analytics has become essential. It helps us identify the most valuable programs, assess the impact of A/B tests, and optimize our way to high performance. 

At Gimme Seaweed, we’ve embraced this change with open arms. About a year and a half ago, we started capturing and manually aggregating marketing metrics by business objectives. Earlier this year, we were able to automate this process, which allowed us to get real-time marketing performance data. We are currently integrating AI to enable campaign management automation, the pièce de resistance in our plan for seaweed world domination. 

MZ: How have conversations with your C-suite and board changed as you take on new accountability in driving and proving business value? 

DN: The conversation with the C-suite and board has definitely changed in response to these new demands. A significant portion of our focus now goes into creating a shared understanding of what drives marketing performance in 2023 compared to years past. This helps lay the foundation for focusing on the right business objectives and KPIs. 

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of noise surrounding Marketing today, including no longer effective legacy practices that continue to have broad adoption, well-intentioned but often misguided business partners, false prophets, lack of alignment on KPIs, and inconsistent metric definitions across channels, to name a few. This noise can sometimes make building a shared understanding between key stakeholders difficult. 

In the midst of all this chaos, having solid data at our fingertips has proven to be extremely helpful. It’s like having a reliable compass that helps us navigate through the fog, bringing a dose of clarity and objectivity to discussions.  

MZ: Within your organization, how do you partner with other internal business units and teams to unlock new opportunities for driving growth? Has this evolved in recent years? 

DN: I am definitely seeing increasing levels of cross-pollination between functions, especially between marketing and sales. Several developments in the CPG industry in recent years are fueling this trend and helping blur the lines between these two functions. Most notably, the push for marketing to demonstrate its impact on sales, the emergence of retail media as a primary marketing channel, and retailers’ increasing focus on eCommerce, which relies heavily on digital marketing support. 

For these reasons, many CPG companies, including Gimme Seaweed, now house eCommerce in marketing. This shift has facilitated the dismantling of silos, enabling a more fluid allocation of marketing funds to where performance is strongest. Moreover, it has fostered a tighter knit between marketing and sales, creating a symbiotic relationship geared toward unlocking new avenues for growth. 

MZ: Last year, we published a report, “Brand and Demand Marketing: A Love Story” which speaks to the tensions between brand and demand marketing and why working in silos harms performance. We believe both are critical functions that need to work together to enable success. How do you balance brand and demand within your marketing organization? 

DN: To me, the ongoing debate between brand and performance marketing seems a bit silly, almost like a misunderstanding of the fundamental aspects of a well-rounded marketing plan. It’s essential to recognize that these aren’t optional components you can choose from but integral elements of a successful marketing ecosystem. 

To put it in simpler terms, let’s liken this scenario to farming. Think of brand marketing as the act of planting seeds, nurturing the ground for the next season’s crop, and setting the stage for future bounty, in other words, future demand generation. On the flip side, performance marketing is akin to harvesting the crops we painstakingly nurtured in the previous season, reaping the rewards of our efforts by capturing conversion-ready demand. 

However, the catch here, and what most people overlook, is that in this metaphorical world, farms don’t have fences guarding them. This lack of barriers means anyone, including our competitors, can swoop in and harvest the crops we’ve nurtured with so much care. It’s a wild, open field out there, and a robust performance marketing strategy acts as our safeguard, ensuring we reap the benefits of our hard work without leaving room for competitors to cash in on our efforts. 

But it’s a delicate balance. Performance marketing cannot be ramped up beyond the existing level of demand without facing diminishing returns. It’s about finding the sweet spot where we’re not leaving money on the table, yet not overspending to the point of undermining our performance. 

I must admit, I am very appreciative when competitors neglect performance marketing. It essentially gives us the green light to bring our combine into their fields to harvest their crops. I like harvesting. 

MZ: In the report, we found there are four common principles that most effective markers follow for success: 

  • Anchoring Marketing Investment in Business Objectives
  • Experimenting to Win 
  • Building a Modern Marketing Organization 
  • Putting the Customer at the Center 

Do you agree with these principles? Are there any examples you can share where you’ve been able to implement them? 

DN: We practically live by those principles at Gimme Seaweed! Each of our marketing programs nests under one of three business objectives. And it’s the business objective that defines the KPIs that will be used to measure performance, not the program. Aligning marketing programs and metrics to business objectives keeps the focus where it should be, and this, in turn, accelerates growth. 

An additional element that has proven incredibly helpful has been allowing working dollars of programs that nest under the same objective to flow freely where KPI performance is strongest. This makes these programs compete for funding and creates the conditions needed for continuous improvement. It’s a bit of a Darwinian approach that fosters the survival of the fittest strategies and maximizes value creation. 

MZ: What are some top challenges you anticipate in the next 6-18 months? What are you doing to help your organization plan and overcome those challenges? 

DN: Let’s tackle the giant, looming question that’s on everyone’s mind: the rise of AI and its profound impact on the marketing world. At the risk of oversimplification, CPG marketers have two big jobs to do. First, there’s the creative side of things, where we dive deep into brand strategy, target consumer selection, brand positioning, visual identity and the overall tone of our communications. Then, there’s the logistical side, where we focus on efficiently delivering these crafted messages to our target audience, navigating the intricate maze of marketing mix, platform selection, campaign management, data analytics, and marketing spend allocation. 

Even though we’re still in the early stages of AI’s integration into marketing, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the logistical side of marketing is about to see a seismic shift. The intricacies of managing campaigns, analyzing data, and optimizing performance are about to skyrocket in complexity. Soon, it may become nearly impossible for marketers to handle these tasks without the aid of AI. The landscape is evolving so that those who embrace AI and its capabilities will have a significant edge over those who don’t. The divide is going to be stark, almost binary in nature. 

At Gimme Seaweed, we’re not just watching from the sidelines but actively gearing up to stay ahead in this race. I envision three pivotal elements that will anchor our marketing endeavors in the coming months: access to real-time marketing performance data, harnessing the power of AI for data processing and analytics with well-defined decision parameters and leveraging AI for seamless campaign automation. With these in place, we aim to be agile, identifying and capitalizing on real-time performance opportunities. This approach will allow our marketing investments to flow toward areas of peak performance within each of our meta-objectives. 

The current wave of innovation and the potential it holds is genuinely exhilarating. Every day feels like a new learning opportunity. I’m wholeheartedly diving in, eager to absorb as much as possible to help steer Gimme Seaweed towards the best possible future. 

About Mat Zucker

Mat is a senior partner and co-lead of Prophet’s Marketing and Sales practice. He helps clients transform digitally, finding new areas of growth in marketing, content and communications. Previously, Mat was the Global Executive Creative Director at Razorfish, served as Chief Creative Officer at OgilvyOne New York and held leadership roles at R/GA and Agency.com. In addition to helping clients creatively connect and engage with their customers, he hosts two podcasts, Cidiot and Rising. 

Are you interested in talking with Mat? You can contact him, here. 


ABOUT THE SERIES

In our new series, Brand and Demand: The Interviews, Prophet experts sit down with CMOs and marketing leaders who are unlocking demand, driving uncommon growth and building relentlessly relevant brands to get their takes on the top trends, challenges and opportunities they face in today’s disruptive world.

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Brand and Demand: Kelly Jo Golson on Building a Marketing Organization that Wins Consumer Trust

Scott Davis, Chief Growth Officer at Prophet speaks with Kelly Jo Golson, Chief Brand, Communications and Consumer Experience Officer at Advocate Health about how marketing can build consumer trust to support an organization’s growth strategy.

Kelly Jo Golson is the Chief Brand, Communications and Consumer Experience Officer at Advocate Health where she oversees marketing and consumer experience for a leading healthcare system.

Golson brings nearly 30 years of industry experience spanning consumerism, brand, marketing, digital strategy, public affairs and internal communications. A leader with Advocate since 2007, she previously held roles with Methodist Healthcare System, St. Luke’s Episcopal Healthcare and Memorial Hermann Healthcare.

Scott Davis: With all the shifts that have gone on through COVID and now an economic downturn, what matters the most to you right now as a chief marketing officer leading one of the biggest U.S. health systems?

Kelly Jo Golson: You know, there’s a long list of things that matter, right? But one of the things that keeps coming back to me is credibility. Patients and consumers are bombarded with noise and misinformation. Being the voice of trust and reliability, and the place consumers and patients turn to for accurate information and a trustworthy experience is our top priority.

SD: Do you think healthcare has been fairly or unfairly punished over the last three to five years in terms of breaking consumer trust, or is it just the general environment of everything being highly scrutinized?

KJ: Prior to COVID, it was challenging. Patients often came to appointments with self-diagnoses and information they found online. However, I believe the last three years with COVID have helped healthcare systems regain trust. Our experts provided accurate, impartial information at an uncertain time, repositioning the patient and physician relationship and reestablishing doctors as reliable sources amid the chaos of constantly changing information. That trust and the continuous, end-to-end relationship with patients have become crucial factors in our industry and are something we will continue to lean into to ensure we stay relevant with our patients.

SD: It goes way beyond the physician-patient relationship; it’s the entire 360-degree experience. What challenges do you see in delivering this holistic experience, and how are you addressing them? From a marketing perspective, how are you thinking about these challenges and where do you see opportunity?

KJ: Absolutely. Building strong relationships with patients on both the front end and back end of care is challenging but essential. We’ve made strides, especially with high-acuity patients. However, there’s still a long way to go in terms of price transparency, accessibility, personalized self-service, and meeting consumer expectations.

For me, shifting consumer expectations has redefined my role. I’ve gone from being a Chief Marketing Officer to a Chief Brand Officer and, now more importantly, a Chief Consumer Experience Officer. Understanding and meeting consumer needs and expectations have become paramount. Research shows that an exceptional experience has a higher impact on loyalty and action than the care itself. For example, you may have a world-class cardiovascular program, but as soon as someone realizes they’re at risk for heart disease, they are thinking about how easy it is to get in to see a cardiologist. What’s the wait time? How easy is it for them to receive the next level of care and receive relevant communications? These experiences have become increasingly important as people consider their care options. So, our focus has shifted toward ensuring a seamless experience from awareness to care delivery.

SD: You’ve made a significant shift from patient to consumer. Why was it essential to broaden the frame of reference of who’s walking in those doors or on that telehealth call every day?

KJ: Patient experience is still paramount, but we’ve realized that our patients’ changing expectations, driven by their experiences in other industries, require us to become consumer-first. For years, healthcare has been able to put this on the back burner, but with new entrants entering the space, it’s a critical moment for healthcare systems to rethink how we build loyalty. It’s about creating a meaningful relationship with consumers even before they need care, emphasizing wellness over sickness care. Their expectations have evolved, and we need to adapt accordingly.

SD: I know you’ve worked side-by-side with your CEO; how has the evolution of marketing impacted the growth strategy? How do marketing and long-term strategy work together?

KJ: Our growth strategy is deeply intertwined with everything we do in marketing. I’d say we take a three-pronged approach. We recognize that losing even one patient due to poor experience requires acquiring three new ones to compensate for the lost revenue. Additionally, as we transition into accountable care organizations (ACOs), the continuity of care becomes vital. We aim to keep patients within our system for the entire care journey. Lastly, with cost pressures coming into play across the industry, finding efficiencies that allow us to reinvest in places that our patients are asking for is critical. Marketing plays a pivotal role in facilitating this continuity and efficiency.

SD: In today’s environment, we’re seeing budgets being scrutinized and the need to prove ROI for marketing investments. This leads to a conversation we’ve been having with many CMOs about brand and demand marketing. How do you navigate this constant tension between building reputation and driving demand, especially in times of economic change?

KJ: It’s essential to be agile and adapt to the context. We don’t go all-in on either brand or demand; we continually evaluate the situation. We must understand the economic climate, competitive landscape, and our capacity to deliver on our promises. There is no quicker way to damage your brand if you can’t deliver on your promises. Agility is key to striking the right balance and ensuring we’re meeting patient expectations and delivering value. Something that has enabled this agility is having the right mix of talent on our internal teams to support these moves. Within the digital ecosystem, we must be ready and willing to turn the dial up or down depending on our ability to deliver while also meeting the needs of the business.

SD: Building a modern marketing organization is a challenge for many. How have you approached this, especially in the context of rapidly evolving technologies and consumer expectations?

KJ: We’ve been intentional about modernizing our marketing organization. This includes differentiating and creating a standalone consumer insights department, separating brand and marketing, bringing media buying in-house, and developing in-house creative services. We continuously evaluate our structure and its effectiveness in facilitating collaboration and delivering value to consumers.

SD: Lastly, how are you approaching the use of AI in healthcare marketing? What opportunities and challenges do you foresee in integrating AI into your strategies?

KJ: AI holds immense potential in healthcare marketing, particularly in personalizing content, optimizing search, and enhancing the consumer experience. However, we’re cautious about maintaining trust and credibility. We want to ensure that AI augments our efforts without compromising patient trust. Experimentation and learning from industry best practices will guide our AI integration journey.

About Scott Davis  

Scott is a senior partner and the Chief Growth Officer at Prophet. He brings over 20 years of brand, marketing strategy and new product development experience. Scott speaks at and chairs branding conferences such as The Conference Board and the American Marketing Association and is frequently cited in publications like The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and Forbes. In addition to helping clients unlock uncommon growth, he is an Adjunct Professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a guest lecturer at other top graduate schools, including NYU, Harvard, Notre Dame, Medill and Columbia. 

Are you interested in talking with Scott? You can contact him here.


ABOUT THE SERIES

In our new series, Brand and Demand: The Interviews, Prophet experts sit down with CMOs and marketing leaders who are unlocking demand, driving uncommon growth and building relentlessly relevant brands to get their takes on the top trends, challenges and opportunities they face in today’s disruptive world.

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AI in Marketing: Four Ways to Maximize Value

The emergence of AI is not the first digital shift marketers have experienced. And it won’t be the last. Here are four ways to drive innovation in marketing with AI.

Generative AI has taken center stage in virtually every business article, LinkedIn post and cocktail party conversation. And for good reason – ChatGPT drove one million users in its first five days, turning the technology into a household name and transforming how businesses think about productivity and efficiency. For marketers getting their heads around it and starting to experiment, the potential can be either daunting or inspiring.  

Marketers have always been at the forefront of technology. AI and machine learning have been critical in shaping programmatic buying, lifecycle marketing and digital experiences. And for many marketers, this isn’t the first shift they’ve experienced within their role. 

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A Framework for Supercharging Your Marketing Efforts With AI  

It’s helpful to think of AI as a tool to help enhance what you do as a marketer, especially when it comes to thinking about customers and their needs. Here are four ways marketers can use AI to show up for their customers in more connected and cohesive ways:  

Unlocking Understanding 

Many AI-driven models excel at analyzing unstructured data, text, images, videos and other content that does not fit neatly into traditional databases. Typically, this type of analysis is time-consuming and expensive, requiring its own algorithms. 

Marketers can use AI to help analyze large volumes of data, recognize complex patterns, explore and visualize data, perform predictive analytics and provide real-time insights to drive more personalized and optimized marketing strategies and tactics.  

Companies like Amazon, Netflix, Meta and Alphabet are far ahead of the curve. But so are non-tech players, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena and JP Morgan Chase. All using AI to analyze data and use it in ways that directly benefit customer experience.  

Unlocking Value 

AI automates repetitive and time-consuming processes, reducing the number of daily tasks, and freeing up hours so that marketers can focus on higher-order priorities that require more strategic, human thinking. Smart marketers are learning ways to turn those found hours into new initiatives, liberating marketing teams to find new avenues of growth. 

Adore Me, the e-commerce lingerie company recently acquired by Victoria’s Secret now uses AI to churn out hundreds of product descriptions. While copywriters still need to read, tweak and occasionally edit the blurbs, it estimates it saves up to 40 hours a month per copywriter, with zero impact on sales. Even better? Copywriters hated writing those tedious descriptions. By delegating that work to AI, they can focus on higher-order campaigns that drive additional revenue. 

Unlocking Creativity  

With more marketers being asked to do more with less resources, AI can be an essential tool. It can help reduce the time it takes to generate creative concepts, create visually appealing and engaging content, facilitate brainstorming processes, and draw insights from past campaigns that can help marketers take personalization to the next level for future campaigns.  

Lexus, for instance, used AI to transform its Auto Show experience this year, inviting attendees to enter prompts that quickly personalized their new cars on a 98-inch screen. And political attack ads using AI-created voices of opponents are already reshaping the upcoming election cycle. 

Unlocking Differentiation 

With its speed of processing data, sifting through customer insights and analyzing competitors, AI can suggest gaps in the market to help companies create personalized, innovative and differentiated experiences that cater to specific customer needs. 

For example, Unilever uses AI to explore the human gut, home to trillions of bacteria. Using big-data biology, the company is isolating the microbes with the most calming potential and experimenting with biotech partners to pinpoint food and beverage ingredients that will have the most positive impact on mental well-being. Its Knorr soup division, recently used AI to analyze millions of flavor combinations in days rather than months, using digital modeling to create a zero-salt (but still delicious) soup cube.  

To maximize success with AI it’s important to remember that AI is more useful when it is centered on human needs.  

Creating an AI-Readiness Checklist  

Marketing organizations must also have the necessary data capabilities to implement and operationalize AI effectively. Those include thoughtful attention to:  

Data Foundation: Quality Over Quantity  

Companies must have high-quality, first-party data stored in secure infrastructures with clear, consistent taxonomy that can be processed at a high volume.  

Best Practice: Focusing on securing quality information rather than rushing to get the biggest datasets fast will prevent future inefficiencies and accuracy problems. And despite the focus on large-language models, it’s important to note that many tech companies are experimenting with smaller versions, which may be more accurate and efficient.   

Data Value Exchange: Upping the Ante  

Companies must offer additive products and services for customers in exchange for their data and provide transparency for how data will be used.   

Best Practice: In a world where AI tools are accessible to all, companies can offer trust and respect for privacy as a differentiated yet still personalized experience to customers.   

Data Culture & Fluency: The Heart of AI Transformation   

Companies must pursue broad AI fluency across the whole enterprise as well as invest in specific data and AI expertise to continuously innovate.  

Best Practice: Without the people to understand and strategically use AI at all levels of the organization, companies will not be able to unlock uncommon growth.  

Fully implementing AI will require proper evaluation and tracking against an adoption timeline. As soon as possible, begin incorporating AI into workflows, explore opportunities for sustainable optimization and continue to scale it.   

Coming soon: New AI research from Prophet will help you understand and serve the AI-powered consumer. Subscribe to our mailing list to be among the first to get their hands on these insights!


FINAL THOUGHTS

Modern marketers have used AI and machine learning in their practices for years and are finding new ways to embrace the possibilities of generative AI. Whether unlocking understanding, value, creativity or differentiation, marketers must remember that AI will be most useful when centered on human needs.

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Brand and Demand: Brad Kreiger On Driving Brand Marketing and AI through a Historic Economic Downturn 

Scott Davis, Chief Growth Officer at Prophet, speaks with Brad Kreiger, CMO at Cushman & Wakefield on AI powered marketing. 

Brad Kreiger is the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Cushman & Wakefield and is responsible for the organization’s global marketing, communications and research functions. Within his role, he focuses on building the brand, demand generation, marketing technology and digital platforms, regional and service line marketing and business development activities, and research and thought leadership.  

Before joining Cushman & Wakefield, Kreiger co-founded Hard Hat Hub, a technology startup that created a digital talent marketplace in construction and facilities management. Prior, he spent a decade as SVP of Marketing at JLL, where he oversaw various corporate communications, marketing and business development functions.  

Scott Davis: Given the disruption and uncertainty we have faced over the last few years, how do you approach both executing your marketing strategy and organizing your marketing team?   

Brad Kreiger: COVID started as a big challenge no one knew how to solve. But at Cushman & Wakefield, we had the expertise and a powerful POV within our industry on how companies should operate relative to the pandemic. Some of that came through our experience during the SARS pandemic because we have a significant presence in China. By the time the pandemic had reached the United States, we were three months ahead of many of our competitors, which allowed us to position Cushman & Wakefield as an industry thought leader. That shift in our positioning positively impacted all of our brand metrics, especially PR.   

We have a senior team of economists and market researchers focusing on creating best-in-class thought leadership. I also have a smart, lean and scrappy corporate marketing team that manages PR and content marketing and also sits alongside the team of market researchers and economists.   

And in this uncertain environment, we are constantly evolving our go-to-market playbook. For example, we recently launched a new campaign called “Behind the Numbers,” which features 90-second Tik-Tok style videos from the perspective of a senior economist who just stepped out of a meeting with a client. We see phenomenal reach with these videos, much more than expected for a B2B organization.  

In addition to experimenting with our go-to-market playbook, we’re also doing a lot to mobilize our content by experimenting, taking risks and modernizing our channel mix. We’re also launching crisp positioning and messaging and trying to implement a  marketing strategy that is more B2C in terms of our message delivery, which has worked well and helped us increase our speed-to-market. My team is concentrating on launching quality and relevant content that helps our corporate and investor clients decide their next move.   

SD: It’s incredible how Cushman & Wakefield has taken major disruptions like the pandemic or the return-to-office debate and has risen as an industry thought leader shaping and directing the narrative around these significant events.  

BK: We’re not afraid to stand up and speak the truth as a brand. We saw a great reaction from our clients and the marketplace, so we continued to double down and go harder, which has become our signature go-to-market strategy. We lead with a strong POV and thought leadership. It’s fantastic when that aligns with us driving more revenue, but it can be even better if it doesn’t because it demonstrates the risk we are willing to take as a brand. That type of risk-taking has helped increase our credibility because we are saying things before our competitors and, therefore, have been early on many industry trends.   

SD: How has the relationship between marketing and sales within your organization shifted due to where you are as an organization? Does that relationship feel different than it did pre-pandemic?   

BK: We have a “we’re in it together mentality” because we’ve had some downturns within the market, which has enabled marketing to take the lead on driving demand. The results of marketing’s demand generation wins in the last few years have proven to our salesforce the importance of our relationship and have helped them see that marketing can do things they cannot do on their own. Additionally, our senior management sees the important link between sales and marketing, which is very different from other B2B organizations.  

SD: What is marketing’s role in shaping the overall corporate strategy for your firm, and how has that changed over the years?  

BK: Our organization is in the process of refreshing our strategic goals and business strategy, and marketing has a seat at the table regarding the overall corporate strategy. I also have a position on our firm’s global management team.  

SD: It’s fascinating to see you play a pivotal role in reimaging what Cushman & Wakefield can become and shift the frame of reference for what this business has been for the last 100 years.   

BK: Over the last eight years, the firm has transformed into a multi-billion-dollar global organization. It’s been an incredible transformation. When I think back on the first campaign I launched here, it was the “Welcome to the new Cushman & Wakefield” campaign. Since then, we’ve launched our environmental, social and governance (ESG) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. We’ve expanded into growing sectors like multi-family. We’ve matured our operations and reimagined our global infrastructure. As a member of our senior management team, I always ask myself, “Did the brand keep up with the pace of change?” “Does it reflect who we are and what we want to be in a decade?” We continually ask those questions to ensure our brand strategy meets the demands of our clients and market.  

SD: What is your brand and demand mix today, and what will it look like in the future?    

BK: As a B2B sales organization, and in a very competitive industry, demand and sales enablement will always be our heaviest weight in the mix. Call it 70% of what we do. That might tilt a little heavier to brand during down market conditions as we try to leverage our thought leadership across common client challenges. As the industry continues to evolve and consolidate, I think brand will continue to grow in the mix. The trick is ensuring the brand messages speak to the very disparate corners across the industry with consistency and relevance. 

SD: Given the disruption of the last few years, marketers are often asked to take on greater accountability to demonstrate immediate impact and ROI of marketing investment while creating tighter alignment with the business outcomes. Has that been your experience? If so, how have you shifted your strategy to show impact?  

BK: Currently, my team is working on fully automating our digital funnel to get to the point of measuring the critical metrics within each funnel stage. Our team has people sitting across the marketing funnel and within each stage, we identify the critical metrics to determine what conversion means at that stage in the customer journey.   

SD: Many marketing leaders are experimenting with AI within their organizations. Are you incorporating AI into your marketing practices, and if so, what does that look like?   
 

BK: We are running a lot of AI pilots and projects. We aim to use AI to either accelerate our marketing efforts or scale them, depending on our needs. We’re also experimenting with creative development, such as copywriting or graphic design. For example, with the video campaign series “Behind the Numbers,” we are using AI software to help accelerate our video editing capabilities. It’s exciting and we have an incredibly nimble team across the organization on AI right now. 

SD:  It’s evident that AI is enabling your team to be more efficient, but have you experienced any challenges when implementing AI to drive efficiency and if so how did you overcome them?  

BK:  I feel lucky that our firm has had an AI-backed transformation team now for several years. That’s helped my leadership overcome some of the early challenges around understanding what automation can do. It’s taken some of the fear out of the process. Now that we’re introducing generative AI into our marketing content processes, the challenges are really about training and scaling the process. Which means having strong change management partners. We measure the success based on typical efficiency metrics around shortening processes, but also on quality. Both are critical. I think AI is a means to an end, but you shouldn’t lose focus on the big-picture success metrics of the marketing program. 

SD: How will AI transform marketing in the next few years?   

BK: Big question. It will likely change the entire way the web works and ‘digital marketing’ around it. It might allow us to leapfrog clunky tech development and focus more on connecting data sets. And it should allow us to be more creative. That might sound counterintuitive, but if you think about the energy it takes to generate one creative idea today, we may be able to come up with 50 concepts in the same amount of time. Add that to reducing all the administrative tasks,  what’s left are creative, passionate marketers who know their customers and can use their experience to evaluate the best ways to get messages to market. It’s going to be exciting. 

SD: What advice do you have for marketing leaders and CMOs navigating the uncertainty of the next few years?  

BK: Leading the marketing function is not for the faint of heart. You have to be ready to react to what’s happening and make decisions fast. The world has gotten very complicated, yet organizations are facing pressure to grow at the same pace as when the world was less volatile. All of this is making it even more complicated than ever to get your message out, which is why great marketing leaders listen more than they talk and are aware of their audience and how they make decisions. If you are an old-school leader who thinks that pretty and shiny ads will beat people down with your message, you will not succeed. In this market, you need to meet people where they are and understand how your product and brand need to evolve.  

About Scott Davis  

Scott is a senior partner and the Chief Growth Officer at Prophet. He brings over 20 years of brand, marketing strategy and new product development experience. Scott speaks at and chairs branding conferences such as The Conference Board and the American Marketing Association and is frequently cited in publications like The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and Forbes. In addition to helping clients unlock uncommon growth, he is an Adjunct Professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a guest lecturer at other top graduate schools, including NYU, Harvard, Notre Dame, Medill and Columbia. 

Are you interested in talking with Scott? You can contact him here.


ABOUT THE SERIES

In our new series, Brand and Demand: The Interviews, Prophet experts sit down with CMOs and marketing leaders who are unlocking demand, driving uncommon growth and building relentlessly relevant brands to get their takes on the top trends, challenges and opportunities they face in today’s disruptive world.   

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Aaker on Brands: The Five Pillars of City Branding

David Aaker shares five strategic considerations for building a city brand. 

Cities are not products, but they still need branding. “The Big Apple” New York, “The Fashion Capital” Paris, “The Lion City” Singapore…these cities have left a profound impression in the minds of people worldwide with their distinctive identities, attracting tourists, talents and investments while becoming a hallmark of their respective countries. Why do cities need branding, and how should they go about it? 

David Aaker, Vice Chairman at Prophet,  recently shared his perspectives on branding cities at the 2023 World Cities Branding Conference in Macao, China. Aaker proposes that building a strong brand for a city requires strategic thinking in five key areas: 

  1. Clarify Brand Objective and Target Audience
  2. Define the Brand’s Value Proposition
  3. Create Brand Symbols
  4. Coordinate Brand Storytellers
  5. Build Partnerships to Strengthen the Brand

This article explores how Singapore has successfully branded itself using the key strategic considerations for building a city brand. 

1. Clarify Brand Objective and Target Audience  

A city’s brand usually aims to attract tourists (develop tourism), talents (develop high-tech industries) or investments (revitalize the local economy). It is thus essential to define the city’s development goals and understand the needs and characteristics of the target audience in order to guide actions. 

Singapore, often referred to as the “Lion City,” is a prime example of a “city-state” known for its thriving financial services sector and tourism industry. It is also the economic hub of Southeast Asia, leading the fast growth of the region. To cater to diverse international tourists, the Singapore Tourism Board explored the potential interests of tourists. By pairing these interests with the key characteristics of Singaporean locals, they were able to identify several key segments based on the lifestyles and interests of different target audiences, for example: Foodies, Explorers, Collectors, Socialisers, Action Seekers and Culture Shapers. The Singapore Economic Development Board, responsible for attracting investments, also recognized the importance of city branding and in 2017, they collaborated with the Tourism Board to jointly launch the “Passion Made Possible” campaign to accelerate economic growth. 

Image source: https://www.visitsingapore.com/ 

2. Define the Brand’s Value Proposition 

Once the city’s brand objectives and target audiences have been identified, it’s important to develop a value proposition. All subsequent brand communications and activations will revolve around this proposition. 

Singapore’s brand proposition has evolved over time, from being known as the “Garden City” in the 1960s and 70s to “New Asia, Singapore” after the Asian financial crisis and “Uniquely Singapore” in the 21st century.  

Singapore is unique as it is both a country and a city. For other countries, it is crucial for stakeholders to consider a few key questions – How should the country balance the integrity of its national brand with the distinctiveness of its city brands? How could it leverage the positive image of the region to drive urban growth, and conversely, how should it align the diverse identities of its cities with the holistic values of the country?  

For example, Prophet partnered with the Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism Authority to develop its brand and marketing strategy. We created the value proposition “Experience Abu Dhabi. Find Your Pace,” paying tribute to the cultural heritage of the UAE while emphasizing the local culture of Abu Dhabi. 

3. Create Brand Symbols 

Cities are an aggregation of complex symbols in time and space. In the communications of city brands, it is the symbols that provide audiences with intuitive and tangible experiences. They are symbolic elements rooted in a city’s cultures and communities. Identifying the most representative symbols can make the city branding even more impactful. 

In addition to the iconic Merlion and Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore Tourism Board recently developed a variety of other cultural sites, such as Chinatown, Little India, Orchard Road, and Sentosa Island, to enrich the experiences of international travelers and strengthen the local communities. 

Image source: Unsplash 

4. Build Partnerships to Strengthen the Brand 

Typically, the local tourism board is responsible for overseeing the promotion of a city’s tourism ambitions. However, the tourism industry often involves a wide range of departments, including public management and cultural innovation. Moreover, the marketing budget and operational capacity allowed for one department is also limited. Therefore, partnerships across departments and the private sector should be leveraged for amplified results. 

The Singapore government coordinates urban planning to create an inclusive, green, sustainable, vibrant and convenient city. It also actively collaborates with leading enterprises to co-create the city brand. For example, Changi Airport, one of Asia’s busiest airports, plays a significant role as Singapore’s gateway. With impressive indoor features and efficient passenger experiences, it leaves a remarkable impression on international travelers. The construction of Terminal 5, currently underway, embodies the concept of “The Airport, The City,” as emphasized by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a recent speech. With partnerships across sectors, a city can harness social resources to continuously strengthen its brand image. 

Changi Airport (Image source: Unsplash) 

5. Inject Fresh Energy into the Brand 

Just as commercial brands need to capture consumers’ heads and hearts, the marketing of a city also needs to evolve with time, creating fresh experiences consistently. Singapore has introduced various events and festivals, such as the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown, Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, and music festivals featuring international headliners, to keep its image fresh and exciting in people’s minds. 

Image source: Unsplash 

We recommend carefully evaluating and deploying the five key areas when it comes to city branding, in order to establish a city brand with lasting impact with resonating meanings. 


FINAL THOUGHTS

Cities as brands are on the rise globally. To succeed, they must learn from the best practices of influential city brands. Unlike consumer goods, cities endure over time, accumulating and passing down history. Therefore, the brands built for them must also transcend time and respond to the trends of the era. 

To learn more about building an impactful destination brand, contact us today. 

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Breathing Life into GenAI-Powered Brand Communications with Verbal Strategy

With the rise of GenAI, brands must not overlook the importance of verbal strategy to ensure their content marketing is purposeful and human-centric.  

The integration of Generative AI (GenAI) tools into modern marketing and communication workflows has sparked a content creation revolution. Businesses across industries are recognizing the potential of AI-assisted writing to streamline content generation, enhance efficiency and improve collaboration. A recent Gartner survey revealed that nearly half of marketing leaders have already integrated GenAI tools into their workflows, with another 43% planning to follow suit. 

The advent of GenAI, combined with a robust verbal branding strategy, offers a remarkable opportunity for businesses to elevate their marketing effectiveness to new heights. By harnessing the capabilities of technology alongside human experience, a powerful synergy can be achieved, captivating audiences and forging authentic connections. While AI undoubtedly streamlines content creation, it is the human-centric strategy that truly breathes life into words, allowing brands to leave an indelible mark on their customers. 

Driving Impactful Brand Communications Through Verbal Strategy, not Words 

At Prophet, our approach to branding is deeply human-centric, driven by the understanding of businesses’ overarching vision and objectives. Regardless of whether the goal is to stimulate demand, ignite transformation, or nurture customer loyalty, brand strategies must be strategically aligned with these pivotal business imperatives. 

In a landscape filled with the allure of advertising and captivating social campaigns, visuals and imagery often command the spotlight. However, a vital strategic element tends to be overlooked – verbal branding. Verbal branding extends far beyond catchy slogans and memorable jingles. It encompasses the strategic use of language across diverse touch points, including voice, messaging, content strategy, and copywriting, all aimed at conveying a brand’s essence and forging emotional connections with the audience. 

A successful verbal strategy ensures a consistent and distinctive presence across all consumer touchpoints – encompassing social media, digital marketing, and product interfaces. By meticulously defining a verbal branding strategy, businesses can carve out a unique space for themselves within a competitive marketplace, striking a resounding chord with their intended audience. 

Harnessing the Power of GenAI in Verbal Branding 

Despite having a well-defined verbal strategy, businesses often encounter numerous challenges during execution. From managing content volume and cadence, investing in talents and suppliers, creating iterations and personalization, to ensuring effective collaboration across departments and accurately measuring return on investment (ROI), the path to successful verbal branding is rarely straightforward. 

AI, when strategically applied under the guidance of human experts, can prove to be a game-changer for businesses looking to overcome these hurdles. GenAI can play a vital role in content generation, coordination, and data analysis, leading to increased efficiency, cost reduction, and an overall improvement in the effectiveness of branding efforts. 

1. Generate formulated copy for digital marketing.

For digital marketing, marketers often need to generate precise yet personalized messages at scale – a task that’s highly time-consuming, technical and repetitive. GenAI-powered platforms like ChatGPT are transforming digital marketing by enabling rapid content generation and producing various copy variations, given the appropriate guidance. Emergent platforms like Lokalise have also allowed for content localization, especially across different languages, and are much more efficient. Additionally, through metadata and machine learning technologies, AI tools can also improve content personalization. For example, CopyAI is a tool that specializes in personalized sales copy and dynamic social media content. The interactive AI interface allows marketers to experiment with different angles and variations, leading to more effective and compelling messaging. 

However, verbal strategy and language refinement remain indispensable in this process. While GenAI can churn out content quickly, human experts are needed to define the brand’s tone of voice, verbal strategy and personalization tactics, while curating and elevating AI-generated copy. In this process, human expertise remains crucial to edit, refine, build, and take the content to the next level. Only through the experienced guidance of human experts, can businesses create impactful and authentic content that resonates with their target audience. 
 

2. Provide insights and baselines for content marketing.

AI excels in synthesizing data and thus can help writers generate topic ideas by identifying trending topics, competitive keywords, and popular content formats. Platforms like Jasper and Content at Scale can do just that. Such assistance can save marketers valuable time in brainstorming ideas for content that’s relevant and engaging at a high cadence. Moreover, GenAI-powered tools can be used to identify grammatical errors and enhance the overall readability of content. 

Despite these remarkable strides in AI capabilities, the skillset of experienced writers and verbal experts are irreplaceable in content marketing. Developing content calendars based on brand strategy demands a deep understanding of the brand’s marketing priorities, target audience and business objectives. Additionally, human creativity and expertise play a crucial role in crafting high-quality content that is literarily masterful while seamlessly aligning with the brand’s vision to resonate with the audience on a more fundamental level. 

3. Optimize the conversational experience of chatbots.

Customer service is a critical touchpoint for brands, and providing seamless support is essential for building customer loyalty. Chatbots and digital assistants have emerged as powerful tools to enhance business resilience in this aspect. By offering immediate support, reducing operational expenses and capturing valuable customer insights, these AI tools are reshaping the customer service landscape. Although they primarily rely on Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies, companies are now integrating GenAI into Chatbots to make the experiences richer and more seamless. 

However, ensuring a comprehensive brand strategy is in place is vital for creating outstanding conversational experiences. Brand strategy, on the one hand, plays a pivotal role in defining the role of the chatbot in the brand portfolio. On the other hand, it is equally important for creating and implementing detailed verbal guidelines for AI-driven interactions. By designing chatbots’ identities through branded personas, businesses can deliver immersive experiences to their customers that are not only authentic but also instrumental to their brand strategies. For example, we partnered with AXA to create a humanized user interface, the “Empathetic Navigator” Emma, to help transform the insurer from payer to partner. In doing so, Emma became AXA’s signature experience to offer a more human approach to being a partner and connecting with its customers. 

Key Considerations When Applying GenAI Solutions 

Despite its exciting potential, using GenAI to activate marketing strategies requires careful consideration of several factors.  

1. Data security and authenticity should be prioritized.

As AI tools and practices are currently an emerging area with limited oversight, it’s crucial for businesses to validate that the information provided is accurate and non-proprietary. Keeping confidential and proprietary data out of AI training process is also essential.  

At Prophet, we developed AI guidelines that serve as a valuable compass for our work. We use the guidelines to omit confidential information and proprietary data from external AI processes, rigorously verify outputs and continuously promote knowledge sharing for collective improvement. As AI technologies evolve and fresh ethical challenges arise, organizations must remain poised to adapt and revise their strategies to ensure alignment with the latest security standards and considerations. 
 

2. Understanding regional nuances is crucial when deploying GenAI for verbal branding across different markets and languages.

Different AI tools may have varying strengths and weaknesses based on the cultural context they were trained. For example, in China, Baidu WenxinYiyan, Tencent’s Hunyuan and iFlyTek’s SparkDesk have arisen as admirable contenders. Additionally, policies and regulations as they start to emerge may differ across regions. Just recently, China became the first country to launch official regulations around GenAI, while the EU is also in the process of evaluating its AI Act. Therefore, businesses should consider using AI models trained specifically for each target market to ensure better relevance and compliance. 
 

3. Going a step further.

Customization is key to leveraging AI effectively for branding objectives. Tailoring the AI solutions to the business’s unique needs, persona, tone of voice and style can create a more authentic and relatable verbal branding experience for the audience. Continuously verifying and adapting the outputs generated by AI is essential to maintain consistency with the brand’s identity and messaging. Businesses should learn from the AI-generated content and customer feedback to improve the system over time, making it more accurate and reflective of the brand’s values and objectives. 

Harmonizing GenAI and Human Expertise: The Path Forward in Verbal Branding 

Undoubtedly, the integration of GenAI in content marketing and brand communications workflows has brought about a transformative shift in content creation. The efficiency and scale at which AI operates are truly remarkable, allowing businesses to achieve more than ever before. However, it is crucial to recognize that the real magic happens when AI collaborates with human expertise, creating a symbiotic relationship that propels branding efforts to new heights. 


FINAL THOUGHTS

As AI continues to evolve and become an integral part of our business strategies, our guidance and approach must adapt accordingly. Understanding that AI serves as a valuable tool, rather than a replacement, will be crucial to our success in an ever-competitive landscape. By harnessing the evolving power of AI while embracing the significance of human oversight in verbal branding, we can truly stand out and thrive in this dynamic and rapidly changing world. 

Learn more about our verbal branding capabilities. 

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Positioning AI Brands With Better Brand Storytelling and a Sharp Value Proposition

For companies developing AI products and services, time is running out. Now is the time to clarify value and build trust.

It’s hard to keep up with the number of companies charging into artificial intelligence. But for those – particularly in the technology industry – that want to build market share in AI, finding ways to get ahead of the crowd is imperative. And time is of the essence. We are in a pivotal moment, and those who get it right will come out as the clear winners not only today but in the foreseeable future.  

It’s not only about developing top products or services. To position themselves as category leaders, companies building AI capabilities need to think about telling a holistic story that evolves with the technology and customers’ uneven rate of AI adoption. Stakeholder perceptions are still being decided. Companies need to win talent wars, educate investors and soothe a society that is distrustful of AI. 

The moment for throwing ideas into the market and seeing what sticks is over. Those who will lead in AI will be those who get their story right, and define these four key elements: 

1. Product + Innovation

AI is driving the most significant technological platform shift in our lifetime. But with so many companies touting their advancements, there is a risk that new products get lost without the depth or differentiation needed to stand out in a fast-moving, crowded ecosystem. ​ 

Companies building AI products need to start with a better understanding of the user journey and experience. While the initial goals may have been building a superior product, customer centricity needs to move to center stage. That requires asking hard questions about the design and intentional experience for users. How will products solve customers’ biggest problems? How fast can they do it? How accurately? Interoperability is essential, too. Where does it fit in the ecosystem? Does it leave room for partnerships? All these things – not just the product itself – determine its value. Are all these facets articulated in a clear value proposition? Can that value be conveyed in messages that are neither too complex nor oversimplified? 

“Short-term, brands will continue to tout the presence of AI broadly as a product differentiator,” says Danny Pomerantz, a senior manager at Prophet. “However, consumer understanding of the utility of AI will increase nearly as fast as the technology itself, so brands will soon need to include more in-depth explanation of the role AI plays in meeting customer needs.”​  

2. Organization + Culture

In the fierce war for AI talent, hiring and keeping the best people requires a distinctive Employee Value Proposition. This EVP must distill the company’s purpose, creating the North Star that unifies the whole company. Given the potential impact AI has on society, employees are taking caution and being intentional in evaluating an employer’s value system – this is especially true for Gen Z workers who place higher importance on a company’s values and purpose than older generations.  

“To attract and retain talent that can build AI solutions, companies need to consider their WHY through the lens of all their stakeholders vs. a traditional overweighting and myopic focus on shareholder value. Other stakeholders include employees, the communities the enterprises operate in and serve, the customer of course, and society the planet,” says Tina Naser, senior partner and global practice lead in organization and culture. 

The most in-demand AI workers will want to work for companies committed to performance excellence and innovation. That means companies must know how current workforce ecosystems must change. How will creative and content generation evolve? What skills are most urgently needed?  

And they want to join companies that are committed to giving them room to grow, which may call for a refreshed organizational design. Employees, almost as much as customers, will become the catalyst for market positioning.  

“The companies that best integrate AI with the human workforce will be the companies that attract and retain the best talent,” says Michael Lopez, partner in Prophet’s organization and culture practice. “That’s how they will unlock new levels of growth and performance.”​  

3. Expression + Identity

Too often, tech companies don’t think about branding until after a product is built. But the brand itself must be designed into the way AI products express themselves – how they look, sound and engage with users. 

AI needs to be honest, quickly telling people that while these tools are helpful, they’re not human.  

“The baseline expectation for AI-powered copy is transparency, disclosing that it’s AI immediately and not a person,” explains Darcy Munoz, Prophet’s verbal branding lead. And since they are often used in straightforward jobs-to-be-done roles, they should prioritize helpfulness over branding. “But personality, deployed thoughtfully and judiciously –an unexpectedly human phrase, the perfect emoji, a well-timed robot joke –goes a long way to build brand love.”​  

4. Responsibility + Guardrails

The mistrust of AI is widespread. That means that even as companies race to build growth-driving technology and value for stakeholders and customers, they must position themselves – and all their AI offers – as responsible, carefully weighing the impact on society. The potential threats are grave, including the “risk of extinction.” That’s why 350 AI executives, researchers, and engineers signed a statement released by the Center for AI Safety. 

To manage potential concerns companies must be clear on their mission and upfront in promises to ethically contribute to managing AI. They must work with governments, competitors and concerned consumer groups, ensuring safeguards are constantly evolving for greater effectiveness.  

This visible commitment is especially important for reaching younger people, both as employees and customers. They are fierce in their commitment to working for inclusive companies that stand for making the world a better place.  

“Gen Z will be paying careful attention to which companies are at the forefront of responsible AI and which companies are lagging,”​ says Michael Lau, a strategy associate at Prophet and demographic expert.  

Amid the intense scrutiny of the business media, Wall Street, Washington D.C. and the general public, companies must honestly acknowledge their reputation. Samsung, Amazon and Apple are among the most trusted tech companies. TikTok and Meta score lowest. 

Tell a Sharper Story 

Companies that carefully consider all four elements have the raw materials to tell a powerful story and establish a unique identity. The next step is prioritizing who they want to hear that story and crafting narratives designed explicitly for core audiences. For some tech companies, AI is the headline. For others, it might be a chapter. But all must draw from a unified positioning strategy. That’s the foundation that aligns vision, solidifies ambition and articulates the pillars for messaging.  

Consider these four stakeholders: 

Customers: Educate customers to earn trust.

Many recognize AI’s benefits of conveniences, yet a recent study showed that 76% of consumers are concerned over the risk of misinformation. Prophet’s recent test of AI messaging with B2B customers found that without more explanation, mentioning AI didn’t help. It came across as vague and expected but without much distinction or value. That underscores the importance of communicating the customer value proposition using clear and compelling differentiation.  

Employees: Use corporate purpose to recruit, engage and retain employees.

While coming off a year of layoffs, the tech industry is still desperate for AI-skilled engineers and talent. Amazon, Microsoft, Meta, Nvidia, Tesla, Google, and many fast-moving start-ups have announced stepped-up investments in AI. As a result, they are refreshing their enterprise value proposition, each aiming to develop a unifying rally cry that sets them apart.  

Shareholders: Deepen messages for shareholders.

While many companies have been using AI for decades, the launch of ChatGPT last year was seismic. The AI fervor drew intense investor interest, often with little understanding. Executives tossed out vague AI mentions on earnings calls, often with little explanation. But it’s important to manage expectations amid the hype as savvy market investors search for strategy, differentiation and growth drivers. AI companies must help potential investors find those differences with clear messages that cut through the noise.  

Society: Commit to the responsible use of AI.

Historical context matters here. In the early days of social media, many believed technology tended toward the beneficial. Now that society has seen its ugly side there’s a high level of distrust and even contempt. And it’s important to note that even the most sophisticated AI thinkers still have no idea where AI will take us. AI is not a business-as-usual business. It will require exceptional efforts to earn and manage the public’s trust. 


FINAL THOUGHTS

Technology, media, entertainment, and telecommunications companies that offer AI products and services need to tell a compelling story. Product innovation alone is not enough to capture the market. Companies must articulate their identity, add value and provide guardrails to build and retain customers. Finding the right balance between simplicity and complexity will be critical as will moving fast and not missing the moment. Contact our team today to position your AI brand for success. 

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Catalysts: Gaining Control by Letting Go

Prophet’s 2023 Catalyst research highlights how governance can enable both alignment and autonomy. “Letting go” of control puts the right people in charge of the right decisions. 

This article is the third in a series based on our latest research, Catalysts: How to Build an adaptable organization that thrives during uncertainty. Conversations with senior executives in multiple industries helped us define concrete steps leaders can take to create a sense and structure for shared ownership within the organization.  

In his now-famous address to Congress in 1961, President John F. Kennedy laid out an audacious goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” The President lauded the endeavor’s impressiveness to humankind and its importance to future space exploration. The speech also represented an unspoken political gauntlet throwdown: pitting the distributed intelligence and decision-making of the US’s market-based economy against the Soviet top-down, centrally-planned model. 

At the time of JFK’s speech, and for the better part of the twentieth century, management theory favored predictability and consistency as means to economies of scale. This resulted in streamlining business processes and organizational structures to maximize standardization and minimize marginal cost. Whole disciplines such as Toyota Production System (TPS), Six Sigma, and Lean emerged as proven methods with terrific results when implemented well.  

Today we operate in a very different economy. The advancement of digital technology has upended the economics of value creation. As a result, we live in a world that is more unpredictable. Today’s leaders must channel President Kennedy’s faith in systems with distributed intelligence and decision-making to thrive. Rather than centralize decision-making, leaders can gain better control through the twists and turns of the market by “letting go” – empowering autonomy and decision-making within their organizations by establishing the organizational structures, processes and culture to make it successful. 

The Benefits of “Letting Go” 

Leaders and managers who look at the big picture quickly realize that delegation of authority greatly benefits the firm and its customers. The company gains strategic agility because it can pivot faster to respond to market shifts. Customers benefit because “bringing authority to the information” increases customer intimacy, driving the development of more relevant and impactful products, services, and experiences. 

Additionally, shifting decision rights lower in the organization drives greater employee engagement, resulting in a 23% productivity increase, according to Gallup’s 2020 meta-analysis. It also delivers a radically improved employee value proposition, as demonstrated by significantly increased retention and ratings for employee wellbeing. 

C-suite leaders that we interviewed for this series told us they are working hard in 2023 on letting go. “This is a major cultural shift that we need to make in order to unlock the potential of the great talent we’ve hired and the leaders we have on deck,” says the Vice President of Talent of a multinational e-commerce company. “We constantly ask ourselves, `What can we do today to step out of their way and unleash that potential?'” 

Three Critical Shifts for Empowering Autonomy and Decision-Making 

“Organizations often underestimate what’s required to release control and still achieve results,” says Jane Hanson, former Chief People Officer of Nationwide Building Society, the UK’s third largest mortgage provider. “It’s not just a matter of leaders stepping back and declaring others are empowered. It’s about building the scaffolding and putting the right systems in place to help people be successful.”  

Empowered teams need the authority to make or influence business decisions. As recently as 2015, just 11% of US workers said they could consistently influence decisions critical to their work. However, it takes more than just leadership’s permission to “let go” successfully. Teams also need the organization’s formal structures, the “Body”, to follow suit. Through our research, we uncovered three critical structural changes required to enable more adaptive and resilient organizations.  

1. Clear Vision, Goals and Accountabilities

To operate with agency, teams need clarity on the strategic direction for the company overall, what success looks like, and how the team contributes to the larger organization. A clear vision and goals at the organizational level establish a “north star,” while breaking enterprise goals down to team-level outcomes and accountabilities gives the team the direction they need to make effective decisions on prioritizing their efforts.  

How goals are framed is equally as important. JFK aimed “to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth.” The goal is ambitious and transparent, and its outcomes are easily measured (an astronaut either returns to Earth or they don’t). Yet the goal does not prescribe outputs or how to achieve it. The goal doesn’t stipulate the spacecraft’s design, the mission’s trajectory, the number of crew, etc. Instead, NASA was responsible for determining how they would accomplish this goal. By articulating goals as outcomes (versus outputs) and holding teams accountable to those outcomes, organizations can create greater resiliency and scale by delegating the “how” to teams. 

Outcome-oriented goals can also become an essential facet of the company culture. A senior product leader at one of the world’s largest tech firms shared, “When we pass someone in the hallway that we haven’t seen in a while, typically the first question you ask is ‘what’s your goal?’ not ‘who are you reporting to?’ or ‘what project are you working on?’ Everyone understands what the company’s goals are. It’s actually how we navigate the organization.”  

2. Transparent and Responsive Resource Allocation

In addition to clarity on outcomes and accountability, teams also need resources to achieve their goals. Delivering great products, services, and experiences takes human effort, financial resources, and technological capabilities. Simply having access to those resources is not enough. Teams also need the ability to reallocate those resources to pivot quickly. Too often, financial planning and allocation of talent is an annual process that, for most organizations, is far too infrequent to facilitate effective pivots. Faced with emerging opportunities or market shifts, teams can often find themselves saddled with resources committed to one project while watching opportunities for higher and better use of those resources pass by. Redirecting resources usually takes time and attention-consuming escalation to senior leadership.   

“Letting go” often requires redefining how resources are allocated within an organization, making those processes more agile and giving teams greater autonomy in regular resource reallocation.  

3. Cross-Functional Work 

Reorienting teams around outcomes versus outputs can be liberating but requires more cross-functional work. Rather than being accountable for a single activity or component, teams responsible for business outcomes, such as customer satisfaction, operational efficiency or launching a new product, need the talents of many functional domains that often operate in silos.  

Organizations seeking to become more resilient and adaptive by “letting go” should find ways to accelerate cross-functional collaboration. That could be by shifting the organization’s structure outright, such as to agile teams or matrix models, or by evolving how individuals and teams are aligned to work.  

Putting “Letting Go” Into Practice Across the Organization’s Mind, Body, and Soul

Every organization can find its way to the level of shared, distributed decision-making that best fits its strategies and goals. Using our Human-Centered Transformation Model to think holistically, here are some actionable ways leaders can empower autonomy and decision-making within their organizations.” 

DNA: Define the Strategic Destination 

  • Make decision-making faster and easier at all levels by promulgating clear and compelling statements of corporate purpose with well-articulated values to support it. The clearer they are, the easier it is to trust that decisions will be made consistently at all levels. 
  • Identify where autonomy and decisiveness are best aligned with company values. 
  • Celebrate significant decisions that are well-aligned to purpose and values. 

Mind: Enable Employees With Necessary Skills and Knowledge 

  • Shift hiring practices to include problem-solving and cross-functional collaboration, not just hard skills. 
  • New responsibilities require new capabilities. Create learning and development resources that help employees build an ownership mindset and cultivate the underlying skills, such as data analysis, to contribute to better decision-making.  

Body: Provide Structure and Governance to Deliver the Strategy 

  • Charter work for business outcomes and empower decision-making in the teams that need to achieve them. 
  • Simplify governance models as much as possible by moving decision makers closer, if not into, the work process. 
  • Advance managers into true coaching models that avoid micromanagement. 
  • Ensure all relevant employees can access the data, systems, and inputs they need to make the best decisions.  

Soul: Motivate and Ignite Belief in the Strategy

  • Reward progress in decision-making quality, speed and accountability, not just outcomes. 
  • Spotlight employees who demonstrate an ownership mindset and recognize them publicly. 
  • Champion new leadership behaviors.  

FINAL THOUGHTS

Achieving organizational resiliency by “letting go” requires organizations to rethink how they set goals, manage their resources, and structure their teams – no small undertaking. Yet leaders who can make the shift from top-down control to delegating accountability and decision-making are rewarded with more autonomous and engaged employees, faster decisions, and better outcomes for both their companies and customers. Even if their ambition may not be to land a human on the moon, their organizations may achieve something truly transformational. 

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Unleashing the Power of Digital Transformation in Manufacturing and Distribution

60% YOY growth in e-commerce sales. $1 billion in new revenue. 8x productivity gains.   

These are the types of results that B2B manufacturing and distribution businesses can realize if the right digital strategies are developed, and when leaders take on the necessary transformation work to bring these strategies to life. Unfortunately, many companies in the manufacturing sector are still trying to get by with outdated systems and patchwork solutions – leading to operational inefficiencies and limiting their strategic options for growth. There is hope: Those who embrace digital transformation can create new possibilities. 

In our work with a range of B2B manufacturing and distribution leaders, we’ve seen successful digital transformation enable companies to expand into new markets, unlock new avenues for growth, engage new customers and gain a tangible competitive advantage. In this article, we explore why digital growth strategies matter and how to develop the right e-commerce approach for your business. 

“We believe our industry will begin seeing more disruption from large online players and big digital marketplace players, and want to support our customers from seeing attrition as a result. We saw it as absolutely critical to digitally transform to meet rising consumer expectations and to ultimately help our customers grow their businesses.” 

Rob Saper, General Manager, Dexter Distribution Group

The Significance of a Digital Growth Strategy 

Digital growth strategies can support a range of business objectives, from increased sales and stronger customer loyalty to higher efficiency and lower costs. But the simplest reason that B2B companies need digital and e-commerce strategies is that customers expect them to have one. All customers are looking for convenience, flexibility and personalized experiences. Every company must have a digital platform that supports effortless ordering, rapid delivery and responsive service.  

When Dawn Food Products Inc. made it easier for customers to discover new products on its online self-service platform, the company saw a surge in online orders for products that customers had not previously purchased offline. The well-designed digital solution prompted customers to buy more and expand their relationships with Dawn.  

Digital platforms add value beyond purchasing by providing an outlet for content and services that cater to diverse customer needs associated with the core product set. Anheuser-Busch InBev’s BEES B2B sales platform, for example, empowers retailers and partners with customer insights, personalized product recommendations and sales trends. AB InBev now generates 63% of its revenue through B2B digital platforms, with BEES experiencing a remarkable 60% growth from 2021 to 2022. 

Digital strategies also empower companies to scale efficiently, accommodating a growing customer base without the limitations of traditional brick-and-mortar operations. Casey’s Distributing achieved an eightfold increase in productivity by transitioning from manual order processes to a SaaS-based e-commerce platform integrated with inventory management software. 

Platforms that automate manual processes and connect diverse systems reduce both error rates and costs. They make it possible to harness the power of data and analytics to generate invaluable insights that can be used to optimize pricing, marketing programs, inventory, and supply management. These platforms help companies understand where they should invest in growth and how to scale the business.  

E-commerce strategies are critical for B2B companies to extend into new market segments and compete with established players, new market entrants and potential disrupters. To engage smaller businesses with simpler needs than its larger customers, Grainger operates Zoro.com alongside its flagship website. The expanded product assortment has been a hit, generating $1 billion in annual revenue.  

Over time, as digital strategies evolve and capabilities mature, companies may consider refining their business models or launching entirely new value streams. The right platform allows companies to test and learn about new products and services. For instance, Schneider Electric’s  Exchange created a new marketplace of data services that foster collaboration and networking within the energy sector

A common theme for successful e-commerce strategies is data monetization. Marketplace and platform models featuring different vendors offering their products produce data and insights that customers value. They also create a market for selling advertising space. B2B businesses, especially distribution companies and others that serve as middlemen, can follow the lead of Walmart, Target, Kroger and others that have built large businesses by selling ads and customer data directly to advertisers.

Asking the Right Questions 

The journey to breakthrough results starts with asking the right questions to inform digital and e-commerce strategies: 

  • What information or tools would enrich and accelerate the customer journey? 
  • Which interactions and touchpoints can we personalize to encourage upselling? 
  • What data would be valuable for customers? What’s the best way to make it accessible and actionable?  
  • Which existing processes would benefit from automation and integration? 
  • How can e-commerce enable us to fully capture and leverage customer data?  
  • How can we expand the value exchange with the customer base? What’s the best place to start?  
  • Where can we find new revenue streams in a revamped digital ecosystem?

Seven Steps for Developing a Successful Digital Growth Strategy 

To build successful e-commerce and digital strategies, companies should consider the following key steps: 

1. Define the Vision and Goals

Envision your business aspirations and how they relate to what customers want. Determine where your e-commerce and digital strategy can deliver maximum value in meeting customer needs. Clearly identify, document and gain organizational consensus on the top areas of opportunity across the customer journey.  

2. Assess Customer Readiness for Change

Proactively engage customers to determine their preferences for digital engagement versus traditional business approaches. Communicate clearly what’s changing and how they will benefit from a more digital experience. Take advantage of the inherent stickiness of manufacturing and distribution to gradually evolve customer mindsets toward digital ecosystems and, ultimately, strengthen existing relationships. 

3. Prepare the Organization

Assess organizational structures, processes and resources to determine whether they need to be enhanced or adjusted to execute against the new digital ambitions. Engage business units and organizational capabilities that will be affected by the new strategy to ensure they understand the goals and their role in it.  

4. Prioritize Change Management Needs

Craft a change management approach that addresses fears of job security and change fatigue, especially among essential customer-facing staff. Consider refining incentives and shifting cultural attitudes to foster innovative thinking and behaviors. Invest in training and upskilling and equip the workforce with the right tools so they can thrive as their everyday work and your business operations get more digital. 

5. Create a Roadmap and Business Case

Develop a detailed plan outlining how your digital strategy will unlock value over time, with key milestones and quantifiable targets. Engage stakeholders to gain buy-in based on formal business cases and roadmaps, which is especially important for low-margin businesses unaccustomed to transformational change.  

6. Choose the Right Platforms and Technologies

Evaluate and select e-commerce and digital platforms that best align with your business objectives. Integrate the back-office systems and data repositories necessary to build the foundation for high-impact customer-facing solutions.  

7. Continuously Monitor and Adjust

With the roadmap and business case as the baseline, devise and track meaningful customer, financial and operational metrics to monitor the success of your digital strategy. Adapt your strategy accordingly while keeping the long-term vision in mind. Plan to iterate continuously as digital transformation is more an ongoing journey than a single destination. 


FINAL THOUGHTS

The prospect of digital transformation can seem daunting, to even the most forward-looking leaders. But robust e-commerce and digital strategies have become essential in B2B manufacturing and distribution businesses. And the lessons learned from those firms that have successfully transformed confirm the compelling returns – in the form of broader reach, increased efficiency, high-value customer insights, stronger relationships, and stronger competitive capabilities. 

Prophet has been recognized by Forrester as a notable Digital Transformation in The Digital Transformation Services Landscape, Q3 2023. Check out the report here and learn how Prophet can help drive performance gains through effective digital strategies.

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Catalysts: Build Organizational Resilience with a Culture of Experimentation 

Prophet’s 2023 Catalysts research reveals how low-risk test-and-learn strategies can build organizational resilience.

This is the third article in a series based on our latest research series, Catalysts: How to Build an Adaptable Organization That Thrives During Uncertainty. In the previous article, Catalysts: Transform Purpose From Catchy Slogan to Growth Engine, we explored how the most adaptive companies use their purpose to drive compelling business strategies.  

A culture of experimentation is essential for innovation and growth. And while virtually every business leader knows that’s true, at least in theory, relatively few companies know how to build that culture. Through our research, we uncovered plenty of reasons organizations resist experimentation. Fear and short-term thinking top the list.  

Today’s economic uncertainty makes many organizations even more timid about investing in experimentation. “Since the Great Depression, there have been nine bear markets,” says Mark Jamison, former Global Head of Design and Innovation and currently Head of Global Accounts for Visa. “Humans are not designed to take a longer view. They tend to be reactive, particularly in times of stress. Leaders need the fortitude and the foresight to step back and ask, `What strategies might we put in place to go after opportunities this uncertainty has created?’ You can then use this foresight to focus the organization’s energy on delivering outsized impact while competitors are inwardly focused.”  

But too often, organizations shut down that scientific spirit. Experiments often fail, and that scares people. A 2020 Gallup survey found fewer than one in ten respondents strongly agreed with the statement, “I take risks at my job that could lead to new products or solutions.”  

Ironically, the same leaders who struggle with encouraging experimentation are often the same ones lauding data-driven decisions. To foster an organization that effectively uses iterative experimentation, leaders must promote the discipline of regularly testing hypotheses. And, like any scientist, they have to learn to view every outcome, failure or success, as progress. Only then can innovation flourish.  

Encouraging an A/B Ethos 

Firms born in the digital era, such as Amazon and Netflix have repeatedly demonstrated that experimentation through A/B testing can help identify how to generate more value.  

Amazon, for instance, discovered that making a mobile game called Air Patriots easier unexpectedly increased the enjoyment of its end users, leading to more revenue. Netflix runs constant experiments to determine how best to personalize artwork so that each customer sees images with actors and genres they like best.  

Ghost kitchens have given rise to new levels of innovation for many large restaurant groups over the last three years. These kitchens are used to test new menu items, new restaurant concepts and even branding. They provide an efficient way to offer food delivery, of course. But these kitchens have also proven to be ideal testing labs. Since many have no visible connection to their existing brands, companies can measure market demand and consider how to scale winning concepts with relatively little risk. 

Increasing Organizational Experimentation 

There are specific actions organizations can take to lower the costs of experimentation and increase innovation. At Prophet, we use our Human-Centered Transformation Model.™ to think holistically about an organization. We view the organization as a macrocosm of the individual, with four distinct components. 

DNA: Define the Strategic Destination 

A company’s DNA is its purpose and core beliefs, which should inform all decisions and strategies. If innovation is part of these core corporate values and most companies recognize that new ideas are essential to survival, make sure the definition of innovation includes the idea of experimentation. Innovation often becomes synonymous with “new,” neglecting the disciplined experimentation required to hatch ideas. 

Mind: Enable Employees With the Necessary Skills and Knowledge   

Leaders must also examine the skills and competencies needed to encourage test-and-learn thinking. Knowledge, capabilities and skills compose the mind of an organization. Our research finds that the most innovative companies are reinforcing employee learning in multiple ways, including:  

  • Invest in bringing in knowledge from outside the organization, including secondments with other companies, university relationships, entrepreneurs-in-residence and speaker programs. 
  • Build experimentation into the performance review for every role. Embedding innovation into the reward and performance structure is vital. 
  • Make agile methods, design thinking and innovation skills standard training across functions.  

Body: Provide Structure and Governance to Deliver the Strategy 

Leaders may also reconsider organizational structure. Companies need to be designed in ways that facilitate experimentation. Not only does that differ from company to company, but it also calls for various operating models within each enterprise. Groups working on near-term innovation likely require different teams, funding, processes and incentives than those working on long-term horizons. And organizations need ways to astutely assess the risks and rewards of each flavor of innovation.  

“We use the concept of one-way and two-way door decisions,” says Gabriel Mas, chief marketing officer at Amazon Mexico. “A one-way door decision is almost impossible to reverse. A two-way door decision is easy to reverse. For one-way door decisions, more analysis, discussion and senior leader input are provided. If a decision is a two-way door, people closer to the decision are empowered to move quickly and execute, and we have mechanisms in place to learn from each decision, good or bad.” 

Soul: Motivate and Ignite Belief in the Strategy  

Finally, the organization’s soul must celebrate experimentation, especially when an exciting hypothesis is disproved. That means developing traditions, symbols and rituals that make people feel safe. They must be encouraged to test ideas, even when their work results in negative data. It’s easy for a company to say it sees failure as a learning opportunity. But genuinely living that conviction is difficult.  

Leaders need to model and promote the scientist’s mindset, releasing any attachment to the positive outcomes of experiments in their organizations. They need to demonstrate that all experiments deliver valuable information. 


FINAL THOUGHTS

All businesses can lower the social and literal costs of experimentation. Doing so makes them more adaptable by fostering the psychological safety required to design and execute more experiments. Embracing disciplined experimentation is necessary to increase a company’s ability to flex, pivot and thrive in changing market conditions.

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Standing out in a Sea of Sameness: Five Ways Asset Managers Can Build a Winning Brand Strategy

Prolonged and emerging pressures are creating new challenges across the industry.

How do you gain market share and attract the best talent in a market that looks like a sea of sameness? Where clients, partners, and talent see you and your competitors as interchangeable? Asset managers have long operated with this mindset when it comes to brand positioning.   Compounding this challenge in recent years is the need to navigate challenges that include fee compression, market volatility, shifting regulatory environments and talent friction.  

Consequently, asset managers have rapidly expanded their areas of focus: taking on a new tension around focused expertise vs. expanding the set of offers to serve investors (e.g., new industries, specialties, alternative investments, ESG investing, real estate, digital assets, etc.). Many have used expanded offers to deepen their relationships with clients and successfully compete but at the price of sometimes murky associations around specialization. Such go-to-market strategies have made it confusing for new investors to confidently invest and, at times, for asset managers to confidently sell a broader set of investments and capabilities.  

Facing New Opposition  

Rising interest rates, inflation, inverted yield curves, disruptive technologies (AI, digital assets), and rising global tension have shrunken available Assets Under Management (AUM), which has only increased investor trepidation as they conserve cash at a time when access to capital is more costly.  

Automation and AI are also shifting the paradigm for acquiring AUM, and there could be a semi-industry rotation. The sales and client engagement processes are also evolving as a consequence of technology. It’s less about being “close” to investors for AUM and more about being “ubiquitous” and/or “famous” for something.  

The theme of 2021 was a world of too much money chasing too few assets. The theme of 2023 is too little AUM for too many asset managers and their expansive sets of offers. 

Consolidation is the next imminent frontier we are seeing. Franklin Templeton’s $1bn+ purchase of rival Putnam Investments and Lansdowne Partners’ plan to acquire UK equity investment manager Crux Asset Management are only the beginning.  

The Asset Management Brand-Demand Challenge  

While consolidation will make newly combined entities more competitive and allow them to capture efficiencies, it will not solve the two underlying challenges present in the asset management space:  

  1. A need to establish or regain slipping relevance: Every asset management brand covered in Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index (BRI) saw a decline in relevance from 2021 to 2022, and all but one declined in relevance versus other brands from 2022 to 2023. Relevance, which directly relates to the bottom line, is noteworthy to all stakeholders. It creates importance to investors but also attracts and retains premier talent in a tighter AUM environment and bigger asset management ecosystem—building both brand and demand for the business.
  2. A need to create coherence: As entities combine and grow, it is critical to ensure that not just the company but also its offers and capabilities are well-articulated, organized and understood—making it easier for investors to buy and asset managers to sell.  

5 Actions for Building a Winning Asset Management Strategy  

1. Acknowledge and understand your unique audience motivations.

Asset managers need to manage a range of stakeholders and monitor the emerging patterns in behaviors. For example:   

  • Investors: Institutional and individuals are typically seeking risk-adjusted returns that outpace the other options available in the capital structure.   
  • Portfolio Companies: Seeking sustainable growth through capital and expertise, but also looking for purpose and values alignment.  
  • Capital Allocators: Seeking value creation, preservation of capital, and risk management for both the firm and its clients.  They also need the best talent to convey expertise, broaden access to capital, and drive outsized performance. 
  • Talent: Looking to build unique career knowledge, gain experience, and get rewarded by working with the smartest people at asset management firms with the strongest cultures.  

2. Establish a clear brand purpose.

Asset management brands tend to place too great of an emphasis on what they do (alternatives, quant, fixed income) vs. answering bigger questions on how they do it (resources, ecosystem, talent) or, even further, why they align their purpose, promise, and principles to a particular vision. Brands that can’t get past what are likely to simply float along in a sea of sameness. Many asset management positionings have migrated to being ‘safe’ through a few primary lenses: looking towards tomorrow, spotlighting integrity and/or trust, and a focus on driving long-term value.  

We believe many of the declines in brand relevance for asset managers can be attributed, in part, to a decline in various key client sentiment heart factors as outlined by Prophet’s BRI. Heart factors encapsulate the emotional connections that the audiences will forge with brands, e.g., ‘connects with me emotionally’, ‘makes me feel inspired’ and ‘engages with me in new and creative ways’. The erosion of these heart factors vs. more rational head factors which have remained stable, e.g., ‘know I can depend on’, ‘delivers on a consistent experience’, and ‘makes my life easier’ reinforces the idea that asset managers have reached a perceived parity across products, services, and the overall brand.  Such underscores the likely importance of conveying a clear ‘how’ paired with a well-defined ‘why’ in the brand purpose with clients.    

A clear how may include things like:  

  1. Your investment philosophy and approach 
  2. Your organization’s talent, values, and principles  
  3. Signature stories of lasting impact on employees, investors, companies, communities, and ecosystems 

A well-thought-out purpose is:  

  1. Authentic – ties back to what you do 
  2. Inspiring – connects with employees and customers emotionally 
  3. Shared – creates connection and builds community 
  4. Actionable – lived every day 

In Vice Chairman at Prophet David Aaker’s recent book The Future of Purpose-Driven Branding, he outlines the use of inspiring, and mission-driven signature social programs that deploy resources to address the most pressing societal challenges.  One shining example of this is State Street Global Advisors who commissioned the bronze sculpture Fearless Girl overlooking the New York Stock Exchange in anticipation of National Women’s Day.  This serves as a symbol of a part of the organization’s purpose to position on the gender equality gap and reinforces its position on taking an aggressive stance on its expectation that all portfolio companies hold at least one woman on its board.  The organization mentions it is prepared to cast proxy votes against board leaders when companies do not meet their diversity expectations.  

3. Power brand from within using a visible human-centered approach.

It’s hard enough to articulate a clear purpose in the crowded asset management space but even harder to ensure that brand purpose connects meaningfully to people and clients. The brands’ purpose needs to align with prospective talent and customers. Shaping a visible culture plays a critical role in attracting and retaining the best people which in turn garners the attention of clients. Bridgewater Associates famously pioneered a workplace culture relying on truthful and transparent communication dubbed “radical truth and radical transparency” as part of Ray Dalio’s principle-based approach. A human-centered approach involves bridging your brand purpose into a visible culture supported by a strong employee value proposition that:  

  • Articulates what makes your company a strong place to work  
  • Improves winning in the broad talent marketplace 
  • Develops an enhanced foundation to support future and evolving talent needs  

Doing these three things requires building from the organization’s purpose but also driving careful consideration around the Employee Value Proposition and employee experience.  In some recent Prophet qualitative research in the asset management space, we found building a winning EVP requires deliberate care to the employee experience levers talent is looking for beyond compensation, such as:  

  • Autonomy – giving employees the freedom to make decisions that matter to them 
  • Mentorship – surrounding talent with leaders that inspire them 
  • Clarity – on how the organization will value their performance and the capital available to them  
  • Resources – being equipped with the right support to guide decisions and accomplish goals 
  • Innovation – seeing their work and the work of the company evolving toward the future 

4. Revisit architecture, nomenclature, and value propositions.

Increasingly adding incremental investment products and services will raise organizational capabilities with impending M&A in the asset management space compounding that effect. But these new products, services, and areas of focus often get added to the existing array of capabilities that slowly stifle brand and portfolio coherence. Asset managers need to revisit the growing complexity of their investment focuses and develop an architecture and naming strategy that still complies with regulatory requirements but removes friction for both buying and selling offers designed to increase their AUM. Coupling this with strong value propositions that don’t just indicate what investments to provide but also how to pursue those investments in a way that serves to improve investor consideration and demand in addition to improving the ability for advisors to promote their services. The necessity for these services becomes evident when we consider a key finding from BRI, which reveals asset management brands fall short of advantageous relevance drivers that connect to aspects of having a strong brand architecture, use of nomenclature, and/or value propositions resonate with people in meaningful ways:  

  • Emotional resonance (connects with me) 
  • Value alignment (has a set of beliefs and values that align with my own) 
  • Essentiality (I can’t imagine living without).   

5. Experiment to win with experience both internally and externally.

In an industry where both brand and culture follow predictable patterns and a substantial amount of investment follows critical business-as-usual actions around quality reporting, transparency, educational resources, technology, etc., it can be easy for marketing, business development/advisor activities, experience investments, and cultural investments to follow these patterns. Applying a portfolio construction theory to marketing, hiring, and culture investments to experiment with actions that set a brand’s purpose and culture apart can yield huge returns. Asset management company, Vanguard, is famous for owning the retirement space not just for investors but also employees whom they affectionately name their “crew”. The Vanguard Retirement Savings plan for this group offers 4% in matched contributions and an unheard-of 10% company contribution without limit.  

Acknowledgment: The authors would like to thank Prophet Partner Adam Tremblay for his input in creating this article. 


FINAL THOUGHTS

As the asset management industry continues to encounter pressure and consolidation, the asset managers able to revisit the actions that surround their brand(s) to regain relevance and establish coherence will have outsized chances of being considered. Our Prophet team has supported some of the most respected global brands in asset management to better position for growth. If you are looking to grow your brand, connect with our global team of experts today.

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Marketers’ 2023 and 2024 Planning Do-More-With-Less Bootcamp

Budget tightening is this year’s corporate mantra. Here are seven steps marketing leaders can take to drive meaningful growth with fewer resources.

Ask any marketer, and they’ll tell you that 2023 has been a year of budget cuts and canceled launches. According to Gartner’s CMO Spend and Strategy 2023 Survey, 75% of senior marketers reported being asked to do more with less. As budgets decrease, marketing expectations significantly increase, with 86% of surveyed senior marketers agreeing their organization must undergo significant changes in how they work to achieve their goals.   

Right now, that near-universal do more with less directive is an especially bitter pill. Marketers still have whiplash from the last few years, with some businesses seeing massive contraction during the pandemic and others experiencing dizzying growth, resulting in competing interests between brand and demand. Many hoped for at least a glimmer of normalcy.   

Between inflation and rising interest rates, the likelihood of a recession has become a daily odds-making game for economists. The risk is falling. Yet many, including CEOs, investors, legislators and consumers, are already entrenched in a `vibecession.’ They feel things are bad, even if economic indicators don’t support that view. In conjunction with the disruption of the last few years, it has become almost impossible for marketers to rely on historical planning processes and requires them to maximize flexibility, even as budgets and resources diminish.   

This uncertainty isn’t necessarily bad news for the creative and agile marketer. After all, disciplined belt-tightening can allow marketing leaders to reflect, establish new ways of working, and find creative ways to deliver maximum value with their current resources.   

As marketers look to close the year strong and head into 2024 planning, we’ve identified seven critical steps marketing organizations should take to strategically balance and blend brand and demand marketing agendas and inform next year’s planning efforts that are fast upon us. 

1. Translate Business Objectives Into Quantified Customer Goals  

The first and most important part of doing more with less is to remain diligent in driving business outcomes with a customer-focused lens. All activity should point directly at delivering business value for the short and long term. Ensuring you have customer-focused goals based on acquisition, retention, cross-sell and upsell and making your brand worth paying more for is the foundation to maximize resources.   

Once you have set your goals, you must regularly track and align your efforts to the business outcomes your organization expects marketing to influence or drive. To do this, we recommend developing a leading and lagging metrics ladder and establishing quarterly check-ins with your team. By doing so, you will know what is working in your marketing plan and feel more confident that every element of your marketing budget is maximized and driving ROI. And if you notice that marketing efforts are underperforming, you’ll be in a better position to quickly pivot your efforts.  

Learn more on how you can anchor your marketing activities and investments in business outcomes in our global research report, Brand and Demand: A Love Story.  

2. Do Fewer Things 

Peter Drucker famously wrote, “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” The same is true with marketers. Every dollar works as hard as possible, but the success of your budget is dependent on whether you invested those dollars appropriately, which is why marketing leaders need to prioritize growth opportunities and continuously analyze and optimize to ensure those efforts are practical and efficient.  

Obvious, right? But in a world where specialists and digital marketing skills are at a premium, many companies are overspending to build executional muscle in modern marketing tactics. But while they are actively improving their search and social skills, for example, they may lose focus on why they are in those channels in the first place. 

Companies can do more things right by doing fewer things and staying laser-focused on driving business outcomes and customer goals. Before greenlighting any initiative, even small ones, you must ensure they support those goals. When calculating the cost of your marketing efforts, measuring the cost in dollars and the resources and time your team needs to invest in executing is critical.   

Here are some key questions to help marketers prune the marketing calendar. If you’re feeling advanced, you can build a scoring system to help you prioritize.  

3. Prioritize Moments That Matter Most in Your Customer’s Journey 

As our Brand and Demand: A Love Story report noted, journey-based planning has become critical in the digitally driven marketers’ toolbox. However, as marketers adopt this concept, many need to work harder to make the most out of every moment in the journey, which spreads resources too thin and splinters impact.   

Studying the journey keeps organizations customer-centric and uncovers opportunities. But to maximize usefulness, marketers must decide on the most critical barriers to address and seize opportunities to build out the signature and memorable moments. 

Prioritizing the moments that matter the most in the customer journey calls for tough choices, especially when you need to do more with less. Marketing leaders prioritizing customer acquisition will likely lean toward awareness and consideration moments, while those focused on retention and loyalty will probably lean toward post-purchase moments. One thing to note when prioritizing these moments is to make a list of those that you are choosing to ignore now. Eventually, marketing budgets will increase again, and the moments you deprioritize can be revisited.   

Once you have prioritized your moments, you must ensure your teams leverage these moments for brand and demand opportunities. After all, doing more with less is sometimes doing two things simultaneously! By doing so, it will be easier for your team to make the right choices about the appropriate channels, experiences and messages you need to serve your customers and, at the right time, to drive results for your organization. 

4. Sharpen Your Value Propositions- Superiority That Matters 

To stay relentlessly relevant and earn customer respect and loyalty, strong brands must deliver meaningful, purposeful connections that appeal to people’s emotions with distinctive brand Purpose, Promise and Principles. At this point, many brands clearly understand why they exist and what they do. Still, in this low-spending climate, where every dollar counts, brands should revisit how they think about functional benefits, quality and superiority claims.  

When budgets and resources are constrained, it is a best practice to revise and sharpen your demand-based value proposition at the umbrella brand and product level, ensuring that product-level promises are crisp, compelling and competitive.  And, even more than that, based on things that your target audience can experience. Superiority in the lab or around the margins is one thing, but superiority that people can see and feel, that makes a real difference is another thing. Weaving those promises to reinforce and inform the brand story, and vice versa and ensuring that they are reflected across all in-market executions can boost short-term revenues, even as they support long-term brand health.   

Revisiting your value proposition may mean returning to tried and true basics while challenging assumptions within your organization. It can also result in your team reconsidering old-fashioned benefits and features to sharpen your customer value story, which should evolve and grow as your customer needs change. 

As you do so you should think through these critical questions: 

  1. What are the specific tensions, meaningful benefit pillars and proof points that are critical to deliver on the brand promise?  
  2. Do these need to change for different customer audiences?  
  3. How can we uniquely deliver superiority that matters to customers?  
  4. Are our proof points ownable and tangible?
  5. Are the brand and demand value stories tightly interwoven? 
  6. How can you test and learn before market scaling? 

5. Give Your Creative Assets a Make-over  

In recent years, much of the focus for marketers has been on where and how communications are delivered. It’s impressive how far many have come as they build expertise in performance marketing, owned and earned media, SEO and SEM.   

But many people forget that data shows the success of a campaign is dependent on the quality of the creative. Brilliant campaign ideas and breakthrough experiences are a must-have. Creative work at every point in the journey needs to be branded and rooted in demand-based product truths. It’s not enough to love an asset on the drawing board. It has to stand out in the specific context in which people will discover it. 

During times when you need to do more with less, it’s a good step to build upon your basics. Below is a sampling of a few ways you can do this: 

  • Add more demand marketing strategies to your top-of-funnel efforts. 
  • Dial up your brand messaging during the purchasing stage of your customer’s journey.  
  • Sweat your call to action (CTA). You should vet and optimize your CTAs, even if you’ve used them a million times.  
  • Ensure every experience and touchpoint leads your customers to the next milestone in their journey and propels them to the conversion and loyalty stages.  

On a side note, many marketers are integrating AI into their creative process to drive efficiency in their process and execution. We will touch on this more below. 

6. Leverage AI to Do More With Less

AI and machine learning, have played a critical role for marketers for several years. After all, both power programmatic buying, personalized messaging, predictive analytics, buy-now recommendations and chatbots.   

But, with the recent rise of ChatGPT and generative AI tools, businesses have begun experimenting with new ways to increase productivity and effectiveness. It’s becoming clear that the marketing teams that leverage AI tools can magically add more hours to their days.   

While we are at the beginning stages of this new evolution of generative AI, we have identified four key areas of AI that can help support your marketing efforts and teams today. 

AI is evolving fast, and marketers must remember that what they learned last week is outdated. Yet even in its infancy, it has the potential to save money, free up hundreds of hours and improve effectiveness. 

7. Elevate Scenario Planning  

It sometimes feels like we are working in patchy fog. Will the “vibecession” give way to a real one? Will do more with less  be the bumper sticker for just a few more quarters or the foreseeable future? No one knows. But effective scenario planning can mean the difference between simply surviving unexpected curveballs or thriving because of them. It’s the difference between mourning and moving.  

People often think of scenario planning as dealing with the long-term future for outcomes that are years away. But why not use it for the near term to proactively address scenarios that may jeopardize the ability to reach any prioritized goal? It can even be used at the level of an individual initiative to ensure quick response to in-market performance.  

Think of scenario planning as a game. A game board like the one below can be used to help with thinking ahead on owned-asset performance. We recommend building a cross-disciplinary team to scenario plan for your next launch, campaign or initiative. You can use this gameboard to strategize how you might react to potential scenarios, such as shifting media spending, changing messaging or revisiting content and social strategies.   

From there, teams can think about how best to codify and socialize the contingency plans, including the owners of levers. 

The job isn’t over when the game board is completed. Identifying when, how and who is responsible for tracking and implementing is critical. Additional cross-functional planning sessions can allow follow-up on hot topics and assign owners to chosen levers.   

Learn more about scenario planning in our recent AMA article. 


FINAL THOUGHTS

Instead of thinking about doing more with less as negative, think of it as a path to unlocking uncommon growth. By intensifying customer-centricity, doing fewer things, focusing on moments that matter, sharpening value propositions and befriending AI, marketers can navigate the challenges of constrained resources and emerge stronger. These back-to-basic exercises increase impact, build resilience, and pave the way for meaningful long-term growth. Interested in learning how you can do more with less? Contact Kate Price or Mat Zucker to get started.  

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