By Maria Gedeon, CEO of Gedeon Mohr & Partners

The last couple of years have undoubtedly disrupted our everyday lives. Globally there are real concerns about the overall macroeconomic environment with supply chain disruptions, inflation, layoffs, growing costs, thinner margins, and a heartbreaking situation in Ukraine. 

In times like these, only the strongest brands survive. If brands can’t create enough added value, they will fail. Marketers should think about extreme value creation, and the biggest value component of a brand is driven by intangible factors that aren’t merely product features. Brands that don’t create value will be the ones hit harder than they ever imagined because most are too focused on the product.

In a recent survey we conducted amongst 250 CEOs in the UAE and KSA, 70% felt optimistic about the economic outlook in 2023, which is good news for our region. With the global economic challenges and levels of uncertainty,  I couldn’t think of a better place to be. Another key finding from our survey is that investing in marketing and reputation tops the boardroom agenda in 2023. Around 40% of business leaders stated they would invest in Marketing and Reputation as a key priority area in the year ahead, followed by e-commerce at 22% and Customer Experience at 15%. 

One of the most prominent challenges marketers face is a healthy balance between brand building and performance, showing healthy ROI. It leads us to ask ourselves some important questions. Where and how should they allocate their budgets, especially in times of uncertainty where the finance police scrutinises them and where only the bottom-line counts? How should marketers justify spending money on top of the funnel (TOFU) to drive brand awareness, and how can they turn their greatest threat (the CFO) into their biggest supporter?

The first thing we need to agree on as leaders is that building a brand takes time, money, people, skills and patience. Every company’s maturity is different, and there is no secret formula. However, invest in long-term impact instead of short-term performance, and your brand will organically grow, giving you a unique advantage over your competitors. 

Here are a few levers that, if done well, can be your recipe for success:

  1. Define your purpose, be authentic and stay true to your values – go deep into your why in the same way you would if you were dealing with an existential crisis. Globally, 66% of consumers prefer to buy from purpose-driven brands, and knowing why your brand exists makes you a steward of the organisation’s purpose. It can make your job (and your own purpose) more fulfilling and gratifying. “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” —Mark Twain.
  2. Nail your customer experience – 85% of customers say they are willing to pay more for a better experience. Only the strongest brands survive in times like these, and customer experience can be a true differentiator. If you don’t want your customers to switch to a different brand, aim to create enough added value to turn them into brand advocates. Whether through personalisation, seamless experiences, building genuine relationships or money can’t buy experiences, invest in designing superior experiences, and your customers will keep coming back. Remember, acquiring a customer is 5-6 times more expensive than retaining one. It is no longer about what consumers buy but what it helps them achieve.
  3. Experiment, experiment, experiment – Innovation is a journey and not a destination, so take the time and resources to experiment and get executive sponsorship to drive your innovation agenda. Fail fast and cheap, and predict the impact you can have on your organisation’s long-term goals. Big companies do not easily reinvent themselves as they often have too much red tape, archaic processes, legacy systems, and sadly people that can get in the way. Co-create with your customers and test absolutely everything! According to PWC research, leading innovative companies have grown at a rate 16% higher than the least innovative annually.
  4. Know your audiences intimately – understand the needs, wants and desires of your customers, ask explicitly, and listen intently. Use the data to drive insights to make better decisions and to stay relevant and desirable. Remember, people fall in love with brands, and you need to crack your formula and measure brand love to win their hearts. Let’s not forget that 20% of your customers drive 80% of your revenue, so truly focus on the 20% that absolutely adore you. You are better off having a loyal customer base than ‘be liked’ by everyone.
  5. Determine how you want your culture to be – In the global race for talent in the age of talentism, competition for talent attraction is fierce. Top talent wants more than a well-remunerated job. From aligning to a company’s values to sustainability, work flexibility, diversity and inclusion, professional development, and equal pay, today’s talent is much more aware and demanding than ever. Your people are your biggest ambassador, so investing in those areas will differentiate you from your competitors and make you a more attractive employer. 
  6. Live and breathe sustainability and ESG – aim to create value for all your stakeholders while protecting your planet and communities. In the survey we ran in November, 85% of C-level executives responded that sustainability will top their boardroom agenda in 2023, but only 1% thought ESG would be a catalyst for growth. Consumers are a lot more aware and demanding of brands and organisations than ever before. Those that don’t have an ESG strategy will soon be held accountable by consumers who are demanding transparency on the agenda.  

There has never been a more exciting time to be a marketer as marketing finally has a defining seat in the boardroom, so what better opportunity to prove the amount of positive impact marketing can have on an organisation, its culture, reputation, and therefore the top and bottom lines.