A few weeks ago I had lunch at Foo, an Asian restaurant in Jio World Drive, with one of our top clients. It was super valuable to spend time in real life and face-to-face with no distractions, rather than on a call where there is inevitably an air of formality and a dash of efficiency of having to start and end the meeting on time. Our client poured his heart out in terms of the business environment and the implications for his business. I got incredibly rich insights on what was keeping him up at night and why. He also shared some candid feedback on our performance which I could address right away. He then turned to me and asked what I think would be the big themes of brand building in 2023 and beyond. This is what I shared.

  1. Nurture customer intimacy

To get your customer to keep coming back you have to deliver exceptional value. This calls for a deep understanding of needs and calibration of your value proposition. With the pandemic, many companies got further away from their customers than they would have liked. This is especially true for those in the professional services industry who got used to serving multiple clients more efficiently through online calls. However, as I discovered at lunch, and I’m sure other consultants have realised this as well, there is no substitute for real world meetings. We’ll definitely be seeing more in-person meetings, workshops, off-sites and events as a way to develop and strengthen relationships.

In many industries, customer needs are evolving at a faster pace than ever before. You can no longer rely on data that is several years old. Using current data on customer intelligence and brand equity to inform brand strategy decisions will be fully embraced. Brands will also invest much more in social listening tools to tap into conversations about them. While social listening has been around for a while, its full potential as a customer intimacy tool hasn’t yet been realised. I also believe companies will focus on developing new ways for their product, sales and marketing teams to spend more quality time with their customers as a way of paying attention to them at scale.

  1. The power of identity

Purpose has caught the attention of the corporate world and is very much on the agenda, especially at listed companies that serve a multitude of stakeholders. While companies have been quick to embrace many of the elements of ESG (environmental, social, governance) by investing in important initiatives around the key issues, it hasn’t always translated to a clear sense of who the company is or is not. In other words, many companies haven’t connected the dots between their stance on ESG and their brand identity. Nor have they invested heavily in communicating and socialising their stance internally on an ongoing basis.

Why is this important?  As Tony Robbins, high performance coach, says “The most powerful force in the human personality is the need to stay consistent with how we define ourselves.”  When it is clear what you stand for, it can powerfully drive internal stakeholder behaviour to achieve the company’s objectives. In the coming years, we will see a greater focus on defining purpose and values and deeply embedding them into the organisation’s culture so that it influences employee behaviour positively.

  1. Genuinely useful

Why does the world need another airline? Or another coffee company? Are their value propositions meaningfully different to become the basis of truly differentiated brands? In many industries, especially FinTech, we are seeing too many ‘me too’ propositions. These businesses are bound to go belly up in a few years. There is simply too much choice for consumers in every category for them to tolerate brands that are undifferentiated and add no value.

Investors in fledgling D2C brands will demand that new product and service propositions be genuinely useful for consumers. We will also see a massive shift in the communication of both corporate and consumer brands from “what I provide” to “how I add value to your life.”

  1. Oozing personality

With the sea of sameness being a reality in most categories, we will see brands increasingly turn to their personalities as a way to forge emotional connections with consumers. A brand’s personality is drawn from its purpose and positioning. Brands with distinct visual and verbal identities will stand out and stand tall. The brand’s remarkable actions, consistent with their distinct personalities, can help cut through the clutter. In a world where voice technology will become more ubiquitous, the sound of the brand will become more important as well.

  1. Perfectly phygital

Omnichannel will give way to “phygital” when it comes to creating and delivering brand experiences. Brands understand that both real and virtual worlds are important, and it is the seamless blend of these two that can create extraordinary experiences for their customers. It’s not either-or and to be treated separately. Customers care most about the experience; the channel for them is secondary. It’s the ease of walking into your nearby Starbucks and paying with your Starbucks rewards using the app. Or ordering online and picking up your coffee from the nearest store.

We will see a greater emphasis on brand-led customer experience definition across the entire customer journey, considering the physical, the human and the digital touch points at every stage in the journey. Delivering phygital will call for the requisite investments in back and front end technology and service delivery. Based on the industry and customer segment, the nascent yet vast metaverse opportunity will be an important consideration as well. Some fashion, sporting, gaming and entertainment brands are already making the metaverse an important element of their phygital strategies.

When branding in an organisation focuses on these elements and not just on logo and design, true value is created and brand is seen as a financial asset to be continuously protected, managed and nurtured.

It is my sincere desire as a brand evangelist to see brand command more attention in the Boardroom, and be a powerful driver of business growth and success.

Think of branding not as an output to be achieved but something that you do every day to add value to the business. With this “added value mindset” applied to these important elements of brand building, you’re sure to reap the incredible rewards of small gains accumulated over time.