In our special end-of-year podcast episode, we bring together a diverse group of experts, each offering unique insights into the world of branding. In this episode, we’ll look back at the key events of 2023, discuss current branding trends and important changes, and share ideas to help you prepare for what 2024 might bring.
Segment 1: Reflections on 2023. Trends and Changes (00:04)
In this segment, we discuss the most significant events and developments in branding over the past year, exploring key milestones and breakthroughs in our guests’ respective areas of expertise.
Significant Events (01:08)
The guests identify Twitter’s rebranding to ‘X’ in 2023 as a major and controversial event in branding. With Elon Musk’s use of ‘x.com’, the rebranding demonstrates a need for more clarity in strategy and the importance of a customer-focused approach. Jim Heininger, with his expertise in successful organisational rebranding, highlights the Twitter ‘X’ rebrand as a significant example of how not to conduct a brand makeover, especially if the aim is to keep customers and followers engaged and optimistic about the future of the brand. Mark Gunnion notes the challenges faced by the rebrand, including the loss of the original elegance of ‘tweets’ and the failure to establish a new, compelling brand identity. Bogomil Stoev comments on the broader implications of such branding missteps, emphasising the arrogance in assuming past success guarantees future success and the importance of recognising true innovators.
Trends and Changes 7:35
The discussion focuses on Bud Light and the resulting boycott by some conservative commentators and celebrities. Despite being America’s largest beer brand, Bud Light experienced a drastic loss in market share. This was attributed to a failure to understand the identity of their core consumers, as evidenced by a controversial campaign featuring a transgender influencer. This campaign highlighted a clash with their customer base’s traditional, masculine identity, showcasing brand identity’s sensitivity in the current politically charged climate, as Aaron Ahuvia notes.
Chad Sowash analyses Bud Light’s campaign strategy, observing that the company needed to maintain a consistent approach. They launched the campaign aimed at broadening their market by targeting a new audience, but quickly retracted, sending mixed messages. This rapid pullback suggested to the new target audience that they were less valued, leading to alienation from their traditional customer base and the new audience they sought to attract, highlighting the complexities and potential pitfalls in rebranding and targeting new consumer segments.
Segment 2: Branding and Society (15:27)
In this part, we talk about how branding intersects with social causes and how this has been navigated in our guests’ areas of expertise. The discussion includes:
Brand authenticity and crisis management (16:52)
Jim Heininger highlights the importance of advance planning for crisis communications, particularly before launching new campaigns that could incite controversy. A proactive approach is crucial for brands to manage public perception and media attention effectively.
Brand equity and political statements (18:27)
In the context of taking controversial political positions, David Aaker discusses the risks and evolution of brand equity. He notes that such stances can be detrimental, diverting resources from beneficial social programs. Aaker reflects on the evolution of brand equity, which initially focuses on awareness and image. In his book ‘Managing Brand Equity,’ he redefined it to encompass brand loyalty, thereby shifting the focus to the entire customer experience beyond just advertising. He emphasises that brand equity involves more than awareness, encompassing relevance, emotion, and the potential to foster a brand community.
Branding and Humanitarian Aid (22:06)
Charles Tine, CEO of SafeBrands and manager of an NGO aiding Ukraine discusses the crucial role of independence in humanitarian NGOs like the Red Cross. He emphasises how this independence enables these organisations to provide neutral assistance in conflicts and maintain equitable treatment of all involved. Tine notes the challenges in balancing strong branding with adherence to humanitarian principles, highlighting the scrutiny faced by organisations like the Red Cross for perceived biases. He points out Ukraine’s growing prominence as a symbol of resilience and support, attracting global attention and investment.
Creating a Culture of Brand Love (30:57)
Aaron Ahuvia explains that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy for creating brand love. The marketing landscape has evolved from mass marketing to more targeted approaches, focusing on building brand loyalty and communities. Some argue for a return to mass marketing, combining broad consumer appeal with extensive distribution. This debate highlights that not all companies can successfully foster brand love. Ahuvia also notes that taking a stand on political issues as part of a brand love strategy, like Dove’s subtle approach to body acceptance, can resonate deeply without stirring controversy.
Segment 3: Branding Insights: From Naming Strategies to Cultivating Positive Company Culture
In this segment, we talk about how contemporary branding trends and the importance of naming intersect with enhancing employee experience and shaping company culture, ultimately driving business success.
Naming and branding trends (35:43)
Mark Gunnion notes a shift towards real-world names in branding, driven by younger, authenticity-valuing consumers. This change comes after years of domain name saturation shaped by the internet’s early economic dynamics. Chad Sowash agrees with the appeal of real-world branding but highlights the challenges of securing service marks globally, especially for large corporations. Aaron Ahuvia adds that names don’t necessarily have to narrate a business’s function directly but should resonate with the industry they belong to for clearer understanding and association.
Branding, employee experience, and company culture (54:30)
Chad Sowash emphasises the importance of actions over words in shaping a brand, using GM’s stock buybacks as an example. He notes the critical role of the employer brand in attracting and retaining talent, referencing Amazon’s significant loss due to employee attrition. Aaron Ahuvia highlights the positive synergy between brand love and employee satisfaction, pointing out that companies like Apple and Google benefit from enthusiastic employees, which in turn enhances customer satisfaction. Jim Heininger advises that rebranding efforts must involve and engage employees for success, as neglecting internal investment can lead to wasted resources and disappointment.
How do trends influence investment decisions? (1:08:22)
Aaron Ahuvia explains that although investment decisions aim for objectivity, they often follow trends similar to fashion, where uncertainty leads to people looking to others for guidance. This phenomenon creates fashion-like cycles in the stock market, where investors follow trends to pick the ‘right’ stock. Sam Eisenberg adds that for brand-oriented investors, the brand aspect of a company is crucial. When seeking investors, it’s important to highlight strengths and areas resonating with the investor’s specific interests, as each investor has unique preferences.
Segment 4: AI and its influence on branding and creativity (1:10:07)
In part 4, covering AI in branding, Shaun Gold compares AI to previous trends like blockchain and NFTs. He emphasises the longevity of AI’s development, noting how companies now claim AI expertise despite needing more prior experience. Gold advises scepticism when evaluating these companies, suggesting that real impact comes from specialisation, not following trends. He downplays the notion of being a ‘prompt engineer’ in AI, equating it to basic skills like using email or word processing software and not as a distinctive expertise.
Segment 5: Predictions and Tips for 2024 (1:19:09)
In this last segment, we looked ahead, with our guests predicting a continued focus on genuine customer and employee relationships in branding. The emphasis is likely on creating real value rather than following fleeting trends.
In discussing rebrands gone wrong in 2023, it is highlighted that a successful rebrand requires a customer-centric strategy. Jim Heininger cites Bed Bath and Beyond’s rebrand by overstock.com as a smart business move, emphasising that rebranding can solve business problems and drive growth.
The Power of Authenticity
Authenticity in branding is a key theme, and it seems like it will be even more important in 2024. Brands like Penzeys Spices and Barbie have thrived due to their authentic connections with audiences. It applies to every element of brand creation, management, and customer interaction.
Shaun Gold points out that while many companies, especially startups, strive to build large communities around their products, not all are inherently suited for this. He advocates for customer-driven approaches but acknowledges the potential for creating real communities where people connect, share, and access deals.
Employee Engagement in Branding
The importance of employee engagement in successful branding efforts was also highlighted. Engaged employees contribute significantly to the overall perception and success of a brand.
David Aaker mentions his book ‘The Future of Purpose-Driven Branding,’ arguing that focusing solely on sales and profits isn’t enough to inspire employees. He suggests initiatives like Barclays’ Digital Eagles, which contribute to societal well-being, can significantly improve various business metrics. According to Aaker, social programs should aim not just for social good but also to enhance business visibility, energy, image, and engagement.
AI’s Role in Branding
The influence of AI in branding, especially in communication and naming strategies, will continue to grow in 2024. While AI offers new opportunities, it also poses challenges in maintaining the human touch in branding.
Mark Gunnion notes that in screenwriting, AI is used for creating visuals like posters or book covers, but its effectiveness relies on human input. He observes that AI-generated names can often seem outdated or old-fashioned, suggesting that while AI is not intimidating, its output may quickly become dated.
Aaron Ahuvia, Ph.D.
Professor of Marketing, expert on brands and consumer culture.
Discussion Points: Building brands in 2024, branding strategies for consumer engagement, the evolution of consumer culture and its impact on branding.
Listen to Aaron Ahuvia’s one-on-one podcast for in-depth discussions and expert perspectives.
Digital marketer, successful brand exits, co-founder of Commenter.ai.
Discussion Points: Strategies for engaging content in 2024, the role of content in brand building, and measuring engagement success.
Listen to Bogomil Stoev’s one-on-one podcast for in-depth discussions and expert perspectives.
Background in the military and HR, the Chad & Cheese podcast host.
Discussion Points: The role of naming and branding for HR; creating a consistent and respectful brand.
Listen to Chad Sowash’s one-on-one podcast for in-depth discussions and expert perspectives.
Founder and CEO of SafeBrands, currently managing NGO helping Ukraine; Strategic advisor for UADamage.
Discussion Points: Importance of domain names in brand strategy, evolving trends in domain name management, the intersection of brand protection and investment. Branding & fundraising for NGOs.
Watch Charles Tine’’s one-on-one podcast for in-depth discussions and expert perspectives.
Vice Chairman at Prophet, the “Father of Modern Branding”.
Discussion Points: Evolution of branding with the rise of digital marketing, the importance of storytelling in brand identity creation, building and measuring brand equity challenges.
Listen to David Aaker’’s one-on-one podcast for in-depth discussions and expert perspectives.
30 years in business and branding strategy, founder of The Rebranding Experts and Dixon.
Discussion Points: Strategies for successful rebranding, integrating various branding disciplines, and the evolution of brand strategy.
Listen to Jim Heininger’s one-on-one podcast for in-depth discussions and expert perspectives.
25+ years of experience in naming.
Discussion Points: Evolving trends in naming, the process of creating impactful names, and the interplay between naming and brand success.
Listen to Mark Gunnion’s one-on-one podcast for in-depth discussions and expert perspectives.
Co-founder of Design for Decks, an expert in pitch deck design for startups.
Discussion Points: Importance of naming and branding in securing funding, latest trends, and investor perspectives.
Listen to Sam Eisenberg’s one-on-one podcast for in-depth discussions and expert perspectives.
Renowned brand marketer and event accelerator, author of best-selling books on branding and marketing.
Discussion Points: Non-traditional branding strategies, the role of events in brand promotion, and funding.
Listen to Shaun Gold’s one-on-one podcast for in-depth discussions and expert perspectives.
As we conclude this insightful journey through the branding landscape of 2023, we hope these diverse expert opinions and real-world examples have sparked new ideas for your own brand’s path forward.
Thank you for joining us on this exploration. We wish you peace and success in 2024!
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