Change is in the air, and marketing leaders have something to say about it. We gathered advice from five marketing elites about 2022, trends and what organizations require to manage their brands going forward. Our panel includes Bo Bothe, President & CEO at BrandExtract and Co-founder at ESG Reporting Partners; Jay Bower, President & CEO at Crossbow Group; AmyK Hutchens, Founder at AmyK International; Mark Montini, CMO at Premium Service Brands; and Mark Friedman, VP of Marketing at Fujifilm.
Marketing Leaders Talk – What’s Coming in 2022
How have brands become too antiseptic?
Bo Bothe: I believe that the proliferation of information and the access to it has shone a light on how similar companies are across the globe. Thus, everything has been seen. That said, a good brand that finds its voice and is true about the customer it’s looking for or the problem it solves always stands above the crowd. Brands need to truly understand what makes them unique to their customers and then focus on that operationally and externally.
Jay Bower: Some have, and some decidedly have not, become antiseptic. But the power of “brand” has waned in recent years for sure. Context has become much more important.
AmyK Hutchens: Brands have a difficult decision of whether they use their voice to have a point of view and whether they worry about if that point of view aligns with the customers’ or not.
Mark Montini: In periods of extreme divisiveness like we are living in today, it’s much easier for brands to simply embrace cultural trends in pursuit of short-term objectives rather than to stand boldly for the things that make the brand truly special and position it for long-term success. The result is that brands begin to focus on winning the “story of the day” instead of writing the “story of the brand.”
“IN PERIODS OF EXTREME DIVISIVENESS LIKE WE ARE LIVING IN TODAY, IT’S MUCH EASIER FOR BRANDS TO SIMPLY EMBRACE CULTURAL TRENDS IN PURSUIT OF SHORT-TERM OBJECTIVES RATHER THAN TO STAND BOLDLY FOR THE THINGS THAT MAKE THE BRAND TRULY SPECIAL AND POSITION IT FOR LONG-TERM SUCCESS.”
— MARK MONTINI, CMO, PREMIUM SERVICE BRANDS
Mark Friedman: Brands are in a very difficult position today. It is easier for smaller companies and brands to decide to stand for something, and in doing so, create a genuine connection with customers. But smaller brands can do this because they have a smaller and generally more homogenous customer set. And the genuine connection they make is often because of their standing for something, not the other way around. Bigger companies and brands must decide if they can compete in this space, and it is not easy to decide or execute. I think in the quest to connect with customers and cut through the noise of today’s world, some brands have tried to deviate from their product-focused approach and their comfort zone and chosen to enter this space. Will customers accept the change? Is it genuine? Is standing up for what is right ever wrong?
What role does marketing play in creating intimacy?
Bothe: Man, this is a good question. I don’t know if marketing really plays a role in intimacy unless you’re talking about authenticity. If the marketing is honest and the right customer collides with the brand due to it—and the brand executes and provides the experience promised—then marketing has a hand in intimacy. That intimacy leads to brand loyalty, but the only role marketing has in it is to be true and to help find the right customer you want to be intimate with.
Bower: If by “intimacy” you mean a personal relationship with a brand, storytelling and marketing technology—both the province of marketing—play a critical role in building and maintaining customer intimacy.
Hutchens: Ultimately, intimacy is about connection. Brené Brown defines connection “as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued.” I would add that people also feel truly connected when they feel understood, when they have a non-judgmental witness, and when, through giving and receiving, they are strengthened by the exchange. When marketing authentically says, “we understand you,” there is a strong connection between brand and consumer.
Montini: The primary job of marketing is to tell a brand’s story in ways that are meaningful to all stakeholders, but primarily consumers. Intimacy is the result of meaningful interactions and experiences, so you can certainly make the case that marketing’s role is creating intimacy.
Friedman: We all know that digital engagement is no match for human interaction. And while we don’t really want businesses to track our social behavior, web searches or purchase history, we do appreciate a well-timed notification of a sale or an item we were looking for coming back in stock. So what is marketing to do? The key to successful digital engagement is being genuine, honest and respectful. Don’t abuse automation. Don’t abuse the data you collect. Respect a customer’s ability and desire to make decisions and determine their own fate.
What are the biggest challenges for marketers in creating empathy for the customer?
Bothe: Empathy is tricky because you have to have context. If a brand (and its expression/marketing) is authentic and true, then empathy can be created. I guess I’m empathetic in a way for some of the brands I interact with (Southwest, Apple, etc.) whereas I’m willing to give them a break when they screw up because they do have an impact in my life. I feel they get me and I get them. Thus, we have a solid and almost symbiotic relationship.
Bower: The pandemic forcing people inward and away from other people has impacted marketers’ ability to empathize and “create” empathy. Building persona-driven narratives that fuel storytelling and using martech to personalize and customize can help marketers address the challenge.
Hutchens: Connection at its core is about empathy. You actively listen to seek understanding. You actively share to be understood. A brand wants to be accepted, respected and/or loved. The consumer wants to be accepted, respected and/or loved. When marketers miss or dismiss the consumer’s desire to be accepted and respected first, they create greater disconnect.
Montini: Losing sight of the fact that connecting with customers and not creating campaigns is the real job of marketing. It may sound overly simplistic, but it can be difficult to keep a “customer-first” mindset in the midst of day-to-day projects and pressures of short-term results.
Friedman: In order to create empathy you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. This is an uncomfortable place for many businesses and brands, but is where many consumers want to see the brands they choose to support.
What is your hope for the role of marketing in 2022?
Bothe: That it’s true, good and it stops dividing us up. I’m speaking more of political marketing but I think marketing has gone too far in the area of targeting and people live more and more in echo chambers because marketing feeds them what they always want. That’s great but it really does start to limit our ability to see and do new things or experience new products, which divides us.
Bower: Marketing can and should help bring people together and make them feel better about themselves and their fellow humans.
Hutchens: Authenticity is still an untapped frontier. Marketing honestly and vulnerably is what creates the highest levels of connection. Hoping that marketing returns to the experiences that connect us all.
Montini: My hope is that organizational leaders will begin to recognize the value created from a strong, bold brand story and empower marketers to courageously go out and tell that story regardless of which way the short-term cultural winds are blowing. Consumers respect brands that are passionately authentic, even if they don’t necessarily agree with what that authenticity represents.
Friedman: Marketing needs to put the customer at the center of everything. We are trying to walk in their shoes and put forward platforms and content that addresses their questions and concerns, gives them access to information when they want it and how they want it, and allows them to be in the drivers’ seat. By flipping the engagement we are confident that we will create a meaningful and respectful solution to the noise and chaos of today’s buyer’s journey.
What is your best advice for brands in this day and age?
Bothe: Know yourself and what you believe makes you different, be authentic and communicate in ways that align with your brand promise, and make sure you deliver the product and EXPERIENCE you’re promising. People choose you because you somehow make their life better or easier, people stick with you because they believe that more and more over time, and people can’t live without you as your brand becomes a part of their daily lives. Apple did that with the iPhone, Southwest has done that with business travel, and Stitch Fix is doing that with my wardrobe.
Bower: Make sure you define and clearly articulate your brand’s “why.” Concisely and compellingly tell prospects and customers why you do what you do, why it matters to them and why it matters to the world.
Hutchens: Let go of status and embrace service. Market to an individual’s most powerful potential. How does your product help them better serve themselves and others? Make the consumer, not your product, the hero of the story.
Montini: Take the time to evaluate (or re-evaluate) your brand’s DNA. Talk to the founders, most tenured team members, and earliest customers to find out what it is or was that made your brand special. Then, commit to being authentic to that DNA in everything you do.
Friedman: Be honest. Be respectful. Listen to what’s important to your customers. Meet your customers on their terms, on their preferred platforms, ready to service what they need to make good decisions and feel good about doing business with you. Remember they have choices.
“MEET YOUR CUSTOMERS ON THEIR TERMS, ON THEIR PREFERRED PLATFORMS, READY TO SERVICE WHAT THEY NEED TO MAKE GOOD DECISIONS AND FEEL GOOD ABOUT DOING BUSINESS WITH YOU.”
— MARK FRIEDMAN, VP OF MARKETING, FUJIFILM