Summer is a good time for reflection. At this time of the year, many take a week or two away from the crush of meetings and deadlines to spend time with friends, family, and to dwell in the clarity beyond the grind. I spent some of this time thinking about how the work I do in brand strategy has changed exponentially in the last few years. The whirlwind of technological change and consumer empowerment has thrown traditional brand building off-kilter. The old rules don’t always work and no one quite knows what the new rules are. In this pandemonium lies the opportunity for breakaway brands.

In normal times, we’d talk about 5-year brand plans; in these times such luxuries have been dispensed with. With Moore’s law cracking the whip, we have but a year or two to figure it out. I give you, in three acts over the month of August, a manifesto for Brand 2020: the crisis we find ourselves in, our soul-searching for an answer, and finally, redemption.




In the face of crisis, amidst the tumult of soul-searching, a customer-first marketer must take a brand-first approach. To do this, she must …

Widen the aperture on branding.

We may have complicated the language of marketing with jargon and abstruse terminology, but at the end of the day we are trying to forge a relationship that forms along the same biological and social pathways that define any relationship. Losing sight of that is to lose the forest for the trees. How do we do this? We widen our lanes. As the CMO of Clorox said, “a radical commitment to external focus is probably your greatest resource … It’s not just reading the Wall Street Journal or AdAge; it’s talking to theologians, particle physicists … trying to keep up the conversation.” Cross Fit, for example, inspires religious fervor to the extent that Harvard Divinity School studied the brand as an example of a secular religious institution.

Have an emotion-driven vision and a plan to get there.

Before we push off, we need to know where we are headed and how to get there. What are the emotional triggers that are drivers of success in the category? How can you get here? How can you escape the artificial category-benchmarks and shoot for best in class? It is critical to layer on top of any quantitative analysis an understanding of the context. For example, global brand-building is highly sensitive to cultural idiosyncrasies. In the major Asian markets of India and China, a highly collectivist culture emphasizes social acceptability over differentiation. Once the target is locked, you need a strategy, developed cross-functionally and with agency partners, to build the business and the messaging that gets you there

Let this brand vision drive CX.

The central idea is straightforward: If we think of people less as consumers and more as participants in a bilateral relationship, then as brands we need to give them a reason to enter into and invest in that enduring relationship. For that to happen, a brand needs to establish a basis for belonging in the relationship. The technology overload, the data grabbing, the wanton proliferation of intrusive advertising is the exact opposite of what nurtures a relationship. Case in point, Burger King’s unwelcome activation of Google Home devices, and persistence in defeating attempts by Google to block it. Build your brand with the goal of nurturing the relationship, then let this brand percolate through every single aspect of the customer experience. The brand-first approach makes brands agents for what is good about the relationship with the customer, not brokers of mistrust and skepticism.

As the caretaker of the brand, you must break new ground to redeem old truths

Cut through the complexity and find what matters most.

The powerful forces of technological advancement and machine learning, compounded with big data and bigger analytics can be significant drivers of business effectiveness and productivity. But the best brands will realize that the brute power of these capabilities must be harnessed in the service of the customer. Rather than seek to overwhelm, inundate, and finally alienate the customer in ways iconic brands like Wells Fargo, Yahoo, Samsung, and Burger King have been doing recently, marketers must channel this newfound energy to conjure simple, intuitive, compelling, and ultimately, sticky experiences. These will be the branded experiences that will nurture relationships.

Elevate your vision to lead with a new kind of intelligence.

Customer-first will be brand-first, and to put brand at the center, marketers must have a deep understanding of the process by which consumers make decisions, factors that influence the decision making, and a measurement mechanism to gain a window into that process. This is the core of the new intelligence for branding and marketing. All brand experiences, be they optimized advertising, in-person interaction, digital touchpoints, customer-facing technology, or, any aspect of the operational experience, must be crafted and deployed from this central core. This is the new vision and the new intelligence for the brand and the brand marketer of the future.


Forrester clients: If you are interested in having me brief your team on Brand 2020, please contact me (dchatterjee@forrester.com) or your Forrester account team.