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There's been a recent boom of 90s nostalgia: the resurgence of "mom jeans," the record popularity of the show Friends on Netflix, a subscription version of Nintendo 64...

One thesis for why: when the world gets more chaotic, people turn to what feels safe and familiar.

My take: amid an economic downturn, historic levels of inflation, and bank runs, brand marketing is more important than ever.

The events of the past few years have highlighted the importance of staying abreast of not only market trends, competitors, and even social issues but also the many ways brand marketing's expertise influences a company's ability to tap into market sentiment and stay relevant so that it can weather volatile times.

And other marketers agree: Fully 91% of marketers in a 2023 Momentive study said brand was critical to their company's success right now. And yet, that same research also highlighted the strain that brand marketers are under as they try to fulfill their all-important role.

That all adds up to an environment where brand marketers are both more important than ever and are also, in many ways, flying blind at a time when even the biggest brands can't afford to make mistakes.

Today, for better or worse, brand marketers have to get every brand experience right the first time.

Expectations for brand marketers have gotten higher

In the Momentive study, 75% of brand marketers said their team's performance expectations are higher this year than they were last year—even though only 15% met all their goals in 2022. And that's in the midst of a downturn!

That may feel like a lot of pressure, but it could also be a signal that business leaders are recognizing how important brand is to their bottom line.

The vast majority (81%) of customers refuse to do business with brands they don't know and trust, Gartner research has established. Brand has become even more important as people's concerns change and more people take into account social issues and financial security. (No one wants to be the next Silicon Valley Bank.)

Marketers have a real opportunity to differentiate themselves and create messages that resonate with today's customers on a deeper level by appealing to values and building trust. Modern businesses seem to get that, and with that knowledge comes a heightened level of attention on brand marketing.

The market is changing—in more ways than one

The economic shifts of 2022-2023 are top of mind for everyone, and there are undoubtedly repercussions for brand marketers—limited budget and fewer pipeline opportunities, to name only two. Nearly half (45%) of brand marketers say their company is experiencing more competition now than they were last year.

But there are also other changes to consider.

One is technology. OpenAI's paradigm-shifting ChatGPT was introduced. Some believe that such generative AI could replace humans in writing ads, content, and social media, and for many marketers that is a terrifying possibility. Others point to ways it can be used to make work easier.

In either case, brand marketers may now need to consciously differentiate themselves. And a way to do so may be weaving the indelible human element into all aspects of their work. Establishing the importance of the human touch, in a world where generative AI is already showing its many opportunities and effects on society, can be an invaluable differentiator.

Other changes, such as the growing popularity of TikTok as a platform for businesses, gave brand marketers a new way to interact with their customers.

Considering that the vast majority of Millennials and Gen Z discover new brands primarily through social media—especially TikTok and Instagram—the emergence of a new discovery platform has opened major opportunities. But in the face of a potential TikTok ban in the US, the landscape could change yet again.

Add in the lingering repercussions of the pandemic, and a lot is in flux, so old best-practices might not be as effective anymore.

But amid all those changes, a trustworthy, familiar brand can be the bedrock that keeps the business stable.

Established brands that can show that they are navigating the new world right along with their customers, maintaining stability in the chaos, can earn loyalty from their market. And up-and-coming brands that take the opportunity to prove their relevance can build trust as well.

Data matters for brand marketing

In today's kaleidoscopic landscape, the only way to make confident choices is to turn to data.

Brand marketers need both performance metrics (to measure their success) and proactively collected information (to make better decisions in the first place).

They need to be able to track their brand, test new strategies, and concept test everything from early messaging ideas to final campaign assets to make sure they resonate with audiences prior to launch.

Marketers who can combine information about consumer sentiment with performance data can act with more confidence—and earn more confidence from other stakeholders, too.

The sad truth is that 34% of marketers say their work isn't valued much by leaders at their company, and 49% say they lack autonomy in decision-making. They need data to convince everyone—including themselves—that they're making the right decisions.

Having the right information and the ability to concept-test makes it easier to lower the risk of bold strategies and make calculated bets about what will land with people.

Right now, most brand marketers don't have the data they need. Fully 73% of brand marketers have difficulty accessing data about their target markets, and 35% have trouble measuring the impact of their campaigns. Imagine how they could perform if that were to change.

As rules are rewritten, opportunity arises. Brands that emphasize affordability or flexible payment plans might win (and win over) more customers during a time of skyrocketing inflation. Those that get creative on social media (like Chipotle with its wildly popular lid flip challenge) could end up charming a new audience.

In both examples, brands are showing that they want to connect with their customers. Brands win when they show people that they can truly see them. And, luckily, any company can do so successfully. All it takes is to make time for a little research into what your audience really feels.

Now is the time for bold, brave marketing. And brand marketers who make informed, strategic decisions by staying close to the needs of their markets and customers stand to become an indispensable part of their business.

More Resources on Brand Marketing and Data

How to Market Effectively in 2021: Integrate Performance and Brand Marketing

Data Saves the Day: SurveyMonkey's Chuck Brinker on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

Your Brand Tracking Program Is All Wrong: Five Tips to Fix It

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Research: Now Is the Time for Brand Marketing (And Why Data Matters for Brand Marketers)

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image of Lara Belonogoff

Lara Belonogoff is the senior director of brand management at SurveyMonkey, where she leads the brand marketing, social media, video, content, research, and insights teams in their work to drive SurveyMonkey brand efforts.

LinkedIn: Lara Belonogoff