Keep your eyes on branding to soar above rivals

Keith Johnston, VP and research director at Forrester, on how to bring your brand to a new level.

Soar above

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Strategy.

Lots of brands sell shoes online, but only Nike rose well above the rest last year. To stand out from competitors this year, CMOs need to go well beyond drawing up digital-based marketing strategies. Keith Johnston, VP and research director at Forrester, sat down with Strategy to offer his tips on bringing your brand to Nike-level heights. 

Focus on fundamentals

For years, tech was touted as the differentiating factor, but as it became more accessible, customer experiences built on it became homogenous, says Johnston.

For example, Disney’s MagicBand and Carnival Cruise Line’s wearable wristbands, which help customers navigate busy parks and cruise ships. From an experience perspective, there are few differences between the wristbands. As a result, in 2019, Johnston says there will be a “rebound in the fundamentals of marketing and branding” as a company’s brand is given a more prominent role.

Most chief marketers will continue to focus on digital, he says, but innovators will seek forms of disruption not based in technology. They’ll be looking to create real and perceived value by capitalizing on growing societal divisions (see: Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad) or by embracing privacy as a core selling point. Moreover, brand vision and purpose will become the base for articulating a customer experience vision, Johnston says.

CMOs are key

Technology has divided the C-suite for a long time, says Johnston. As marketers adapt to tech-led disruption, they have been forced to re-evaluate their brand promise. Johnston says CMOs are going to have to collaborate more with others in charge of different parts of the consumer experience if they are going to deliver on brand promise in the year ahead. CMOs are in a good position to lead collaborative efforts in their companies, he adds.

“The CMO used to be the most endangered species in the C-suite,” he says. “Now they have the skillsets to traverse the company and deliver on brand.”