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Why Investing in a Strong Brand Matters More than Ever

3 Lessons on the importance of investing in your brand, according to 450 CMOs.

In times of economic turbulence, iconic brands like WhatsApp, Airbnb, Uber, and IBM emerged and thrived by investing in their brand identity. As the world braces for potential economic challenges once again, bold brands are navigating through uncertainty.

Recent times have been particularly challenging for marketers, with many finding aspects of the last six months even more demanding than the pandemic itself. To gain insights into the current landscape, Frontify conducted interviews with 450 CMOs across the US, UK, and the DACH region (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland).

The study delves into:

  • The primary challenges confronting marketers
  • Innovative strategies they're implementing to stay ahead of the curve
  • The dividends of their brand investments

Let’s take a look at some of the lessons of the report, and the secrets to brand building success.

Lesson #1: Don’t Cut Brand Investment

Some ideas are just plain bad, and cutting brand investment falls squarely into that category. The logic is simple: Without investing in your brand, it simply won't thrive. And if your brand doesn't thrive, neither does your financial bottom line. When your bottom line suffers, the cycle continues—you're forced to make more cuts, which only exacerbates the problem. Fortunately, CMOs share our perspective on the critical importance of brand investment.

Almost 90% of CMOs are investing in brand-building this year.

The rationale behind this is crystal clear. While economists might be feeling jittery, slashing brand investment is far from a prudent move. Here's why: Without nurturing your brand, it simply cannot flourish. And if your brand doesn't thrive, neither does your financial bottom line, and we all know what happens next if that happens.

But let's not just take my word for it. Major brands are setting the precedent. Burger King, for instance, is embarking on an extensive brand investment initiative and is already boasting a hefty sales value growth of a whopping 14.3%.

Now, you might be thinking, "Isn't performance marketing a more effective avenue for boosting sales?" It's a fair assumption. However, according to the Frontify survey findings, CMOs perceive brand-building to be just as critical as performance marketing during challenging economic climates.

Consider the case of Airbnb, one of the powerhouse brands that navigated downturns successfully. When it pivoted its focus from performance marketing to brand-building, it experienced a remarkable 20% surge in traffic. That's a five-star outcome.

Lesson #2: Brand-building Creates Resilience

We find ourselves navigating uncharted territory, but familiar rhythmic pressure. Change is constant, but in recent years, the pace and scale of transformation have been particularly pronounced. Consider the following challenges:

  • Escalating energy prices and the rising cost of living contribute to widespread apprehension.
  • While economies are slowly recovering from recent upheavals, progress remains sluggish.
  • Global labor markets continue to face tight conditions.
  • Agency cutbacks necessitate increased in-house workload.
74% of CMOs believe the last six months have been more stressful/difficult to manage in terms of brand than during the pandemic.
Has your business had to take any of the following decisions over the last six months? (Select all that apply)

Given these circumstances, it's hardly surprising that CMOs have found the past six months to be more challenging than even the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dealing with Adversity

Amidst the challenges, however, there are opportunities for brands to not only survive but thrive in the face of adversity. Brand investment is increasingly recognized as essential for navigating turbulent times.

In our conversations with CMOs, one theme emerged as paramount for brand resilience: 

"A distinctive, original brand concept." 
What do you think makes a brand resilient in challenging conditions? (Select all that apply)
88%of CMOs say that investing in brand-building is key to building a resilient brand during economic uncertainty.
If you were to launch a new brand today, what would bethe most important aspect of the brand to you?

This aspect was particularly emphasized in regions like the US and Germany, underscoring the heightened importance of a compelling brand narrative in today's landscape.

Interestingly, smaller brands appear to be taking note of this trend, with nearly 70% prioritizing a strong brand concept above other factors. In contrast, only 40% of larger brands share this sentiment.

What implications does this hold?

Smaller players may be gearing up to seize market share through robust branding efforts, leveraging their unique brand identity alongside strategic digital investments. Research indicates that boards increasingly view digital as integral to growth strategies, recognizing that failure to invest wisely risks falling behind competitors and accumulating technical debt.

Lesson #3: CMOs are Choosing to Invest

In our comprehensive CMO survey, we uncovered valuable insights into how CMOs are strategically investing in their brands — insights that can be leveraged by businesses like yours. From our analysis, three common tactics emerged as key strategies for brand investment.

Tactic 1: Hiring a Chief Brand Officer

There has been a noticeable trend: 83% of companies have appointed a Chief Brand Officer (CBO) within the last two years. This shift underscores a resolute commitment, particularly significant amidst budget constraints and challenging economic circumstances, highlighting the perceived value of the CBO role. 

Tasked with overseeing, safeguarding, and enhancing brand identity and strategy, the CBO will play a pivotal role in maintaining unified brand messaging and ensuring seamless customer interactions across marketing, advertising, and public relations channels.

What actions have you taken to protect your brandin challenging conditions? (Select all that apply)

Tactic 2: Embracing New Technology

In response to the challenges confronting brands, a significant majority of CMOs have embraced innovation as a means to achieve more with limited resources and fortify their brand against economic downturns. Their strategy? Harnessing a blend of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Software as a Service (SaaS) tools.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Accelerated Content Creation: Close to 60% of CMOs revealed their utilization of AI to streamline the creation of brand assets. Whether in the UK (65%) or the US (51%), AI adoption is widespread among brands, primarily to drive creativity. CMOs highlighted three key trends in AI usage:

  1. Assisting with creative ideation
  2. Saving time across teams
  3. Generating new brand assets
As a result of challenging economic conditions, are you increasing youruse of AI to help with any of the following? (Select all that apply)

SaaS for Enhanced Efficiency and Effectiveness: Brands are increasingly turning to SaaS platforms to ensure consistent and efficient brand asset creation. Examples include:

  • Workflow platforms like, Asana, Notion, Airtable, etc., which enhance project productivity by simplifying resource allocation and integrating seamlessly with digital assets.
  • Brand management platforms that centralize all brand assets, such as guidelines, templates, and libraries, facilitating easy access for creators to develop on-brand assets confidently.

CMOs have observed that leveraging SaaS platforms and AI allows them to repurpose assets effectively (44%) and reduce the need for numerous core brand assets (42%). It's evident that embracing innovative technology presents a potent opportunity to elevate creativity, foster collaboration, and showcase brands to a global audience.

What are you doing to recession-proof your brand? (Select all that apply)

Tactic 3: Unlocking the Value or Rebranding

Investing in your brand can also involve embarking on a rebranding journey. Refreshing and updating your brand identity ensures it authentically represents who you are. Notable entities like Johnson & Johnson and Nationwide Building Society have recently undergone rebrands, each with distinct objectives. Johnson & Johnson revamped everything from their logo to the name of their pharmaceutical segment, while Nationwide leveraged its rebrand to emphasize its member-owned structure over shareholder ownership.

Our survey of CMOs revealed that 42% of brands had recently undertaken a brand refresh. Among these, key changes included:

  • Updating the logo (39%)
  • Changing the tagline (33%)
  • Rethinking brand colors (28%)

Now, you might wonder, "What if my rebrand doesn't resonate?" Undertaking a brand refresh can indeed feel daunting, but the potential rewards are substantial. An overwhelming majority of CMOs reported positive outcomes from their brand refresh initiatives:

80% of CMOs considered their rebrand to be a success. Only 6% didn’t.
If you were to launch a new brand today, what would be the most important aspect of the brand to you? (Select all that apply)

The Secret to Brand-building Success?

For brands that thrive, one principle remains crystal clear: they keep investing in their future. Some of the globe's most influential brands—like WhatsApp, Airbnb, Uber, and IBM—emerged during economic downturns. When the going gets tough, CMOs understand that persisting with brand investments is simply smart business practice—and often yields substantial returns.

Contrary to playing it safe amidst uncertainty, the majority of CMOs we polled are embracing proactive measures:

  • Harnessing technology for innovation
  • Maximizing the impact of limited budgets
  • Evolving their brand to foster resilience and adaptability

Finally, if you’re thinking about investing in your brand, give us a call. Every investment level in a brand pays dividends for years to come when it’s done with a partner who’s ready to help.

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