2023 could be a wild ride for brand marketers: Best practices to keep you on track

2023 could be a wild ride for brand marketers: Best practices to keep you on track
By Kylie Burness, Rachel Cooper, Michael Cowen, and Laurie Naranjo
Kylie Burness
Director, Integrated Communications
Jan 18, 2023
From once-in-a-decade weather events to historic political happenings, 2023 is already off to a turbulent start. All brands—regardless of size, industry, or heritage—need to continue pivoting to address changes and needs from varied consumer and customer bases. Our team of brand thought leaders share the challenges brands are likely to face in the year ahead and how they can evolve to meet those challenges and grow closer with their audiences.

1. “Influencers are the new reporters.”

— Rachel Cooper, Senior Director, Media Relations

Gen Z still wants news, but they’re looking for it in new places. Google found that 40% of Gen Z prefers TiKTok and Instagram to search engines, which means the influencers who dominate those platforms are playing a role that used to be reserved for traditional journalists. That means that brands seeking the credibility of earned media need to start thinking about influencers the way that they think about reporters—as valuable channels and critical relationships. Brands should consider how they can cultivate and maintain these earned influencer relationships in 2023 and reframe opportunities for more meaningful long-term collaboration to help break and amplify stories on social platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

2. “Brands will need to give influencers more creative control to unlock authenticity.”

— Kylie Burness, Director, Influencer Marketing

Authenticity is a buzzword tossed out a lot when describing successful influencer marketing campaigns. We call it the “sniff test.” Does the influencer use our product, and will their followers think the same? Another key component of the test is if the actual content will pass it. Does this content feel on-brand to what one would normally see from a favorite influencer, or does it have a brand’s fingerprints all over it? This year, brands need to stay true to who they are—but when they partner with influencers, not only does the relationship need to make sense, but brands need to also get comfortable giving influencers more creative content control. It is important to remind clients why we are partnering with influencers to begin with—61% of consumers trust influencer recommendations and only 38% trust branded social media content. Let’s keep our briefs brief, stay focused on the brand guidelines that matter, and let creators do their thing. Because at the end of the day, if authentic content is not the output, it simply will not be worth the dollars.

3. “Earned media is the best driver for deeper engagement.”

Jeremy Mullman, Partner, Integrated Communications

It’s time to start viewing earned media less as a means of cheap incremental reach and more as a driver of deeper engagement and participation. There are a few reasons for this, starting with an uncertain economic environment that is likely to further thin newsroom staff, raising the bar for what stories merits the use of increasingly precious coverage resources. Some stories that were good enough in 2022 will not be in 2023. Beyond that, however, we’re going to see the remaining media ecosystem become more fragmented. Twitter’s uncertain future is part of this because its status as a central, conversation-shaping “water cooler” where a critical mass of journalists hangs out and shares work is imperiled. Elon Musk’s chaotic takeover already pushed many journalists to dabble in new platforms like Mastodon and Post, as well as in old forms like blogs and personal newsletters. We also expect outlets and journalists to bring new energy and creativity to legacy platforms like LinkedIn and TikTok in the year ahead. But no platform will fully drive earned media in the same way anytime soon. Additionally, there is significant momentum and energy behind newsletter-driven outlets like Axios and Morning Brew that continue to fuel further decentralization, in part because they do a great job engaging and occupying audiences. That adds up to a media landscape that is, yes, more fragmented, but also one in which the fragments themselves are more engaging.

4. "Value is more than a proposition in 2023.”

— Laurie Naranjo, Senior Director, Integrated Communications

In 2023, brands need to have a strategic reset around the brand-consumer value exchange. In the words of the great Janet Jackson, what have you done for me lately? With costs up across virtually every category, brands need to be able to articulate what their value is to consumers and prove it out across every touch point. With so many choices, it is increasingly difficult to secure long-term brand loyalty. The art is in communicating your brand’s value in the lives of consumers beyond product and price—how you show up for your community and the people you are trying to reach. This is an inside-out reset. To start, leaders should flip the dialogue internally to be customer-obsessed. Consider what you are adding to homes rather than just how you can increase household penetration. This shift in perspective is foundational to creating true value for your consumers in meaningful ways that ignite participation.

5. “The consumer must be the starting point for all brand engagement.”

— Michael Cowen, Account Director, Integrated Communications

No matter how much marketers talk about the consumer, somehow, we still make a mess of our message by making it all about the brand. We get so lost in our purpose and position that we lose people in the story. We need to make the consumer the starting point—their interests, aspirations, motivations, and, in 2023, likely their focus on cost and value. And if we do, just maybe they’ll take notice. How will we benefit them on their terms? From the PR marketer’s standpoint, we seek cultural relevance as the vehicle to drive participation. But don’t get it twisted—we’re not talking about making your brand relevant in culture. We’re talking about tapping into what’s relevant to consumers in spaces where your brand has permission to play. Before you fret over whether your marketing has an airtight wrapping of brand purpose purity, ask yourself if your message will resonate with the people you’re trying to talk to.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the authors
  1. Kylie Burness, Director, Integrated Communications
  2. Rachel Cooper, Senior Director, Media Relations
  3. Michael Cowen, Account Director, Integrated Communications
  4. Laurie Naranjo, Senior Director, Integrated Communications

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