In January 2023, we launched the inaugural edition of our ‘Hindsight is’ series, featuring observations, findings, and insights from both primary and secondary research conducted by our team throughout the year.
This year’s edition showcases five strategic pointers, synthesized from desk research and interviews with consumers as well as businesses across the US, LATAM, APAC, and African markets. These pointers are centered on gaining insights into cultural understandings, emerging eCommerce behaviors, and B2B growth tactics.
About 2023’s learnings:
If there were one expression to capture the theme of last year’s findings, it would be “On second thought.” Our research findings challenge commonly accepted ideas and beliefs about branding, uncovering their counter-examples. This was a humbling experience for us as marketers and designers, reminding us to continually seek new knowledge and not rely solely on heuristic thinking to guide our work. The five, “second thoughts” of 2023 are:
1. Local nuances can scale a global brand
In response to rising inflation and interest rates, 2023 marked the onset of a cost-driven market. Rather than taking innovative leaps, brands began to prioritize streamlining their operations and increasing growth efficiency. An extension of this focus is the tendency to apply "tried-and-true" marketing strategies from HQ markets to local ones.
While consistency and cohesion are key to growing a brand, our experience also shows that mastering—and sometimes leading with—the local context can not only help a brand adapt to different markets’ challenges, but also give it an expression that is diverse, yet connected.
Last year, we partnered with Azteco—a bitcoin voucher company—to develop its brand identity, digital products, and go-to-market strategy. With millions of voucher vendors around the world, and the ambition to expand further in LATAM, Africa, and APAC, Azteco aims to be a truly global brand. To do this we needed to acknowledge and course-correct the western-centric narrative that's shaped bitcoin.
Where bitcoin is seen as a means of wealth accumulation in the West, it is viewed as an alternative for the unbanked living in unstable economies. From this perspective, Azteco was positioned not as a financial brand, but as a life brand, empowering people to save, send, and spend with bitcoin in small amounts in their daily lives. Azteco’s global anchor is articulated in its positioning: “For every bit of life.”
Given the varying regulation and consumer perception around bitcoin across the world, it was crucial for Azteco to not impose a one-size-fits-all messaging for its growth.
Instead, from the global positioning, we developed a communication framework that does not prescribe the content but outlines the communication tasks that each local market should address. From this framework, local marketers can conduct their own research and address the global brief with local flair, topics, and vernacular.
This approach provides a strategic skeleton for growing globally with the power of local nuances. A quarter after launching Azteco, the results were in: Azteco hit a sales record, increasing its year-over-year voucher sales by 300%. Over 500 vouchers were redeemed daily. More than 500,000 pay-by-cash locations were signed up in LATAM, and now Azteco is available in more than 190 countries.
Azteco’s story is but an example of approaching global growth differently. Instead of thinking of brand building linearly and top-down, there are lessons to be learned about taking a longer—seemingly riskier—approach to growing a brand. While not always guaranteed, exploring this approach is worth it, as the return can be significant.
2. Proximity to culture can fuel B2B growth
In branding, there’s often debate over the necessity for B2B organizations to invest in end-consumer affinity and understanding. A common view is that businesses serving other businesses need not concern themselves with end-consumer perceptions.
Moreover, with business decisions primarily discussed between Sales and Executives, the importance of a B2B brand's social media presence and cultural engagement is questioned. While it is tempting to adopt this convenient deduction — especially for companies without a mass-marketing budget — it’s equally important to look beyond the immediate (and easier to measure) return of sales over marketing.
In 2023, we worked with EQL — an eCommerce platform that powers high-heat launches for brands like Tiffany, Nike, Crocs— to reposition their brand and refresh their identity. Our research and conversations with brands show that while EQL’s enterprise features, such as “indestructible infrastructure” or “bot mitigation”, address immediate pain points, it is EQL’s proximity to culture and a strong understanding of these brands' audiences that amplify their values.
EQL’s complete offerings to other businesses go beyond cost-saving or operational relief, providing insights into the very audiences and cultural fans these brands seek to reach and convert. By mastering consumer as well as business branding, EQL can seamlessly move between business conversations and cultural advisory, differentiating themselves from other technical service providers.
Another way in which EQL’s proximity to fans (i.e., end consumers) aids their business is how its B2C credibility provides the brands they work with trust and cultural credentials. Similar to how Gore-Tex became a stamp for durability and technicality, EQL’s reputation as a fair and fan-first brand extends their affinity to their partnered brands. The “Run Fair® with EQL” stamp is a symbol of trust and fairness, offering a competitive advantage to their partnered brands.
From our collaboration with EQL, one of our strong beliefs is—once again—solidified: overlooking the influence of consumer perception on B2B’s growth is a strategic mishap. Integrating end-consumer insights into B2B strategies not only enhances a company’s brand value but also strengthens the market position of their partnered brands, leading to a robust brand presence in both B2B and broader markets.
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3. Capturing intent can catapult conversion
For our clients, like all businesses, growth is the ultimate, evergreen aim. An aim that has only been compounded by the recession. In 2023 we worked with Road — an electric-vehicle charge point management scale-up — in a bid to meet their ambitious sales targets we conducted desk research and a UX audit to understand the best practices of lead generation.
Within this category and B2B adjacent — Product and Software as a Service — the conversion KPI is to contact sales, as opposed to the more traditional e-commerce ‘add to basket’. In our research, we identified a number of soft tactics that can be adopted to achieve hard targets.
For this type of conversion, the user needs to be armed with the tools, equipment and information necessary to feel confident enough to get in touch. One low effort soft tactic to reduce the perceived barrier to entry is the language used to frame the CTA.
Simply changing ‘Talk to Sales’ to something like ‘Get started’, ‘Book a demo’ or ‘Get in touch’ feels inherently less confrontational. Equally, softer language can be paired with harder, more explicit language to speak to users at both ends of the funnel.
Where an in-page ‘Get started’ CTA speaks to those in the awareness and consideration mindset, an omnipresent ‘Get in touch’ in the Navigation enables those with intent or preference to short-cut to the sales team.
Another, slightly higher effort soft tactic to adopt is multi-step forms. It’s tempting to assume that in order to get more people to fill out a contact form, the fewer steps that contact form should have. And yet, from our research we found almost the opposite to be true. A multi-step form reduces the cognitive load for the user by chunking the information you require.
A conversational, more questionnaire styled multi-step form provides an opportunity to illustrate how a user's needs impacts your recommended services: ‘If you need this, we suggest this’. Following this approach means that your multi-step form doesn’t just capture leads, it can qualify them: ‘if you need this, we’re not the right solution for right now’.
In short, while a softer approach to lead generation might feel counterintuitive in a growth aggressive arena, it enables you to nurture, qualify and even educate leads, prioritizing quality not pure quantity.
4. Compliance can be a catalyst for creativity
In the dynamic realm of corporate responsibility, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) emerges as a pivotal force, set to reshape the business landscape of the European Union. This directive, which may initially seem like just another set of regulations, is actually a landmark opportunity for over 49,000 EU businesses, due to start this year.
The CSRD mandates a rigorous approach to sustainability, mirroring the intricacies of financial reporting. It demands thorough data collection and code-based reporting focused on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors.
This comprehensive process, while daunting, is not just about fulfilling regulatory obligations but an opportunity for companies to weave their sustainability narratives into their brand identities, moving beyond the stigma of greenwashing to genuinely enhance their market presence.
Leading companies are already demonstrating how to turn this directive into a strategic advantage. Apple, for instance, has skillfully integrated its sustainability goals into its corporate narrative, using engaging storytelling to reinforce its image as a leader in sustainable technology.
In 2023 we worked with end-of-season retailer — Otrium — to create an impact report that exemplified their broader brand mission for all clothes to be worn, not wasted. In the first two weeks alone, the report received over 500 readers per day. More than a CSR piece, Otrium's impact report sparked action, with 1400 customers signing up to buy on Otrium's platform and 35 fashion brands reaching out to sell on Otrium's platform.
In conclusion, the CSRD is not merely a compliance challenge to dread but a significant branding opportunity to seize. It can distinguish a brand as a leader in corporate responsibility and pave the way for long-term success and consumer trust.
5. Digital memorability can drive physical engagement
Too often when we read about digital and physical they are framed as a binary choice, that one threatens the other. Having previously written about digital ownership and identity formation, we know that counter to this binary assumption, digital and physical not only coexist but can enhance and enable each other.
In 2023 we worked with start-up ticketing brand Celebratix, and conducted more research into this realm, this time focusing on the cultural significance of ticketing, specifically the digitisation of the ticket purchasing process and memorabilia.
Live events are often associated with physical mementos, from well-worn wristbands to stolen set lists and limited edition lanyards. While the digitisation of ticketing might well make a better user experience from a buying and attendance point of view, there was a concern from fans as to a lack of physicality or permanence to mark the memory post-event.
Ian Rogers, Chief Experience Officer at Ledger, has discussed the importance of being able to showcase your digital goods to increase their perceived value, “if you don’t have a place to display these things then it doesn’t exist”. As such, when creating Celebratix’s ticketing app, we paid special attention to the inclusion and creation of the Ticket Archive. Like well-worn wristbands, stolen set lists and limited edition lanyards, we wanted to create a place where every event attended would be immortalized, creating a piece of history for fans to keep coming back to.
Thanks to digital ticketing - enabled through NFT technology - every digital ticket purchased is effectively a digital collectible. The question is, will digital tickets post-event provide enough value to fans to be perceived as a digital collectible, and more than just a momento?
While it’s too early to measure the success of digital tickets as collectibles, we do know that a digital collectibles value is likely to be determined by their utility. This utility could come in many forms, from access to a presale for the artist's next event to a discount on physical merchandise.
In summary, the digitisation of the ticketing category doesn’t replace the need for the physical. Instead, when building digital products we need to acknowledge how the digital and physical coexist and enable each other; finding the best solution to meet a user's universal need.
For us, last year highlighted the importance of critical thinking – it’s imperative to continue to question, to hypothesize and prove or disprove rather than relying on common practice and category norms.
We learnt the importance of harnessing local nuance to build a global, consistent brand; that creating end-customer demand can fuel the B2B fire; how aggressive growth targets can be tackled with a softer approach; that compliance, when harnessed correctly, can be an opportunity for brand building and storytelling; and finally that the digital and physical assets can have a symbiotic relationship for a better user experience.
If there were one expression to capture the theme of last year's strategic insights, it would be “On second thought.” Our research findings challenge commonly accepted ideas and beliefs about branding, uncovering their counter-examples. This was a humbling experience for us as marketers and designers, reminding us to continually seek new knowledge and not rely solely on heuristic thinking to guide our work. The five, second thoughts of 2023 are:
Local nuances can scale a global brand — Instead of thinking of brand building linearly and top-down, there are lessons to be learned about taking a longer—seemingly riskier—approach to growing a brand.
Proximity to culture can fuel B2B growth — Integrating end-consumer insights into B2B strategies not only enhances a company’s brand value but also strengthens the market position of their partnered brands, leading to a robust brand presence in both B2B and broader markets.
Capturing intent can catapult conversion — While a softer approach to lead generation might feel counterintuitive in a growth aggressive arena, it enables you to nurture, qualify and even educate leads, prioritizing quality not pure quantity.
Compliance can be a catalyst for brand building — the CSRD is not merely a compliance challenge to dread but a significant branding opportunity to seize. It can distinguish a brand as a leader in corporate responsibility and pave the way for long-term success and consumer trust.
Digital memorability can drive physical engagement — when building digital products we need to acknowledge how the digital and physical coexist and enable each other; finding the best solution to meet a user's universal need.