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20nine’s Greg Ricciardi: 5 Drivers of Forced Evolution to Guide 2023 Brand Strategy

Brand consultancy CEO details how brands can keep pace in 2023.

Originally published on ANA’s Newsstand.

By Greg Ricciardi, President, CEO and Founder of 20nine  

The pandemic forced brands and business leaders to acknowledge just how little control they have over the direction and rate at which their enterprises evolve. One thing was true of every organization that made it across the chasm: They evolved. Not because they had planned to evolve or because they wanted to. They were forced to.

When Biden declared the pandemic at an end, there arose a temptation to think the forced evolution ended with it. But I’m afraid that’s about as far from the truth as you can get. Let’s take a look at five drivers of forced evolution going into 2023 and how brands are having to adapt.

Consumers’ Push for Purpose

We’re all looking for a little more purpose in our lives these days. And more than ever, consumers want the brands they support to do the same. This incredibly forceful push to purpose has knocked a lot of organizations back on their heels, forcing them to step back in order to define and embrace their purposes—or, in some cases, just make them up.

Then there’s brands like Patagonia—an organization whose purpose-driven mission has been well-documented. Even here, we see a company reacting to the pressure to do more. When Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard announced he was turning his entire company over to a nonprofit, thereby making the planet the only shareholder and recipient of the company’s profits, many were stunned. But in reality, this was the next logical step for Patagonia, a brand that has always looked to stay ahead of forced evolution. As Chouinard put it: Instead of “going public,” you could say we’re “going purpose.”


We’re all feeling the effects of macroeconomic shifts in the form of inflation and a looming recession. Businesses feel the effects not only on their bottom lines, but in shifting consumer sentiments and behaviors as well. As such, many are being forced to evolve their stories and positions in the marketplace to accommodate the current financial turmoil.

In addition, looming recession concerns always cause job security concerns as well. However, because of the pandemic and the new and widespread adoption of virtual working, employees are better positioned to prevent a layoff. And considering there are still two openings for every unemployed person, the odds are in the employees’ favor right now—meaning it’s on brands right now to be selling themselves not just to customers, but to the workforce. Speaking of…

Challenger Brands

Now more than ever, startup brands are pushing into the edges of the marketplace and quietly stealing market share. As a result, massive established brands are being forced to realign their positioning with consumers who are seeking alternatives.

From a media standpoint, challenger brands are also looking more formidable these days. During the pandemic, smaller brands saw a huge opportunity to capture audience in an upheaved TV media landscape. This has positioned them to capture even more market share and scale coming out of Covid.

Environmental Impact

Here’s one that’s not going away: the massive disruption emanating from the escalating effects of climate change. It’s being felt to some extent by companies in every industry. And yes—it’s an “evolve or perish” situation.

Perhaps nowhere is this being felt as deeply as the auto industry, whose manufacturing and products continue to have massive effects on the environment. Auto brands have a choice: Pretend to care without actually altering course (as Mercedes did in its recent greenwashing campaign) and suffer the consequences. Or commit to a complete transformation of your core processes and products before it’s too late. (Thankfully, brands like BMW and Volvo are charging down the latter path.)

Going into 2023, business leaders can’t just be sweeping up the debris left behind by the past 3 years. They have to be looking ahead to the next forced evolution moment—and the one after that. Many brands are already existing in such a moment, whether they know it or not. And it’s not enough to just pick up the pieces. If brands want to stay relevant into the foreseeable future, they need to identify precisely which forces are at play on their business—and catapult themselves ahead of them.

20nine has helped transform regional, national and global brands from a range of categories and industries, by applying insights we’ve gained along the way to solve any given marketing problem with great energy and originality.