Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Perspective on Marketing in a Recession

We needn’t tell you that business today isn’t what it used to be. And we don’t want to be presumptuous or oversell our ability to help make things better (or at least keep them from getting worse). But our years of marketing communications experience, including having been through similar conditions before, gives us a perspective we’d like to share.

Pare expenses, spare investments. It’s easy in a time when income declines and costs rise to want to cut back on everything not immediately essential. Need we say lack of discrimination can be risky?

Truth is, some activities, marketing communications among them, are only a temporary drain on resources. Because they are investments in generating future business, they have the potential of ultimately bringing in several times their outlay.

Right now is also a good time to be making such investments. The more the economy declines and competitors retrench, the greater the impact and potential rate of investment return (ROI).

So while scaling back some marcom activities might be appropriate, cutbacks shouldn’t be drastic. Too much too soon is not only penny-wise and pound-foolish now, it will make it more difficult and costly to regain market momentum and share later on.

Re-think strategies and tactics. We are not, however, recommending business as usual. Rather, this is the time for reviewing and modifying marketing communications plans and priorities.

Strategically, concentrate on short-term, hard objectives, the type more likely to generate immediate sales, not longer-term, soft ones, which are more effective in market positioning, branding, and share protection. This is also the time for focusing more on retaining existing customers (better immediate profitability), less on finding new ones (better future profitability). Also, when you should be spending less on growing your markets, more on making sure you at least maintain your share of existing markets.

Tactically, less focus on qualitative features and top-of-the-line products, more on quantitative features and products that can offer demonstrably better values. Also, appealing to the tendency of recession customers to be less inclined to experiment with unfamiliar products or suppliers, more likely to stick what they are familiar with. In short, modify your materials to accent familiarity, reliability, durability, safety, and performance.

Maintain visibility. There are three related points that have greater significance during a business recession.

The first is that customers forget just as rapidly. Without constant reminders they will fail to remember an organization, products, or features. And the cost of reestablishing awareness later is high. Simply, it is less expensive to maintain awareness than create it all over again.

The second point is that awareness is enhanced when materials are consistent in style and message. So any modifications in strategy and tactics must retain the same family appearance. This is not the time for a style change.
The third is that when activity falls below a certain level (the customer awareness threshold) the return on investment is so low as to not be worth doing.

Learn from history. It’s an old adage that those who don’t learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. During a business slowdown we see this in three ways.

1) Organizations that make too few or too late adjustments to their marketing communications activities squander away scarce resources.
2) Those that cut back too drastically end up paying a heavy price in lost market momentum and share when business returns to normal.
3) Only those organizations that modify their strategies and tactics while continuing promotional activity weather a recession with the least damage.

It is well documented in business histories and case studies that organizations that maintain at least a moderate level of promotional activity during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, get the highest return on their investment, and stand to improve their market share when the recession ends.

We suspect you would like your organization to be in this category. And we’d like to help you get there.

For more information please contact Candice Champion, Vice President, or call 216-661-2550