The Upside of Down

By Brian McHale

Ten years ago during the height of the Great Recession, I had a thought that amidst all of the doom and gloom, there had to be some way to get ahead, to use what was going on to an advantage. I called it the “upside of down.”

Here we are in 2019 and there are starting to be some rumbles about an impending downturn in the economy. Whether you believe that now or not, it’s always good to think about what you would do with your brand should times change. Because whether it’s 2019 or three years from now, dips in the economy are going to happen. So what does the “upside of down” look like today?

Don’t take your ball and go home.

During the Great Recession, many brands took their marketing money off of the table and attempted to ride out the storm. However, other brands were more aggressive and realized, just like in good times, they could use marketplace conditions to their advantage. Conventional wisdom tells you that those that kept on marketing, albeit maybe differently, came out of the down times with higher brand awareness and maintained their customer relationships in a better way than those brands that went away.

Use the marketplace to your advantage.

During down times when budgets inevitably get reduced, you have to make sure you make every dollar count. So where is your low-hanging fruit?

Start with your current customers. You can’t afford to lose any of them. Here are some ideas:

  • Leverage the customer insights in the customer data you have been collecting. Data analytics remains strong even in down times. What can you learn from your data that will make your marketing messaging all the more relevant to your current customers? Doing things like customer segmentation, understanding the lifetime value of a customer as well as which customers are profitable can really help you focus your efforts and leverage your dollars. We do this for our partner brands in good times and in bad because these are insights that are right at our fingertips.
  • Use social media to get close to your customers. Social media is all about engaging customers and building relationships. Depending on your industry, you can also sell right within the platforms. This brings your brand experience right to a customer’s mobile device, so your brand stays top of mind and connected, even in down times.
  • Don’t be afraid to go slow to go fast. Do some research to understand if the down times are changing your customers’ habits so that you can plan ahead. This is a great time to “test and learn” your way to what really resonates with your customers. And this doesn’t have to apply to only current customers; testing ideas for prospective customers works well, too.

From a messaging standpoint, focus on differentiation. What makes your brand unique? Don’t automatically move to heavy discounting to keep business. It may help in the short term, but you will carry a discount hangover with you when the good times return.

If you have the budget to buy media, there will be some great deals in the market during the down times. Prices will be depressed so you can stretch your dollars further than during good times. There will also likely be “less noise” in the marketplace because some advertisers will be overly cautious and stop spending. Given this combination, looking for opportunities to “own” some content or a medium could be a good strategy that wouldn’t ordinarily be affordable for your brand. Also, if you think down times are closer than not, don’t do long-term deals right now. Prices will drop in the future.

Lastly when it comes to media, make sure you are getting what you pay for. While this is always important, stewardship of media buys is especially important in down times when budgets are precious. There should also be plenty of inventory available should you find that you haven’t gotten what you paid for. Bonus or make-up weight will be much easier to come by.

The upside of down.

Planning ahead and protecting your core are critical to taking advantage of the opportunities present in a down market. Remember to operate from a position of strength, not fear. These are the times that can make or break a brand and can leave your competition in the dust. 

Brian McHale is CEO and owner of Brandience, a full-service ad agency based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Follow him @brianmchale.

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