If you’ve never operated your business during a recession, the news stories you read and the trends you see can worry you tremendously…maybe even terrify you. As someone old enough to have helped clients through several economic setbacks, the best marketing advice I can offer is to stay the course.
Marketing-related businesses like mine are indicators of what business owners and managers think of their economic prospects. We usually start noticing their anxiety long before the media pays attention to it.
The savviest behave like smart investors, looking beyond the ups and downs of the economy and remaining confidently focused on their long-term strategies.
The others panic. They begin to shut up, cut projects and cut budgets in anticipation of an expected drop in revenue. I get the emails and phone calls letting me know that they’re convinced the worst is about to happen, and I’ll have to factor their fear into my own revenue forecast. It’s easy to drastically reduce the marketing budget because it usually doesn’t involve painful steps like downsizing. Plus, who knows if any of these marketing tricks actually work, right?
But something funny happens as the nervous crowd waits for the storm to pass. Their confident competitors are not backing down. They don’t stand still. Instead, they maintain constant visibility in the market. Some even use the recession as an opportunity to develop better ways of doing what they do.
And, once the economy makes its inevitable recovery, these competitors are miles ahead of their more timid counterparts. They’re already going full throttle as the wary crowd tries desperately to get back on track.
Have you ever heard of Hewlett-Packard or Texas Instruments? Both were among the top performers in the transition to digital technology…and as Shawn Achor notes in his excellent book, The advantage of happiness, both opened in the depths of the Great Depression. (If you haven’t read the book or seen his TED Talk, do so soon. You’ll thank me.)
Achor also returns to quote a 1958 Time article: “For every company that shrinks its operations, another discovers new ways of doing things that should have been in effect for years but were ignored during the boom.” Or, as he puts it, “economic adversity is forcing companies to find creative ways to cut costs and prompting managers to reconnect with employees and operations on the ground floor.”
History provides plenty of evidence of companies that have used downturns to become dominant in their industries. If I ask you to name a breakfast cereal company, chances are you’ll say Kellogg’s, not Post. Guess which one advertised during the Depression and which did you? When gas prices soared in 1975, Chevy stepped up its advertising while Ford cut 14%. It took nearly five years for Ford’s sales to catch up with Chevy’s. Go back to the April 1927 issue of harvard business reviewand you’ll find strong evidence that companies that stay the course during economic downturns achieve higher sales increases when the good times return.
Even during recessions, life and business go on. Businesses and consumers still need products and services. They’re looking for sources for those products and services, and if you’ve chosen to turn off the spending valve and wait for things to happen, they’ll have a harder time finding you. Sure, you’re better than your competition, but how will they learn that if you’re not there to tell them?
So how can you turn tough times into an advantage? For starters, if you’re doing something that helps your clients optimize their budget, let them know. If you sell industrial lubricants that reduce maintenance downtime and extend the time between overhauls, you can save your customers money when they need it most. If your approach to your area of expertise is more profitable than that of your competitors, now is the perfect time to share this message. If your market desperately needs solutions you can provide, make sure people know you’re there.
When your competitors become fearful and retreat, there is less voice in the market. This means that your messages become even stronger. Don’t worry about trying to be smart and creative. Just focus on what makes you better. Things like quality and reliability are even more important during tough times.
If you still think the best approach is to dodge and wait for sunnier economic weather, I’ll share another quote from Shawn Achor: “The best leaders are those who show their true colors not during peak years, but during fight “.
Scott Flood creates effective copy for businesses and other organizations. His freelance creative talent assessment guide, The Smarter Strategy for Selecting Suppliers, can be downloaded at http://sfwriting.com.