Beating the Recession

You can stare down the recession. It’s a time of opportunity, not fear. Everything is changing. Greed is out and communities are in. And in our community of marketers — both advertisers and agencies alike — we need to stand behind one idea: That marketing will get businesses going in this terrible mess.

The new economy is the great equalizer. Under the weight of panicked emotion all brands feel vulnerable — kind of out of place and out of sync with how people are feeling after the meltdown.

We need to change the conversation and look upon idea generation and strategic and creative excellence as the true productivity tools. We need to look at marketing as the true growth indicator. It’s the viable option, the last investment to make before you shut off the lights and evacuate the building.

Who says you can’t use your marketing to provide consumers with a greater sense of value? Or, go one step further: By realigning your marketing priorities you can maximize efficiencies and maximize a “wow” factor. So less can also be a lot more.

And though it may seem counterintuitive, the way to do this is not by thinking smaller. It’s by thinking bigger.

The first thing marketers need in this environment is a harder-working idea, one that operates in culture rather than in a product category, and lets consumers rethink your competitive frame of reference, defining it more broadly.

For example, premium-priced food brands may suffer in this environment due to consumers trading down to cheaper store brands. But if you position these high-priced foods items as a way to make a basic night in as inspiring as a luxurious night out, they start to seem like a bargain. In this instance, a premium food brand becomes home entertainment, not just a packaged good.

Similarly, cosmetics and laundry detergents can become the self-enhancement aides we need as we put our best foot forward in a competitive job market. And in an environment where we’re all working more, convenience purchases like casual dining can be sold as giving you back valuable time to spend with family. Marketing house paint? Rather than think about price or quality versus competition, market it as a smart alternative to remodeling.

The second thing marketers need in this environment is a harder-working communication plan. By that we mean a better approach to interacting with consumers throughout the brand experience.

Competitive USPs and product positionings lead to expensive, interruptive messaging, usually in environments that are cluttered with competitive messages. Once you have an idea that competes in culture, it’s much easier (not to mention more cost-effective) to have your message show up in a place where it’s actually welcomed by consumers and doesn’t have to fight to be heard.

For example: If you want your premium-priced food brand to be part of an elegant evening in instead of an expensive evening out, tell consumers how to put on a party at point-of-sale — during radio drive time on the way home from work.

In coming months, there will be growth for those brands that understand marketing from a cultural perspective, and who connect their brands to ideas on the rise. Consumers will be trading up and trading down, placing virtually all purchases into one of two categories: things they care about (and are thus willing to pay more for), and things they don’t, which they treat as commodities. The key to growth and productivity? To go bigger, to be important in their world, versus different in the category.

The question for marketers is: Are you fearless enough in this recessionary environment to step out of your category and into culture, out of the comfort zone and into a truly game-changing idea?

Scott Goodson and Chip Walker are founder/CEO and head of strategy, respectively, at StrawberryFrog. Goodson can be reached at scott@strawberryfrog.com; Walker can be reached at chip@strawberryfrog.com.