Marketing in recession

How does a business approach its marketing needs in times of a global financial crisis? The literal definition of crisis is 'a turning point.' Let's consider this crisis as the turning point for thinking differently about Marketing and Business Development.

"In the fast moving and developing world around us, it is not what you know that will define you in the future, but rather how good you are at relearning what you think you already know."

Over the first five months of this year we have been asking business leader what are the key principles to remaining in business. Interestingly, the replies were consistent under three headings. The business leaders interviewed said that these were fundamental to ensure that the whole business stayed focused on the right things.

As one CEO expressed it, "At any time a CEO has hundreds of issues that need dealing with. It is important that you know the three to five that are your priority and do not allow yourself to be side tracked from those."

Communicate, communicate, communicate
At a time when there is a lot going on and people are unsure about what is happening and how it may affect them, it is vital to communicate. The leader needs to be visible because people want to see their leader as well as hear the message. People get a level of comfort from seeing the leader and pick up on the subliminal messages. For example, if the leader seems relaxed, it relaxes them. If the leader seems confident, people feed off that confidence.

Communication needs to be two-way because people more questioning. Listening is important because it creates the dialogue, which in turn engages people. An important part of the communication is the content which must include the strategy or plan of action. Knowing the direction that is being taken makes people feel that there is some leadership taking control of the situation and there is something worth committing to.

• Be visible and communicate frequently
• Ensure two-way communication
• Clearly communicate strategies and actions to employees to ensure higher morale
• Continue to inspire the entire organisation to succeed

Redefine Value
At a time of economic downturn, the customer has a good reason to assess what they spend and where they spend it. Customers actively seek alternatives and so the focus needs to be on providing the best value possible. Anything that creates a connection with the customer and shows that they are getting value for money, is vital.

A company needs to believe in itself and what it offers. Any sign of low confidence will impact the value on offer. The enthusiasm and belief in what the company is providing has a direct link to the value being offered. This is a significant shift in terminology from giving "customer service" to "creating value".

Key Points:
• Don’t cut corners on customer service during tough time
• Create value and make a difference
• Every employee starting with the CEO, must step up and be an advocate of the value the company offers
• Collaborate through the company, be nibble and innovate

Objectivity and Discipline
Every single person interviewed took a fresh and objective look at their business and what they were doing. They spoke about getting back to core business and being dispassionate about what fitted in the business and what didn't. Where should time, energy and money be focused? They spoke of stripping out pet projects that were distracting and using up resources better spent else where.

Obviously cost were important, but interestingly, although cash was seen as important, they saw the importance of still spending but spending wisely. "Discipline" was a word used on a number of occasions.

• Offer high value solutions while keeping a steady and disciplined handle on expenses
• Conduct a dispassionate review of the business
• Take strong defensive positions, preserve lots of cash and continue investing in R&D for the core business
• Look at the job with fresh eyes

What about the future?
A notable difference between this and previous recessions is the focus on spending money through the recession on R & D. Many saw the recession as an opportunity to retrain staff and refurbish the business. Money spent in these areas was seen as fundamental to the business being able to perform when the recession is over.

Although some providers of training and development programs have seen a down turn in their business, many have seen a surge as well. The difference seems to be in the ability of these providers to deliver results and not programs.

A recession or economic crisis has an evolutionary effect on business. Businesses emerge differently with new demands and expectations. We do not know for sure what it will be like when it is all over, but we do see certain signs emerging. The key word will be 'value' and the key action will be "measure".

"Companies that outperform the market are companies that invest, understand and capitalise in a downturn."
Ronan Harris
Director online sales
Google European Operations