Protecting your Brand in Recession

Sommers joined TSB in 1991 as marketing director as that year’s recession was bottoming out. They were trying to compete with the banks and the building societies in all areas and not doing anything very well. They had cut the marketing spend in real terms through the recession but were still attempting to support initiatives across the board. So when Summers joined, he reduced their key objectives to a handful, and focused all their marketing energy on them – just as other banks were continuing to cut back on all fronts.

TSB successfully launched new savings products, started to build a significant mortgage book for the first time and, within the space of two years went from fifth to first place in terms of the numbers of young people they recruited. A good idea is always a good idea, recession or not, and, arguably, this is a particularly good time to try new ideas, as consumers are looking for things that offer them real value. However, you cannot spend money that you have not got, so you have to make savings somewhere.

Keep calm and carry on, and to remember that the marketer’s job is to grow brands, not destroy them. Experts reveal how brands can weather the downturn.

Consumers will draw in their horns, but if they are putting a foreign holiday or a new car on hold, they will compensate. If you are in a position to take advantage of people trading down their treats, you should go out and aggressively promote yourself.

Recognise what you are good at and build on that. Ensure that relation-ships with customers, suppliers and staff are in excellent shape so you can build a climate of mutual trust and co-operation that will help find solutions to the challenges ahead.

Media will be relatively inexpensive this year, so take advantage of that. Continue to buy media at the same level and take the savings back in cash, or invest more in the hope of building share. You need a strong argument to justify investing when working capital is difficult to obtain.

Bringing forward product launches helps shore up the bottom line during the worst of a recession by generating short-term sales and news. Spending more on NPD will stand you in good stead to take advantage of the recovery. Surviving the recession is about a commitment to product development as well as marketing communications.

The customer relationship should be sacrosanct. Sustaining customer trust will be vital, not only through the downturn, but in the upturn. Evidence suggests that firms are trimming their service policies, so queues in call centers may lengthen, and consumer rights be eroded.
Challenge external costs. Do you need those expensive management consultants, and are outsourcing arrangements delivering the return on investment you had hoped? Interim marketers can be a very cost-effective and flexible way of getting high levels of expertise and experience, as most of them will have worked through at least one recession, without increasing your overheads.

Don’t switch all your communications online because it is ‘cheaper’. Online is most effective as part of an integrated campaign. Television emotionally engages people, and using it to prompt consumers to go to a website can not only drive sales, itself important in a downturn, but also allows them to engage further with the brand and helps you defend your pricing.

Ensure that the connection between the function of marketing and the business is as strong as possible. That means justifying all plans in hard financial terms. Brand health measures will cut no ice at a time when you are losing customers, and if you want to launch something such as a value range, first be sure you can make a decent margin on it.