Bail out or not, it’s a good time to be in marketing

bg_sqpost_aig.jpgSay it outloud with me: “We are in a recession.” (And now’s the time for brand building, you better believe it.)

New York City—A place never thought to be vulnerable to earthquakes, but recently, with Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, J.P. Morgan’s rescue of Washington Mutual, the Fed’s stunning $85 billion bolstering of AIG, and now the battle in Congress over to bail-out or not… BG feels even more shakes coming, especially with rampant inflation affecting the cost of my pint of Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter like never before.

Starbuck’s slumping this past spring should have been our first clue that things were amuck. We are on shaky ground and the aftershocks will be felt miles and months away, whether we’re buying Hanes underwear in Target, tanking up another SUV-load of Gucci gear on Rodeo Drive, or shooting moose in the nooks and crannies of the U.S. It’s likely to be a very flat 2009. (Hell, if Sarah Palin can run for VP, I can play Ben Bernanke for the hour). Yet, as crazy as it may seem, all this means it’s a great time to be in marketing.

If we flip back through history, we see that previous downspins have provided big upsides. Yes, upsides, such as the birth of the iPod, dollar menus at fast food chains (okay, not so great for our obesity rates) and let’s not forget CBS soap operas, the genesis for entertainment as we know it today.

The truism: Plenty of brands have seen rocky times and come through stronger—with the right marketing. So what’s right during a crisis? Stick to your basics.

1.    Be the leader. Do your part and build consumer confidence. Take a look at messaging and be reactionary. For instance, if you’re the recently rescued AIG, you immediately reflect on how your brand tagline, “Strength to Be There” may no longer work–and despite how brilliant those television spots might be…you shelve it.

2.    Watch consumer’s behavior. Reward your customers/build loyalty/incentivize. Citibank’s Thank You “points” program is recession-proof and its sweepstakes promotion, “Thanks-A-Million,” couldn’t have been timed any better. Saying thank you always works. Even AIG licked its wounds long enough to take out a full-page ad in the trades and give thanks: “The support our customers and brokers have shown us this last week has been overwhelming… We Thank You.”

3.    Spend smart. Whether we are talking about your 401K plan or a national rollout of McDonalds coffee bars, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Prioritize! Remember that cutting advertising and marketing may spruce up P&L sheets for the short term but eats away at market share long term.

Yes, we are in era of natural and financial disasters, and it is tough to know where solid ground lies–tread lightly.

Filed: branding

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