Dear CMO:

For every pundit who proclaims that smart brands don’t cut marketing in bad economic times there are a thousand business owners who know differently.

Everything tightens up when demand is down and marketing is no exception. Why do we assume we shouldn’t cut marketing when everyone – including us! – is reducing what we buy? Regardless of your snappy creative, fewer people are buying. It isn’t that they no longer want what you have. It’s that the budget they had set aside to buy your stuff is now gone. Your customers are going through the same anxious times as you are. Nothing personal. This should tell you that what worked before won’t work right now. So when we hear this old chestnut of marketing punditry, politely nod and then do what must be done.

Now, for the devil that resides in the details. Cutting doesn’t mean eliminating, any more than saving on utilities means we’re going to live in the dark. I’ve consulted for bootstrapping start-ups and managed P&L’s for multi-million dollar divisions of some of the world’s most respected brands, and when bad economic times reared their ugly heads, we used several guiding principles to get us through.

  • Think tactics. Short term financial returns are more important right now than sweeping strategic pet projects. If it isn’t aimed at returning a positive ROI in the next 30 to 60 days, shelve it in favor of other things that will. Regardless of whether you’re a bootstrapper or a Fortune 500 VP, this means you need to focus on the last inch between you and your customer. Your channel, your sales floor, the tools your front line people need, your basket abandonment rate, or whatever defines that last inch between you and them.
  • Integrate. Nothing happens on its own. A direct mail piece is supported by your outbound telemarketing which drives you to the webinar which sets up your live event, followed by your newsletter and your next wave of outbound calling which drives them to something else. Everything supports something else and nothing stands on its own.
  • Re-purpose. Nothing is a disposable. A commercial is a print ad is a poster is a web page is a flyer is a banner is a co-op ad template for your channel partner is a shelf danger at your retailer. Nothing goes to waste.
  • Grasp what has changed. Bad economic times mean that things have changed, so if you trot out the old ideas relied on six months ago, don’t expect the same things to happen. Your audience wants to see that you understand what has changed and wants to know how you’re going to help them deal with it. How can you make it easier, cheaper, faster, more convenient, more flexible, less risky, less cumbersome than alternatives? Put yourself in their shoes and figure out how to offer your products and services so that your programs reflect the current reality of their lives.
  • Find partners. Misery loves company, after all. Find likeminded partners who share a common customer base and see if you can reduce your costs while offering something that looks bigger than the sum of its parts. This isn’t always easy because it requires other people who may be worried about their own situations, not to mention management that will assume the other side is getting the better of the deal. But when it works, it works beautifully. Look for the signs – use your partner’s speed as your barometer – speed in responding to you, speed in moving the project forward – and look for tangible signs that your partner has buy-in from above. If the signs aren’t there, find someone else – don’t waste your time.
  • Make it easier for them to say “yes.” Don’t look for the homerun on the first pitch. Consistency works because we all have a burning need to remain consistent with those stands we’ve publicly made in the past. In bad times, we’re all reluctant to spend too much or take too big a jump, but smaller commitments fly under the radar. Conversions are private and personal.  So let’s build up that pattern of behavior step by step.
  • Do it really, really well. Whatever we do, we should employ the absolute best thinking in social psychology and execution to extract every last drop of financial return from what we choose to spend. How have we used “reciprocity” in our offer? How have we used “consistency”? Great thought should be given to execution and everything should end well with nothing left to chance. Nothing, regardless of how “busy” we are, is a check-the-box activity. Do fewer things better. The copy matters. The script matters. The image matters. Everything must employ the best practices or it’s a waste of very precious resources.

These are seven philosophies that I’ve relied on for many years and I can tell you from personal experience that they work well, even when the well itself looks like its running dry.



PS: I can think of three important exceptions to my point about reducing marketing budgets during bad economic times. I’ll tell you what they are tomorrow. – SD