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A Pricey Education - recession takes marketing back to basics

Having survived the global financial crisis, marketers are breathing a collective sigh of relief. Yet it is imperative that we don't forget the valuable lessons learned from the recession when the good times roll around again.

With economists bandying about positive predictions and discussing the 'green shoots of recovery', it appears that the global economy is on the upswing. For marketers, whose budgets have been cut by around 20%1 in some instances, the change can't come soon enough. 

While I share the optimism, I can't help being concerned that we're going to rush headlong back into our bad habits. We might not like to admit it, but the recession was probably the best thing to happen to marketing in a long time. 

Before I get lynched, let me explain. The recession has forced marketers to completely reassess the way they do business. Driven by the need to escalate sales, we simply forgot (or chose to ignore) the basics of marketing. Fundamentals such as long-term strategy, credible brand promises underpinned by genuine product value, and real consumer understanding all fell by the wayside. 

Consumers were also forced to scrutinise their behaviour. As disposable income disappeared, they were forced to analyse their purchasing habits. More than bargains, consumers started to look for real value from the products they purchased. 

The recession also shattered consumer trust. As the greedy business practices of corporates, government, and financial institutions were exposed, consumers began demanding transparency, honesty, and sustainability. 

Thus the emergence of a new, socially responsible and value-seeking consumer has forced marketers to re-learn important fundamentals. Here are a few which marketers should be paying close attention to:

  1. Sell real value: a great marketing message is no longer enough to paper over the holes in a poor product offering. Remember that a pig wearing lipstick is still a pig. The only difference now is that consumers can see it.
  2. Add real value: this is not about offering ?two for one' deals, or bargain-basement prices. It's about giving them products and services that are relevant and meet their needs.
  3. Know the people to whom you are selling. Get back to the basics of real market research. Without it, you can't hope to understand what people want and need. There is a black bike rider phenomenon that is gathering momentum faster than the motorbikes themselves. It indicates how important it is for brands like Harley Davidson to know and react to a new generation of their fans. It's a case of always trying to hit a moving target.
  4. Understand the space you operate in - on a macro and micro level. The playing field has changed, from a political, social, economic and commercial point of view. Understand what these changes are, which ones are relevant to you and how they affect your brand.
  5. Define your goals. Now more than ever marketers need to have a very clear vision of what their brand sells, and what direction they would like it to grow in. ?Intel inside?, for example, is now part of marketing speak due to the brilliantly executed single-mindedness of the brand.
  6. Start measuring. The current economic climate means companies are demanding a better return on investment, with metrics to show what's been achieved. If you can't provide solid evidence to show that a campaign is working, don't expect to have your account renewed.

It's highly unlikely that consumers are going to un-know what they know now, and they will only get more particular in their wants and needs as time goes on. So when the good times roll around again, marketers need to make sure that they don't abandon their renewed dedication to the fundamentals. Having paid so much for the school fees, wouldn't it be foolish of us to waste this hard-won education? 

1Forrester's 2009 CMO Global Recession Survey


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