We all exhibit animal tendencies from time to time, and occasionally they are reflected in how we
operate under different conditions. Stress, uncertainty and panic evoke certain reactions, as do joy and euphoria. When things get difficult some people, just like an ostrich, put their head in the sand and hope for the best. Some continue to be bold, and while being a lion may lead to over-confidence, being a bit foxy can help make the most of opportunities in difficult times.
Building brand value in turbulent times is not easy, but those that try end up far stronger than those that do not. It is exactly during such times that companies batten down the hatches and trim the sails. While this is usually good business practice, the problem comes when you trim the sails so much that you end up with a handkerchief. In such times what you don’t do can hamper business and brand growth.
In today’s world, not to communicate is to communicate – and probably means that you end up communicating something unintentionally. If you don’t do something to keep that customer relationship vibrant, then someone else will – and it just might be the fox.
As marketers, we operate in an increasingly challenging communications environment. One of our biggest tasks is to try and cut through the clutter of communications that hit our customers on a daily basis so that they notice what we are saying. People today are very media savvy. They are bombarded with messages from different media and they have less time to absorb messages. This requires a shift from interruption to engagement strategies so that your message resonates with your target audience. So, given the complexity of media as well as the sheer volume of messaging, not communicating means that someone else will fill the void you create.
Depending on who you listen to, we either are or aren’t in a recession. But whatever the economic situation, the basic principles of marketing communications remain the same – maintaining a dialogue with customers based on understanding their needs and insights into what drives them. However, despite all we have learned as marketers, in a recession it appears some organisations panic and fail to communicate.
If one major purpose of advertising is to increase market share, then in turbulent times it serves at the very least to help you maintain share. To maintain your position in the market place, you need to make sure that you do not sever your relationship with the customer. Unfortunately, a removal of investment leads to lower customer stimulus, a reduced number of reminders in their short-term memory box, and ultimately a loss of market share. Now this might sound like the typical moan of a marketing guy crying about having no money, but history is on the marketers’ side, going back as far as 1923. More telling is that since 1970 there has been ample evidence that companies who maintain or increase investment in troubled times double their share compared with those who don’t (PIMS study 2002).
There should be nothing surprising here. The reason for advertising and marketing in the first place is to meet customer needs based on insights into their behaviour. The mistake people make is to assume what the customer’s behaviour is going to be and then slash communication. What you should be doing is understanding the societal impact on customer behaviour and addressing it so that you continue to build a dialogue and a meaningful relationship.
With financial services, it could be even more pertinent, especially in the current environment. As customers lose confidence in key financial services values, you have a knock-on effect caused by negative coverage in the press. The additional media coverage damages trust and the risk is that customer distrust becomes part of the culture. Here’s a nice YouTube video on the sub-prime crisis.
We all exhibit animal tendencies from time to time, and occasionally they are reflected in how we operate under different conditions. Stress, uncertainty and panic evoke certain reactions, as do joy and euphoria. When things get difficult some people, just like an ostrich, put their head in the sand and hope for the best. Some continue to be bold, and while being a lion may lead to over-confidence, being a bit foxy can help make the most of opportunities in difficult times.
Have we gone from trusted to busted? Well, in times of uncertainty, consumers seek safety and competence from confident brand leaders they can trust, to give them a greater sense of control. The want brand leaders to talk to them, explain and demonstrate a way forward, not hide their head in the sand like an ostrich.
So what defines an ostrich, apart from skinny legs, a long neck, big eyes, and a big ball of feather in the middle? A marketing ostrich hides itself, doesn’t engage and looks at things from a short-term perspective. These tend to be brands most affected by a credit crisis, because brands that behave like ostriches are often seen as part of the problem – not part of the solution.
Now, a fox is entrepreneurial and consequently an opportunist. The fox looks around, sees that the farmer has gone and takes the chicken. In a nightclub the fox is the one who steps in and steals your partner when you stop communicating. But you can’t complain, because you created the environment for the fox. The fox doesn’t hide, is easy to see, is totally transparent, confident and credible, and delivers tangible results. The fox is a winner.
In discussions with media owners (excluding FOX), we can see which brands are continuing to invest in 2008 despite the economic situation. Pan-European media owners like CNN, FT, Bloomberg and Fortune all reported strong Q1 revenues from the financial services sector for 2008, and their view is that this will continue. Luckily we are among those brands, and our new campaign will get the boost it needs to embed itself. In fact, we see the current turmoil as an opportunity to demonstrate our laser focus on anticipating and exceeding our customers’ needs. Our intention is to make sure that we act while the time is right to continue building brands. The need for action is especially important in these times, and is summarised beautifully in a quote from JFK: “There are risks and costs to a programme of action. But they are far less than the long- range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” Now he was a bit of a fox…