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The 7 (and two-thirds) kernels of recession marketing wisdom

by Jake Yarbrough on
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August 27, 2009


Today, I gave a presentation to the Mansfield Chamber of Commerce about how to market during a recession. This was a very nice group of professionals who were gracious hosts. However, it was also a diverse gathering of industries and interests, so my remarks were focused on some general thoughts that would be applicable to many businesses.

Check out the Slide Share here. However, it may make more sense if you read the text below.

Please note that I drew from the knowledge of many gifted professionals both near and far and have tried to provide the appropriate links to the source. Also, I have modified the original text of the speech for easier reading in this format. (Apologies in advance — it’s a looong post)

Have I missed any kernels? Do you disagree with what I’ve said? Please provide your feedback. Thank you.

Today, I will do my best to share everything I know about being successful in business in the midst of great and daunting counter forces — economic conditions, the likes of which have not been seen in many decades. How will we survive? Will we ever see black ink on our ledgers again? Am I going to need to start renting my forehead for advertising revenue in order to keep the lights on?

The topic of my presentation is: “How Should I Market During a Recession?”

The short answer is, yes. You should. Any questions?

Maybe I should spend a few more minutes talking about this subject in greater depth.

Should you market during a recession? Absolutely. There’s an old aphorism that says, “When business is good, it pays to advertise. When business isn’t good, you’ve got to advertise.” In addition, research shows us that companies who continue to advertise during a recession not only average higher sales during that recession, but three-years later they realize 256% higher sales than companies who did not advertise. This statistic has been validated with studies following more than 600 businesses during both the 1981 and 2001 recessions.

Similarly, of those who wait until the economy recovers to increase promotional spending, only 20% see any increase in market share. That’s because everyone else is increasing spending, too. There is more noise in the marketplace and it’s much harder to gain attention.

Assuming we can all agree that you must continue marketing, the question then becomes, “what are ways I can keep my name in front of current and prospective customers when my cash-flow is more restricted or the banks are not able to provide additional capital?”

For nearly 20 years, I have built a successful career working with some amazing brands. I have studied the theory and practice of marketing communications from top to bottom. I have served as an adjunct professor at Texas Christian University, sat on experts’ panels at conferences and conducted many executive-coaching sessions.

And through all that, my belief is that the real answer to the question about how to market during a recession is — like so many service-oriented products — “it depends.”

It depends on your particular business. Your competitors. Your goals.

However, there are some things you should consider regardless of your unique situation. I have put them together in a list I like to call “the 7-2/3 kernels of insight.” Allow me to spend a few moments describing each one.

Kernel #1: Know Thyself

And to thine own self be true. Billy said it best. And, it rings true as kernel number one. Before you can convince others to buy what you are selling, you must first know precisely who your company is. What it stands for. What are the core values and beliefs for your organization? What truths do you hold in your gut — truths which are inviolate? What is the businesses purpose? Put another way, what would the world be missing if you ceased to exist?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, and you’ve got some time in between orders, take a minute (or a couple of days) and figure them out. Because, if you aren’t crystal clear about this, your clients/customers will know. Much like a lion smells fear, consumers can spot the disingenuous and you can’t cover it up. We are amazingly insightful creatures.

Kernel #2: Know Thy Customer

Does this feel like what you’re seeing in the business world today?

Don’t try to pull a fast one on me. I’m wise to your tricks sonny. Customers seem defensive and stand-offish.

How many times have you heard lately, “I’m just looking,” or “not really ready to buy today”?

The truth of the matter is that one of the results of this recession is consumers have had a re-evaluation of “wants” versus “needs.” I know that’s true in my house and in my circle of friends. On the surface, that may make you think that if your product isn’t a necessity like toilet paper or toothpaste, you should just curl up in the corner and wait this one out. Not so fast. Understand that value has so many definitions. You’ve just got to figure out what value means to your customers and how you can deliver it. If you take the example of an iPhone – is that a want or a need? For Mrs. 8th Idea, the iPhone was, and I quote, “the most romantic gift you’ve ever given me.” I gave her the gift of time. That is value.

Kernel #3: Be Remark-able

The very first time I saw that light of recognition and understanding in the back of my client’s eyes, I was hooked. The feeling of connection and understanding has driven me professionally for almost 20 years. I thrive on making those connections for me and my clients. My story is the story of the spark.

The phrase Be Remark-able is something I borrowed from Steth Godin. The idea is that in today’s world, where human time and attention is the most valuable resource, you should be providing a product or service that is worthy of being remarked about. Something that will grab attention, hold on and spread through word of mouth. Often that comes down to the ability we have as businesses to provide our clients/customers with the elements of stories.

Stories matter. Which do you have more interest in? A pair of tube socks from Target? Or socks that are custom-knit by Swiss grandmothers to your unique specifications? Would you like some celebrity’s cologne or a fragrance which incorporates your unique DNA (examples thanks to Trend Watching)?

OK. Which would you be more apt to respond to? A telemarketer? Or a call from your friend telling you about the great experience he’s had with Skype?

Stories sell. Stories matter. They connect us emotionally. And, after all, every single purchase decision we make is made emotionally.

Kernel #4: Don’t Be Terrified By Change

If you’re not comfortable with change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less. (Gen. Eric Shinseki)

(Note: slide showing Fortune Magazine cover, Miracle Whip jar, Gillette Sensor razor package and iPod)

What do these brands have in common? They were all launched during a recession…Fortune launched in 1930. Four months after the great stock market crash. Miracle Whip launched in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression. Gillette Sensor Razors launched during the 1990 recession and Apple launched the iPod just a month and a half after 9/11. The point is, don’t be afraid to proceed with a great product if the economic conditions aren’t just perfect. (For more in-depth analysis of this, check out this article.)

Also, be willing to experiment in low-risk ways. There is a wealth of very interesting books out there to consider and I also recommend looking for case studies from businesses in other industries to understand how they have been successful. You might just find some lessons that have applicable parallels to your situation.

Kernel #5: Take Simple Steps

Social media. If your workload has slowed down, take some of that time to establish or expand your presence in the social networks. Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others provide great ways to strengthen ties with customers and prospects at no out-of-pocket costs. However, be sure you have clear goals in mind and fully understand the benefits and limitations of each site. They are fantastic tools, but can consume a lot of staff time if not managed correctly. (Thanks, Eric Whittington for the succinct language here.)

How about current customers? When was the last time you called one and asked how they are doing? Learned whether or not they were having all of their needs met because of your fill in the blank product/service? Do you know if they were missing anything that you could help them with? Will they would recommend your business to a friend? If not, why not?

Speaking of referrals, have you created any type of referral program that rewards your customers for making recommendations? It doesn’t have to be complicated it just needs to be genuine and provide an incentive with sincere gratitude when the new customer buys from you.

Kernel #6: Think Different

With apologies to both my 11th grade English teacher for the grammar errors and Apple computers’ campaign, I would ask you to consider your business and its marketing in a new way.

First, operations. The roles of operations and marketing are quickly merging. Not that an operations person could necessarily manage the marketing function for you. Or, vice versa — I don’t know that many marketing professionals who would be very adept at keeping the factory floor running. However, every action you take as a company is an opportunity to have an impact on your brand. For good and for bad. Let me back up. You realize that you don’t own your brand, right? Your customer owns your brand. See, a “brand” is nothing more than the sum total of all impressions your customer has with your company, your competitors, friends, colleagues and on and on. Every time someone’s world intersects with your business, another impression is made. How can your operations provide an opportunity to intensify that relationship with the customer. How you can provide a valuable service, even if you are not in the service industry?

Kernel #7: Consider Your Relationships

Consider your relationships. There is a wealth of marketing talent available on the market today. If you are currently working with a good marketing or advertising partner for your needs, and you are happy, please, please stick with them. However, without having to incur the overhead of an agency, there are many amazing resources for you to tap into for ideas to help your business. If you agree that you should maintain exposure, but don’t want to sink a sizeable portion into overhead, look for independent practitioners or freelance help.

I hope you’ve found some kernels in this talk that will be valuable to you. At the end of the day, marketing is just a way to bring people together into a conversation. The only way to do that is by building messages based on trust and authenticity. Much of it is common sense, but sometimes it takes another perspective to help us see it.

What does the “2/3” kernel mean? Frankly, I wanted to let you know a little bit about me and my business, but didn’t feel a shameless plug warranted an entire point.

It’s been said that there are only 7 original ideas in the world — the rest are just combinations and interpretations of those 7. I tend to agree. However, I also know that there are an infinite number of ways to pull together the wisdom of the ages with the context of today. That’s what 8th Idea is all about. 8th Idea is bent on helping those in the “care” industries (healthcare, hospitality, not-for-profit) define and refine their marketing strategy, insights and implementation. Helping discover that 8th Idea that will help you achieve your business goals.

Here is where you can find me. (Note: contact information displayed shamelessly here)

As I mentioned before, the magic of marketing comes when the light of understanding goes off in the back of someone’s eyes. My hope for you is that your products and services will find that light using some of the ideas I mentioned today. Thanks for your time. Now, are there any questions?

{ Comments }


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The sense of senses


Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 35

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 35

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 107

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 107

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 109

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 109

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 111

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 111

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 112

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 112

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 35

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 35

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 107

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 107

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 109

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 109

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 111

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 111

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 112

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 112
March 20, 2009

I’ve had one of those weeks where I’m just now getting out of the daily grind to the other things that interest me.
This post from Servant of Chaos is at the top of my list. It’s fascinating to consider.
In it, Gavin makes a clear case for paying attention to something that, for many of us, [...]


Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/link-template.php on line 113

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/link-template.php on line 113

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/link-template.php on line 138

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /home/jakeyb5/public_html/wp-includes/link-template.php on line 138
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