Branding in a Recession

The lingering effects of 2008’s international economic collapse can still be felt nearly everywhere. Many cities are still recovering, while many individuals continue to get hit by hardships: student loan debt keeps rising, unemployment rates muddle around the same percentage, fiscal cliffs are on the horizon, and the worrisome indicators of another downturn remain in the country’s peripheral vision. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to have the foresight to recognize signs of another economic slowdown and brace for impact, cross our fingers, and prepare so we can emerge from the rubble fitter than ever.

The cogs of the marketing machine (advertising, product & web design, identity, packaging, brand strategies, and, above all, a promise of consistency) are essential to any operation, but new technologies and a survey of the competitive landscape can provide a safety net when pitfalls become ubiquitous. Perhaps most important of all, innovation is the true example of a competitive advantage; and while it’s scary to take risks on unique approaches and ideas, it remains a necessity in today’s economic climate.

This is the beauty and benefit of innovation; and if it weren’t scary, then it would hardly be innovative. The art of bridging business strategy and creative design is a delicate one, but it remains an important requirement in today’s culture of visual identification.

At the turn of the 20th century, features (“what it is”) were the selling point of a product/service. This slowly shifted to an emphasis on the product’s benefits (“what it does”) around the 1920s, then towards the experience itself (“what you feel”) in the 50s. Now, in the 2000s, the selling point arguably relies on identification: “who you are.” It’s about why a given product separates the consumer from all others, and this is where the impact of innovation is felt the most.

Trust: the MVP of Marketing

When the economy is slow and the people are reeling and cutting costs at every juncture, consumers tend to revert to the brands they trust. The reliability of your brand is likely to be the most significant aspect in the customer’s eye, followed by the delight and rewarding feeling they experience when buying into your brand and its perks. These two characteristics are what form the basis of trust in a brand’s customer, and this will always be the most valuable attribute of a company. This is especially true during a recession.

A brand with no substitutes attracts a devout, trustworthy consumer base. This is an incomparable advantage, and a necessity to stay afloat in troubled economic waters. Studying these murky waters can provide invaluable insight for survival; if you can learn from this experience, perform some self-analysis, and study your most loyal customers to understand how to cater to them, you will turn your band bulletproof.

In the past years, marketing has often been the first thing sacrificed, and the last element to be revived when the economy showed signs of recovery. We at WATSON CREATIVE know why this has to change, and how.

Locally, for instance, we have worked with some notable brands who relied on a similar business strategy to establish themselves through the trust that they built. Burgerville is a prime example of a brand we collaborated with that started small, and made their way to a strong regional influence. They focus on sustainability and locally organic grub, which adds to their trust factor and quickly gained them a stable customer base throughout the Northwest region. By placing an emphasis on eco-friendly, healthy fast food, they’ve crafted a regional favorite that meshes with Northwest values and mindsets.

Oddball.com is another examplar of efficiency in hard times. They scaled back their retail strategy and gradually shifted to an online-driven sales model. This worked out exceptionally well for this shoe business focusing on big feet, and has made them a top shop for men looking for fashionable footwear. This has also been the case for Keen, who had a similar success with their footwear. They have become a stellar example of successful niche marketing, and have developed a cult-like following in Oregon.

Other Portland businesses have become synonymous with the Rose City due to their reliability and history. Powell’s Books, for instance, is a bookstore that became wildly popular simply because they stayed alive in the dying days of the publishing industry by offering local vibes and a wide range of publications to both locals and tourists. Voodoo Doughtnuts is another example; they have grown into a must-see tourist stop, based on their reliable offerings of over-the-top doughnuts.

All these businesses had one point in common in their business strategy: trust. This clearly paid off in a lasting and durable manner regardless of the recession.

The Upside of the Downturn

Marketing represents a massive revenue potential for a brand, and it’s undoubtedly important to reassess efficiency and effectiveness in times of trouble. But this reassessment is also a perfect opportunity to revisit and enhance brand strategy. Doing nothing is not an option; this is the time to survey the competitive landscape, and gain separation from the pack. Don’t guesstimate; research with precision which of your customers generate profits for the brand, and cut only where and when the effect on the consumer base will be minimal

Evaluating categorical changes is not only beneficial to the brand, but also to your customers, because it means you will attempt to fulfill their needs by providing some of the most innovative and up-to-date products and services. The field of technology has been busted wide open, and the time is now to forecast technological advances and use them to redefine the market.

The impact of a recession can be fatal to a brand, but seeking new and creative ways to maintain your consumer base while striving to expand it is a time-tested way to make up for lost ground and gain a headstart over the competition. Tightening the brand’s budget and uncovering inefficiencies is a conventional way of handling the economic dip, but through the Internet and various channels of communications, you can forge a strong identity and leap ahead of the competition.

The opportunities presented by a recession are masked by brand dilution, old marketing mentalities, and dormant innovation. By sifting through the scraps of failed brands and outdated methods, you can cultivate a solid structure of creative content and effective communication. The first and obvious priority is to review and analyze your brand; but next, you must follow up with a clear understanding of what drives demand, then incorporate this into the changing brand experience. This, ultimately, will lead to successful brand evolution and economic stability.

A Mad Scientist Walks Into an Economics Class…

The best brands boldly experiment when the economic climate turns cold. They tinker within the breathing space that comes with new web technologies, and slim down their framework to make it concise and fresh.

For instance, stale and rusty websites don’t survive in an age of social networking based on likes and tweets, and they send negative signals to prospective customers, hires, and investors. The importance of image maintenance and staying current is indispensable in today’s wired society. A cluttered website, or dubious leads to the brand’s site, can expose your brand to dilution, mixed signals, an inconsistent experience, and an overall negative perception of the brand.

There are inexpensive, useful methods to execute appropriate strategies from the core of the brand. Most of them stem from contemporary digital marketing and social media.

First, the brand must find a key audience, demographic, or customer grouping, and consider dedicating all efforts to that target. Like Apple did when extending into the MP3 market from a strictly personal computer brand, you need to image new untapped markets for your brand, chart unexplored waters, and make new products under the umbrella of the core brand. Undiscovered customer groupings do exist, even in an economic downturn, and using trust-based marketing efforts to woo customers who may have previously rejected your brand is a surefire way to expand your customer base.

Beyond Recession

Economic downturn can be a scary, stressful time, but history has proven time and again that it is also a moment of great opportunity. Out of the Great Depression came a number of powerful brands that rode out the economic downturn, and surfed the wave of economic recovery that followed. The crisis exposed a number of unoccupied niches in the marketplace, and those who positioned their brand with the business savvy and strategic thinking where the first to reap the rewards of an economic upswing.

There is every reason to believe that the economic recovery that will follow the current recession will not be any different. Acting in support of your brand and identity, even in times of economic duress, is not only a strategy for survival in the short term: it’s also a sound business strategy for when the economy recovers at last.